The Arkansas section of the Kentucky Oaks trail begins on Saturday with the Martha Washington Stakes. This year's edition offers a $100,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Oaks points (10-4-2-1) for the top four finishers. The race has been a fixture at Oaklawn Park since 1979. Originally run at six furlongs, the race was stretched out to its current distance of a mile in 2004. Only one filly has run in the Martha Washington and then won the Kentucky Oaks that year: Rachel Alexandra (2009), whose three-year-old season began with an eight-length win in this race, continued through not only an Oaks win but also three Grade I wins against males, and concluded with Horse of the Year and Champion Three Year Old Filly honours. One other Eclipse winner has won the Martha Washington: Ambassador of Luck (1982), who was the 1983 Champion Older Mare. Eight Belles (2008, Div. 2) made her stakes debut in the Martha Washington, swept the Oaklawn series of Oaks preps that year, and finished second behind Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby before ankle injuries cut both her career and her life short.
Eight Belles wins Division 2 of the 2008 Martha Washington Stakes by 13 1/2 lengths.
In addition to the Martha Washington Stakes, Kentucky Oaks points are also up for grabs in the Las Virgenes (GI), which Paul Mazur has previewed. Tampa Bay Downs also has a trio of stakes races: the Sam F. Davis (GIII) for three-year-old open company, the Suncoast for three-year-old fillies, and the Endeavour (GIII) for older turf fillies and mares. We have previewed all three of those races as well.
Edited on January 31 after the scratch of CAPE TOWN STEVIE.
Saturday, January 31
Oaklawn Race 9: Martha Washington Stakes, three-year-old fillies, one mile on the dirt, post time 4:38pm CST
The $100,000 question is TAKE CHARGE BRANDI. She is the classiest and most accomplished filly in the field, but will likely go off at even shorter than her 1/1 morning line. If she were likely to get her own way on the front end, she may be worth using. However, everyone in the field save SWEET CORINNE and CAPE TOWN STEVIE has shown some penchant for the front end, and PERFECT FIT, HIGH DOLLAR WOMAN, and SARAH SIS have all done clearly their best work on the front -- in addition to TAKE CHARGE BRANDI, of course. She won the Delta Princess gamely, and sat off Vivian Da Bling early that day. Still, it was less that she passed Vivian da Bling that day, and more that Vivian da Bling folded. TAKE CHARGE BRANDI still qualifies as a speed horse, one of many here. There also remains the fact that she was originally going to point toward the Honeybee, but D. Wayne Lukas decided she was ready to run sooner, and detoured her here. The works have been fast -- but before her better races, her works have been on the more moderate side compared to other runners out that day. When was the last time that her works were as fast (in both a relative and an absolute sense) as her most recent ones? That was back around the times of the Alcibiades (GI) and the Pocahontas (GII), neither of which were good races for her.
May TAKE CHARGE BRANDI still win this race? Sure. Is odds-on the least bit attractive from a betting standpoint? No.
INDIAN ANNIE looks primed for the upset. She is one of the less experienced runners in the field, only having run three times before. A troubled third on debut at Churchill back in June, she returned in November to gut out a contentious victory on the front end in a six-furlong maiden special at the Fair Grounds. Last out, on January 17, she won a one-mile N1X allowance optional going a mile over the Oaklawn dirt, the same track and distance as this race. In that outing, she stalked a pace that was not particularly fast, and kicked away strongly. If she can relax in the Martha Washington the way she relaxed in that allowance, she will have far more to attack late. INDIAN ANNIE gets rider Ricardo Santana, Jr. back from that maiden effort, and her trainer Steve Asmussen wins at a sharp 23% with last-out winners. That suggests that Asmussen is quite sharp at placing last-out winners, and INDIAN ANNIE's form and pace suggest this to be yet another smart slotting. Both career victories by SARAH SIS have come in wire jobs, but the way she ran last out makes her most intriguing here. In the Dixie Belle, a six-furlong stakes at Oaklawn, she sat a couple of lengths off the pace, and made a late run at Promise Me Silver that fell just a neck short. For a runner who had been wire-job-or-bust in her first three starts, this showed another dimension. This Ingrid Mason trainee stretches out to two turns for the first time in her career, but her dam Emerald Gal has produced a winner at a mile and it is not out of the ordinary for a Sharp Humor baby to get that far. If she ends up sending to the front, she still has a shot. SARAH SIS did show in an allowance win at Keeneland two starts back over recent allowance winner Lovely Maria and multiple stakes winner Wind Chill Factor that she could handle some early pressure. Finally, SWEET CORINNA is one of only two horses in this field who has been a reliable off-the-pace runner so far. She will need to significantly improve her speed to prevail against this crowd, but she should have a far snappier pace setup than she did last out. She may have also moved a bit too early last out; she gets rider Channing Hill back from that outing, but given all the early speed and her likely price, it looks worth the gamble that he will time the move to take advantage of the hot pace in front of him. Throwing in one's lot with Channing Hill in situations such as this is often a smart move: he wins routes at 19%, with a positive return. That last race was also SWEET CORINNA's first time on the dirt. It showed she could move from the Woodbine poly to the dirt surface, and gives her a chance to progress second off that ship.
#4 INDIAN ANNIE (7/2)
#5 SARAH SIS (5/1)
#7 SWEET CORINNA (10/1)
Longshot: With the scratch of CAPE TOWN STEVIE, the long shot writer stepped out for a frosty beverage.
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