Picks and Ponderings provides full coverage of the busiest weekend of Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep races this weekend.
Here, we focus on the one three-year-old prep race at Oaklawn: the Fantasy Stakes. Oaklawn has a Derby prep as well -- but that will not be run until next week, as part of closing weekend's Racing Festival of the South.
Our coverage runs from coast to coast. In addition to the Fantasy, our midwestern coverage also visits Keeneland, with a preview of the Blue Grass Stakes (GI) and the Ashland Stakes (GI). Paul Mazur, on the other hand, turns his eyes to both of the coasts. He previews the Gazelle Stakes (GII) and Wood Memorial (GI) from Aqueduct, as well as the pair of three-year-old points races out west, the Santa Anita Oaks (GI) and the Santa Anita Derby (GI).
Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated April 7 to add morning lines.
Race 9: Fantasy Stakes, three-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 5:09pm CST
This year marks the 44rd running of the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn. At stake this year are a sahre of a $400,000 purse, as well as 100-40-20-10 Road to the Kentucky Oaks points to the top four places. The race has been run at 1 1/16 miles and restricted to three-year-old fillies since its inception in 1973. It has been either a Grade I or a Grade II for most of its history, though it was downgraded to a Grade III starting in 2013. Even so, this final prep race at Oaklawn has been a rich source of Kentucky Oaks winners. It has produced eight to date: Davona Dale (1979), Bold 'n Deterimined (1980), Heavenly Cause (1981), Tiffany Lass (1986), Lite Light (1991), Blushing K. D. (1997), Rachel Alexandra (2009), and Blind Luck (2010).
No Fantasy Stakes winner has also won a stakes race at Arlington, though one prominent filly came close. Though she finished just sixth in the Kentucky Oaks, 1987 Fantasy Stakes winner Very Subtle made a name for herself going shorter. She won the Test that summer, shipped to Arlington Park, and finished second against older males in the Chicago Handicap that August. Very Subtle grew into herself by the end of the year, romping over a field of mainly males (and mainly older!) in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Hollywood Park.
The Fantasy Stakes offers a $400,000 purse, as well as Kentucky Oaks points (100-50-20-10) for the horses in first through fourth place.
Stop me if you've heard this one before: just six fillies entered an Oaks prep at Oaklawn, and two of them came from the barn of Steve Asmussen...no, we are not reprinting our preview of the Honeybee (GIII) last month. Last month, Nickname was his proven filly, with TERRA PROMESSA making her stakes debut. TERRA PROMESSA romped in the Honeybee, and returns here as his proven quantity. Stablemate TAXABLE, an allowance winner at Oaklawn the day before the Honeybee, makes her stakes debut here.
Both are in with a chance, but this space sides with TERRA PROMESSA on top. She will likely be the favourite, but deservedly so. She is undefeated in three starts over the mile and a sixteenth distance, and has won both of her starts at Oaklawn as easily as she wanted. The weather should be dry on Saturday; though her Honeybee win came in the slop, the allowance win two starts back showed that she could handle a dry Oaklawn track beautifully. In terms of pace, READY TO CONFESS and COSMIC EVOLUTION should be prominent, but TERRA PROMESSA is sharp enough to keep them in range and then unleash her turn of foot. She has not been tested this year. Will she be tested today? Perhaps -- by her stablemate TAXABLE. This filly is lightly raced: she won her debut at Churchill last June, disappeared for almost nine months, and returned at Oaklawn in an allowance last month. She won, and now tries stakes company. Though this will be TAXABLE's first time at a mile and a sixteenth, that Oaklawn allowance win did come at a route. She has some two-turn form, and the stretch to a mile and a sixteenth should prove no trouble for a daughter of Tapit whose full sister Synkros won at a mile and a sixteenth. This will be her first race on a fast Oaklawn track, but she has been working over fast local dirt, and she did win over fast dirt at Churchill last year. TAXABLE is another stalk-and-pounce type, but it will take a lot to do that better than her stablemate.
The front end will probably feature COSMIC EVOLUTION and READY TO CONFESS. COSMIC EVOLUTION set the pace last out, in a race without a ton of speed on paper, but has shown some ability to win from a pressing or even stalking spot in the past. She has the early zip to get the lead if she wants it, but perhaps she may be better off pressing, since READY TO CONFESS will almost certainly be sending. She does her best on the front, and faltered last out in the Martha Washington without the lead. What makes READY TO CONFESS particularly attractive here is the layoff. She has been off about two months since her last start. Back in the winter, she was laid off a similar time, and returned to run an absolute cracker in allowance company at Oaklawn. She was up on a contested pace for much of a one-mile race, and yet still able to close the deal. That tenacity should serve her well should COSMIC EVOLUTION pressure her, as well as when the onslaught of the Asmussen pair bears down.
#2 TERRA PROMESSA (3/5)
#1 TAXABLE (5/2)
#6 READY TO CONFESS (8/1)
Longshot: For anyone really looking to roll the dice here, #5 IMPASSE (12/1) has a few things in her favour. Sure, unlike other longshot type FLORIDA BIRD, who got her picture taken against Arkansas-bred maiden $25,000 company, IMPASSE has not yet won. Though she is a three-start maiden, and has not yet finished in the money, she has been showing improvement through her starts. Last out, going the same distance as this race, she got burned in a pace battle and still hung on for fourth beaten just a length and a half. It is always good to see maidens make changes; here, IMPASSE gets a swap to rider Channing Hill, a rider firing at 20% this meet. He also has an eye-catching +$2.28 ROI in route races, with a 20% win rate. The marquee candidates will have to falter for IMPASSE to win. But, if Hill can keep this D. Wayne Lukas trainee out of a speed duel, a reasonably step forward from her last race could garner her a share.
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