This year marks the 30th running of the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park. It has always been a 1 1/16 mile race for three-year-old fillies. It first earned a grade 3 rating in 1990, and has carried that status every year except for 2003-2007, during which it was once again ungraded. This year's renewal offers a $200,000 purse, as well as Road to the Kentucky Oaks points (50-20-10-5) for fillies in the top four places.
Though it has not yet produced a Kentucky Oaks winner, there have been several top-flight fillies who have gotten their pictures taken after the Honeybee. Round Pond (2005) won the Acorn (GI) later that year, and won the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) in 2006. Three years later, Eight Belles (2008) swept the three-race Oaklawn prep series, including a one and a quarter length victory in the Honeybee. She did so for the same owner as Round Pond, Fox Hill Farm. Fox Hill has won the Honeybee three times; they also won the race with Joyful Victory (2011), a graded stakes mainstay through age 5, and winner of the 2013 Santa Margarita Stakes (G1).
Eight Belles wins the 2008 Honeybee Stakes in hand.
The Honeybee is the only Oaks prep this week, but Picks and Ponderings also tackles the three Derby preps on Saturday's calendar. We'll preview the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), in addition to providing selections for all the undercard stakes, and we'll have pictures and notes from Tampa Bay Downs on race day. We will also feature previews of the Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct and the San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park.
Morning lines were not available at original publish time. Updated Thursday, March 8 to include morning lines.
Saturday, March 10: Oaklawn Park
Race 8: Honeybee Stakes (G3), three-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:38pm CST
This year's edition of the Honeybee drew a field of seven, including the top three from the Martha Washington (RED RUBY, SASSY SIENNA, and COSMIC BURST) as well as Dixie Belle winner AMY'S CHALLENGE, who tries a route of ground for the first time here. It also attracted the winner of the Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds, STRONGER THAN EVER, who bypassed the Rachel Alexandra (G2) won so impressively by Monomoy Girl and comes here instead. Rounding out the field are two horses making their stakes debuts: BO PEEP, an allowance winner at Oaklawn, and RAHWAY, who broke her maiden last out at Fair Grounds for a $30K tag.
AMY'S CHALLENGE, a perfect three-for-three so far, stretches out to two turns for the first time in the Honeybee. However, her pedigree suggests she should take well to the distance: she is by Artie Schiller out of a Jump Start mare who won going two turns. One of her dam's victories came over an off track, as well, suggesting she may have what it takes to handle the rainy forecast. AMY'S CHALLENGE also has the early speed that is so good to have at this distance at Oaklawn; as long as she comes out of the gate well, she should prove the speed of the speed. Though SASSY SIENNA and RAHWAY have both shown some early gas as well, neither looks likely to outjump AMY'S CHALLENGE on her better game. And, if they try? AMY'S CHALLENGE has also proven that she can press and fight. In short, AMY'S CHALLENGE isn't cheap speed -- she's good speed -- and she gets the nod.
RED RUBY comes in second off the layoff. She is a proven, consistent filly: second on debut going a one-turn mile at Churchill, a winner going a mile and a sixteenth there last year, and then a winner again in the Martha Washington going a mile over the slop at Oaklawn. Her emphatic victory in the Martha Washington answers the questions of whether she can handle the course, as well as the likelihood that it will be wet come Saturday. RED RUBY should be sitting a couple lengths off the pace early, waiting to strike in the stretch. The question with RED RUBY is the pace, as AMY'S CHALLENGE could have it cozily enough early to be long gone late. That said? RED RUBY should be her most formidable challenger in the lane, and it would be no surprise to see her win.
Rail-drawn SASSY SIENNA also has some early speed, and got a draw that should allow her to save ground. It seems unlikely that she will outgun AMY'S CHALLENGE to the front unless that foe does not start too well, but SASSY SIENNA should be able to tuck in just behind and get first run. She is proven both on the Oaklawn track and on a wet track, and has done her best work with rider Gary Stevens in the irons. Stevens returns here, and SASSY SIENNA has the tools to make good account of herself.
#6 AMY'S CHALLENGE (2/1)
#5 RED RUBY (8/5)
#1 SASSY SIENNA (5/1)
Longshot: #4 BO PEEP (12/1) lacks the stakes experience of her foes here, as all three of her starts have come in either maiden or allowance races at Oaklawn. However, two of those starts -- her two over off tracks -- have been victories. With rain in the forecast on Saturday, BO PEEP should get her preferred footing once again. She also has tactical speed and a proven passing gear, both positives in her corner. Two turns is the major question for the daughter of Archarcharch, as all three of her starts have come going six furlongs. But, BO PEEP's pedigree suggests this mile and a sixteenth is worth a shot, and trainer Jinks Fires knows how to get a horse home at a price going first-time route.
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.