This weekend is a big one for the Kentucky Oaks trail: it started on Thursday with the UAE Oaks at Meydan, and continues in three places on Saturday. We cover, in separate pieces, the Santa Ysabel (G3) at Santa Anita as well as the Davona Dale (G2) [and its Derby-bound complement, the Fountain of Youth (G2)] at Gulfstream. Here, we focus on the Aqueduct spur of the Oaks trail, the Busher Stakes. At stake are a purse of $200,000, as well as Kentucky Oaks points (50-20-10-5) to its top four finishers.
The Busher was inaugurated in 1978, and has been run each year since except for 1986 and 1987. The race takes its name from Hall of Fame racemare Busher, the champion filly both her two-year-old year (1944) and her three-year-old year (1945), as well as the 1945 Horse of the Year. A winner of 15 races in 31 starts, her victories during her three-year-old season included several at local Washington Park: the Arlington Handicap, the Washington Park Handicap, the Cleopatra Stakes, and a one-mile match race against the year-older Durazna.
The race has yielded just one Kentucky Oaks champion over its history: Princess of Sylmar (2013), who rebounded from a next-out second in the Gazelle (G2) to upset the Kentucky Oaks at 38/1 odds. Though she bypassed the Kentucky Oaks, It's Tricky (2011) also emerged as one of the best winners of the Busher, as later in the season she won the Acorn (G1) and the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), and finished her season with a second-place finish behind Royal Delta in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic (G1).
Princess of Sylmar runs to the money in the 2013 Busher Stakes. She would go on to become the first Busher winner to annex the Kentucky Oaks.
Aqueduct Racetrack: Saturday, March 3
Race 8: Busher Stakes, three-year-old fillies, one mile on the dirt, post time 4:56pm EST
The Busher drew a field of eight, including two visitors from other spurs of the Oaks trail. WAR HEROINE ships cross-country instead of facing Dream Tree and Midnight Bisou in the Santa Ysabel; MY MISS LILLY heads north after a third-place finish in the Forward Gal (G3) at Gulfstream.
One of those shippers, MY MISS LILLY, has a strong chance to redeem herself here. She has tactical speed from an outside post, a positive going a one-turn mile at Aqueduct this meet. She has a win over the Aqueduct course, albeit over the mud, and even though she did not win the Forward Gal it was a good enough effort (against saltier horses, even) to suggest she can be effective over a dry track as well. It will be MY MISS LILLY's longest race to date, but her pedigree suggests the one-turn mile should be within her distance abilities. Finally, she gets a local rider in Manuel Franco, one who knows the track well and has been firing at a solid 18% on the Aqueduct meet. MY MISS LILLY isn't flashy -- but in a race in which there are at least four solid win chances, she has good form, a good running style, and a good chance for a clean trip from the outside.
MIDNIGHT DISGUISE has well-proven Aqueduct form. All four of her starts have come over the course, and three of those have been wins. That includes the Busanda Stakes last out, which she won by open lengths. This field is tougher than the Busanda field, and given the levels of her previous outings (a state-bred $50K maiden claimer, a $50K starter allowance, and a state-bred stakes), she still has something to prove here. But, MIDNIGHT DISGUISE's best races suggest she is fast enough to hold her own here, and her affinity for the course is beyond reproach. Two of those races (her maiden win and a NY-bred stakes second behind the talented English Soul) came at a one-turn mile, suggesting she should be able to handle the cut back from the nine furlongs of the Busanda to this trip. Finally, MIDNIGHT DISGUISE has shown some tactical versatility; though she has been near the back in her recent starts, she was closer to the pace in her first few starts, so she has some options depending on how the race unfolds.
The front end looks to be between SARA STREET and WAR HEROINE. Both of them have class to prove: SARA STREET comes out of a maiden victory, whereas WAR HEROINE comes off a stakes win on grass but was well-beaten in her only stakes try on dirt. They both have a pressing gear, making a vicious speed duel look unlikely. But, they are both stretch-out sprinters, suggesting the pace will be at least honest. Between them? SARA STREET appeals just a bit more than WAR HEROINE. SARA STREET has a win over the local course, and though it didn't come at a mile, it did come at an extended one-turn trip (six and a half furlongs) over a fast Aqueduct main. The connections are also a positive: Kiaran McLaughlin has already won the Busher twice, and fires at 23% with last-out maiden winners, and SARA STREET also keeps Dylan Davis in the irons from her maiden win. It's a thin line, though; despite still having class to prove on dirt, it's hard to believe Peter Miller would ship WAR HEROINE east if he didn't think she could cut it, and any multi-race ticket through the Busher should cover her, as well.
#8 MY MISS LILLY
#3 MIDNIGHT DISGUISE
#1 SARA STREET
Longshot: It took six tries for #5 BLUE UNION RAGS (20/1) to break his maiden, but she put it together last out in a maiden special weight at Laurel. That came at a one-turn mile, her first try at such a trip, and she returns to a one-turn mile here. Of course, she will have to take a step forward to make a splash here. But, trainer John Servis is a dazzling 27% with last-out maiden winners, suggesting he is a generally realistic judge of his last-out maiden winners' talent. Servis has also been choosy about his Aqueduct shippers, as evidenced by his two-for-five record. With tactical speed and a one-turn mile win against maiden special weight company, BLUE UNION RAGS intrigues here at long odds.
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