Saturday's card at Oaklawn features the second stakes of the season for three-year-old fillies: the $125,000 Martha Washington Stakes. Opening day featured the six-furlong Dixie Belle, but the Martha Washington's one-mile distance begins to bring out those fillies who may be able to stretch out for later preps, or even the nine-furlong Oaks itself. In addition to the purse money, the top four finishers of the Martha Washington receive Road to the Kentucky Oaks points (10-4-2-1). It is the first of three Oaks points races in Hot Springs. The series continues with the Honeybee (G3) on March 10, and concludes with the Fantasy (G3) on April 13.
The Martha Washington 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. Two other Eclipse winners have won the Martha Washington. Ambassador of Luck (1982) ran the distaff division in New York the following year, and took the 1983 Eclipse for Champion Older Mare. The 2014 Champion Two Year Old Filly, Take Charge Brandi, notched the final win of her career in the 2015 Martha Washington Stakes.
2015's Martha Washington also marked the three-year-old emergence of Sarah Sis, a filly who had marked herself as one to watch at Arlington the previous year. The Ingrid Mason trainee finished a solid second behind Take Charge Brandi in the race, won the Honeybee, and won two more graded stakes as last year went on. Mason did one better with Marquee Miss the next year; the filly, who had debuted with a win the Arlington-Washington Lassie the year before, held Grade 1 winner Nickname at bay to win the 2016 edition of the Martha Washington.
2015 Arlington-Washington Lassie winner Marquee Miss holds Nickname at bay to win the 2016 Martha Washington Stakes.
In addition to our preview of the Martha Washington Stakes, make sure to read our preview of Saturday's pair of points races at Tampa Bay Downs, the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3) for open company and the Suncoast Stakes for fillies.
Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Edited Thursday, January 8 to add morning lines. Edited Saturday, January 10 to account for the scratch of GRATS ROAD.
Saturday, February 10 -- Oaklawn Park
Race 8: Martha Washington Stakes, three-year-old fillies, one mile on the dirt, post time 4:38pm CST
Though this year's edition of the Martha Washington drew just six horses -- Dixie Belle winner Amy's Challenge did not enter, and will likely return in the Honeybee (G3) -- the field lacks a clear standout. In fact, this space could make an argument for anyone in this field except for GRATS ROAD, who has massive tables to turn on both SASSY SIENNA and COSMIC BURST here -- though, make that anyone, as GRATS ROAD scratched.
In this competitive race, SASSY SIENNA has a lot to like. She dazzled on debut at Indiana Grand, but spent the rest of her two-year-old season in up-and-down form as she tried different courses, surfaces and distances. She opened up her three-year-old season with a romping N1X victory at a mile over the Oaklawn dirt. That ended up being her last start for previous owner Zayat Stables; she was since purchased by Medallion Racing. Yet, she stays in the barn of Brad Cox, and instead of making another move, she goes right back to that mile in Hot Springs. She also gets Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens aboard once again. SASSY SIENNA has tactical speed, and should be able to stay close to the pace in this short field and make a move early enough that she won't have too much to do turning for home.
Speed in a short field is an asset, and there are two likely suspects for setting the pace. One is SECRET FASHION, who the longshot writer rather fancies. The other is TYFOSHA, hailing from trainer Doug O'Neill's red-hot Hot Springs string. She comes here second off a lay, and in her first start of the year she graduated comfortably enough going six furlongs at Oaklawn. She faces winners for the first time here, and stretches to a route for the first time as well. TYFOSHA showed enough speed in sprints to suggest she will be forward here, and has also proven that she can stay on well after having to fight a bit. As long as she can stay the mile -- which more of her half-siblings have been able to do than not -- TYFOSHA should enjoy a tactical advantage, albeit at a likely short price.
This slot was a tight decision between COSMIC BURST and RED RUBY. It came down to anticipated price: this space sees COSMIC BURST as likely to be overbet, and sees RED RUBY as likely to be overlaid. COSMIC BURST does come off an easy victory in the Trapeze Stakes at Remington. As she has tactical speed, it would be no surprise to see her return with another good effort here, but may be overbet off that effort against inferior company to this. Whereas, RED RUBY gets a class test here, stepping up from a maiden victory at Churchill last out. Though she has been laid off since that win in November, she has been working at Oaklawn since the beginning of January, well enough and often enough to suggest he is fit. Trainer Kellyn Gorder has been a bit cold so far at Oaklawn, but when he pops most places, he does so at a price. And, rider Robby Albarado gives up an entire day at Fair Grounds to ride RED RUBY here. (He has just one other call on the day -- but with that coming in a maiden claimer, it's safe to say RED RUBY is why he hops on the plane.) With proven two-turn form and a good stalking style, she fits here.
#2 SASSY SIENNA (5/2)
#6 TYFOSHA (2/1)
#3 RED RUBY (9/2)
Longshot: Speed in a short field almost always merits a look, and if TYFOSHA doesn't set the fractions here, rail-drawn #1 SECRET PASSION (12/1) stands to. She has done her best work on the front end, and has shown the ability to fight on the front end -- and even stalk, if need be, as she showed when winning the Prairie Gold Lassie last year at Prairie Meadows. SECRET PASSION has also shown she can handle the Oaklawn course; she held her own last out in the six-furlong Dixie Belle, behind two fast horses in Amy's Challenge and Mia Mischief. The biggest question is whether SECRET PASSION can get the mile, as her female family mostly consists of six- and seven-furlong types. But, a few on her tree were able to get a mile or more (like Cherokee Artist, early in his career), and being by Archarcharch, SECRET PASSION may have the stamina to get this mile trip.
You can take "Picks & Ponderings" with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Hawthorne Racecourse. And you can get "Picks and Ponderings" in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking "Create Subscription." It's a FREE service, and you'll never get any unwanted spam.