ANGELA RENEE/ESKENFORMONEY – The two Longines Kentucky Oaks-bound fillies out of the Todd Pletcher barn were up and at them early Thursday morning at Churchill Downs, heading out at 6 a.m. for gallops under the lights at the big Louisville oval.
Exercise rider Adele Bellenger was at the controls on Angela Renee and they went for a mile and one-quarter gallop. The pilot for Eskenformoney wasCarlos Cano and he covered one mile in their exercise.
Pletcher has secured the services of two of racing’s top riders for his fillies – Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez for Angela Renee and America’s current leading rider for purses won in Javier Castellano for Eskenformoney. The trainer was asked what his conversations with those two would be like in the paddock prior to the Oaks.
“I don’t get too much into detail with riders, especially riders like them,” he said. “They both have ridden these horses before, so that has to be considered. I’m not the kind of trainer that’s going to tell a jockey to be fifth at this or that pole. Too many things happen too fast in a race to be thinking like that. If I talk to a rider it might be to remind them of a special quirk – maybe saying that his horse has a short burst and he’ll need to save that punch for as long as he can – something like that. It’s likely to be more general than specific.”
Pletcher has saddled 16 horses previously in the Oaks and has won it three times – with Ashado in 2004, Rags to Riches in 2007 and Princess of Sylmarin 2013.
BIRDATTHEWIRE – Several partners in Forum Racing‘s Birdatthewire were watching as the Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII) winner galloped Thursday under exercise rider Faustino Aguilar for trainer Dale Romans.
Paul Murans, a principal partner, said the Forum group comprises people from throughout the country and “came together from all walks of life.” Murans, who lives in Indianapolis, played on the Southwest Missouri State basketball team that was eliminated by Duke in the Sweet Sixteen in 1999.
Forum has four horses with Romans, who is a 20 percent owner of Birdatthewire. Murans is confident that Birdatthewire will be a serious contender will be competitive in a strong Oaks field.
“She proved herself, I think, in her last race, the (Gulfstream Park) Oaks, the things she had to go through, with jockey fighting with her on the backside,” he said. “I thought the race was over for her at that point. I didn’t think she was going to able to recover from that. … That was the biggest eye-opener we’ve had with her, and she’s been training lights out. She’s dead fit. She can’t be any fitter than she is now. She’s healthy. She’s happy. … “It’s about as good an Oaks field as you could ask for. There’s tons of talent. There ares four or five horses that could easily win this thing.”
CONDO COMMANDO – Trainer Rudy Rodriguez had to keep a tight hold on Condo Commando Thursday morning during parts of a spirited gallop.
The speedy filly owned by Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stable and The Elkstone Group wanted to run fast when she was on the track and Rodriguez made sure that she didn’t do too much the day before the race.
“She’s pretty good,” he said. “You don’t want her to gallop nice and easy. That’s the way she’s been galloping. So far, so good.”
Rodriguez is pleased with the way Condo Commando has done things this week.
“I’m very happy with the way she’s coming to the race,” he said. “She looks strong. She’s feeling good. She’s healthy.”
Rodriguez said there is no need to do a lot of handicapping because of his filly’s running style. He said he would be happy to see her on the lead and expects that she will be there.
“I don’t want to change anything,” he said. “(Jockey Joel) knows the filly. Come and catch me. It’s a very good field.Very good
horses. I don’t need to look again. I know what they did. Hope for the best. Hopefully she breaks good and takes it from there.”
FOREVER UNBRIDLED – Trainer Dallas Stewart said he isn’t visualizing a specific trip for Charles Fipke‘s Forever Unbridled after she breaks from the rail in the Kentucky Oaks. All he wants for her is room to run in the stretch.
“You want a clean trip the last quarter-mile, even if she’s down inside,” Stewart said. “We know she won’t be on lead. She’s just a grinder. Just needs a good, clean trip the last part of it and finish strong. She needs to finish strong. … It’ll be a lively pace, for sure. It (the opening half-mile) might be 47 (seconds) or 46-and-change. “She’s ready to go. She’s in the race. She’s got a good rider (Mike Smith). I think she’s feeling good. We’ll take it like that.”
Forvever Unbridled galloped a mile-and-three-eighths Wednesday under exercise rider Emerson Chavez at about 6 a.m.
I’M A CHATTERBOX/LOVELY MARIA – Grayson Farm’s Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) winner I’m a Chatterbox and Brereton Jones’ Ashland Stakes (GI) heroine Lovely Maria each jogged five furlongs and galloped five furlongs under trainer Larry Jones, the same as they did the previous morning. As Jones put it earlier this week, his goal for the final days leading up to Friday’s Kentucky Oaks is to “get the feel-good” into them.
“They had a good morning and all is well,” Jones said as he went from stall to stall clipping the manes of his star fillies. “They’ll walk tomorrow and then tomorrow afternoon we’ll take them over there and try to run them.”
I’m a Chatterbox seeks to become the latest in a remarkable line of fillies that have pulled off the Fair Grounds Oaks and Kentucky Oaks double in the last decade. Six of the past 10 winners of the marquee 3-year-old filly race in New Orleans have gone on to wear the garland of lilies at Churchill Downs (the Fair Grounds Oaks was not run in 2006 when the meet was canceled in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, although that year’s Kentucky Oaks winner, Lemons Forever, trained by Fair Grounds mainstay Dallas Stewart, could very well have added one more to the list).
“We’re going to try to carry on the Fair Grounds tradition,” Jones said. “That’s what we’re banking on. I see no rhyme or reason for it, as far as why the fillies do so well compared with the colts. They should all do well because it’s a very good track and they all come off of it sound and ready to run when you come out of there. That track’s very kind and they try really hard to keep it that way.”
Fair Grounds Oaks-Kentucky Oaks winners this century: Ashado (2004), Summerly (2005), Proud Spell (2008), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Believe You Can (2012) and Untapable (2014).
INCLUDE BETTY – Brereton Jones and Timothy Thornton’s Include Betty is “very happy” and “looks good” the morning prior to the Kentucky Oaks, according to jockey Rosemary Homeister Jr., who has been checking in frequently on her mount this week. Homeister was especially pleased about drawing post No. 3 for the peppermint-addicted Include filly.
“I really like it since she’ll be coming from off the pace,” Homeister said. “I don’t have to waste any ground trying to get over out of the gate. It looks like there’s going to be plenty of pace in the race and there are only maybe three closers, like she is. Hopefully I’ll be able to save some ground but if not she likes to come around anyway. You want to try to save as much ground as you can and make that one big run.”
MONEY’SONCHARLOTTE – George and Lori Hall’s Money’soncharlotte jogged a mile under exercise rider Jesus Gomez, with trainer Kelly Breenalongside on a pony before 6:30 Thursday morning.’
Money’soncharlotte earned her way to the Oaks with a third-place finish in the Gazelle (GII) behind Oaks rivals Condo Commando and Puca. That came after a dismal showing in the Davona Dale (GII) in which she was 10th, beaten 37 ¼ lengths.
“In the Davona Dale, she broke bad that day on a speed-biased track,” Breen said. “(Jockey) Edgar (Prado) came back and said she never had a chance. You can just draw a line through that.”
Breen was asked what he would like to see in Friday’s race to enhance the chances of his filly.
“There figures to be a good pace up there and a lot of them are the favorites,’ Breen said. “So if they could help me out a little, that would be nice.”
OCEANWAVE – Gary and Mary West’s Oceanwave galloped 1½ miles at Churchill Downs Thursday in preparation for a scheduled start in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks.
Catalano has enjoyed success with fillies during his careers, most notably Dreaming of Anna, Stephanie’s Kitten and She Be Wild.
“Tomorrow is going to be a test for this filly. She’s shown progress in every race. She stacks up pretty good. Tomorrow we’ll see how she compares with the other ones,” said Catalano, whose trainee finished second in both the Honeybee (GIII) and Fantasy (GIII) at Oaklawn Park following less than ideal trips.
PUCA – Donegal Racing’s Puca galloped 1 3/8 miles Thursday morning at Churchill Downs to the satisfaction of trainer Bill Mott.
“She’s doing good. We’re happy with her,” Mott said.
Puca broke her maiden by 16 lengths before finishing a troubled sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) last fall. This season, she finished fourth in the Davona Dale (GII) at Gulfstream and second behind Condo Commando in the Gazelle (GII). The daughter of Big Brown drew the No. 14 post for Friday’s Oaks.
“A lot of it is about the trip. The trip is important. We drew the 14 hole, so we’re going to have to get lucky. We might get hung out wide on both turns,” Mott said. “I would hope there was enough pace for her to close into.
“I think they all have to step up if they want to win this race. She could very well do that. She was fourth and then second; she could be going the right way.”
SARAH SIS – With owner Joe Ragsdale from Tulsa, Okla., looking on, Oaks hopeful Sarah Sis galloped 1 ½ miles after the renovation break with exercise rider Jesus Esquivel aboard for trainer Ingrid Mason.
This is Ragsdale’s first time at Churchill Downs since 2003 when he came for Derby Weekend and watched Funny Cide get the roses.
“We are just blessed to be here,” Ragsdale said. “I have been an owner for two and a half years and am very fortunate to have this filly. There are people who have been in the game for 20, 25 years who are more deserving of this than me.”
Sarah Sis was a $20,000 purchase last year at Ocala.
“Ingrid picked her out,” said Ragsdale, who has six horses under Mason’s care. “She has a good eye for a horse and I trust what she says.”
Mason said that Sarah Sis would tack-walk the shedrow in the morning and that all the heavy lifting was done for the Oaks.
“She is doing well,” Mason said. “I just hope she gets a clean trip and likes the distance. With a 14-horse field, the clean trip is huge.”
SHOOK UP – Exercise rider Mike Callaham said he likes how Regis Racing‘s Shook Up, the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) runner-up, has been training for the Kentucky Oaks.
Callaham, a 25-year-old former jockey who has been working for trainer Steve Asmussen for 5 1/2 years, has been getting on Shook Up since she arrived at Churchill Downs after the conclusion of the Fair Grounds meet. “I feel like she’s been training really well,” Callaham said. “She’s relaxed a lot here. I feel like she’s just kind of chilled out, been very happy and she’s just been taking things in stride. Her works have been much nicer and more relaxed. In New Orleans, they were a little bit on the edge, a little keen and rank at times. But she’s really relaxed nicely. I’m really happy.”
Callaham said he thinks Shook Up will be able to deal with breaking from the inside (No. 2). “I think she’ll be able to get away fine, and post position only means so much,” Callaham said. “Once you come out of the gate, it’s anybody’s game.”
A bullet workout on April 19, five furlongs in 59 seconds, displayed Shook Up’s natural speed. “She did that very easily, in hand, just exactly what Steve wanted,” Callaham said. Callaham galloped Shook Up on Thursday in the second set after the track opened.
STELLAR WIND – Kentucky Oaks favorite Stellar Wind, owned by Hronis Racing, was on the track at 5:45 a.m. for an easy gallop around the Churchill Downs oval under Ricardo Peniche. Trainer John Sadler left town soon after for a visit to Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Ky., near Lexington, to see the stallions, including his former charge Twirling Candy and Stellar Wind’s sire Curlin.
Even while the Santa Anita Oaks (GI) winner impressed in her final work in California and thrived in the mornings at Churchill Downs, pundits have raised questions about Sadler’s ability to ship and win outside of the Golden State. “That’s pretty much the random results of races,” Sadler said. “We’ve won some big races out of town. The last few years we haven’t, really, but there have been variables like weather. You would have to take them one by one but we ran some horses in the Derby here one year where there was the slop, they hated the track. That’s what they have to write about but I don’t think it means anything.”
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