The calendar switches to March, and Picks & Ponderings switches into high gear this week. This week the team goes coast-to-coast for its racing coverage. Nicolle offers up coverage of the Tampa Bay Derby while Paul dives into the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. Additionally, the pair attack Santa Anita’s “Big Cap” Day, headlined by the Santa Anita Handicap.
This piece takes a trip to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas and looks at the three-year-old fillies. Two months from now the best and brightest of the sophomore filly set hope to earn a spot in the Kentucky Oaks, on the first Friday in May. Oaklawn Park’s path to the Kentucky Oaks began with the Martha Washington Stakes earlier in the meet, and the next stage is the Honeybee Stakes. It also functions as the local prep to the G3 Fantasy Stakes in April during Oaklawn’s Racing Festival of the South. The Honeybee Stakes has a Grade Three ranking, $150,000 in purse money and offers Kentucky Oaks points too, in a 50-20-10-5 allotment to the 1-2-3-4 positions.
Run in the second half of Oaklawn’s meet every year since its inception in 1988, the Honeybee has always been at a mile and a sixteenth on the Oaklawn dirt. Graded in the 1990s, the race lost its Grade 3 stature for a few years in the 2000s before regaining it in 2008, just time for Eight Belles (2008) to win this race after winning the Martha Washington by a country mile. Other notable winners include Delta Downs stakes namesake My Trusty Cat (2003) and Round Pond (2005), who a year after her Honeybee win won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. No Honeybee victor has ever won the Kentucky Oaks, but Ermine (2006) was second in the Oaks. Aforementioned Eight Belles was second against the males in the Kentucky Derby in her ill-fated career finale.
Eight Belles winning the Honeybee on her way to sweeping Oaklawn’s three-year-old filly prep series in 2008. Video courtesy Youtube.
Morning lines for this race, scheduled to be run on March 7, were not available at original publish time. Updated on March 5 to include morning lines. Updated March 6 to reflect the expected scratch of PROMISE ME SILVER.
Oaklawn Park — Race 8 — G3 Honeybee Stakes — One and one-sixteenth miles on dirt — post time 4:38 pm CT
PANGBURN has never been one turn in her three start career. That’s fine because it’s two turns for this race two preps out from the Kentucky Oaks, as she’s also never been off the podium in her three starts. Second off the layoff in play for this runner who rallied six wide off quick splits to win a first-level allowance at the mile and a sixteenth distance last time out over the same Oaklawn dirt she’ll see in the Honeybee. With SUPER SAKS in the field as one-way speed, that’s the target that an off-the-pace type like PANGBURN relishes. Put away after the Pocahontas last year at Churchill, she still can take a step forward in start two at three in a division that sees its for-now leader skip this race to await the Rebel next week against boys. PANGBURN has done her work with five-wide and six-wide trips from middle posts, and she projects to not be as wide but tracking similarly in the Honeybee. With reports that PROMISE ME SILVER will scratch, OCEANWAVE moves into this spot. Winner last time out of a first-level allowance at Oaklawn, this Tapit filly goes second off the layoff. Shows a bullet work over the surface. It’s a Shaun Bridgomohan mount for Wayne Catalano, and Oaklawn’s depth means you get a square price (unlike at his summer home of Arlington, where he rules the roost and manufactures chalk). Two back OCEANWAVE at two was a maiden winner against Lassofthemohicans, who has since gone on to be Grade Two-placed. Nicely bred for two turns. This seems to be the time of the year when Asmussen-trained runners get flammable at Oaklawn, and the same goes for his rider, Ricardo Santana, Jr. Santana has three wins in the last eleven mounts, and the Santana/Asmussen production of INDIAN ANNIE gets a mention here. Third in the Martha Washington last out behind Take Charge Brandi (who eschewed this race for next week’s Rebel Stakes against males) and SARAH SIS, it’s the third start off the layoff for INDIAN ANNIE. Worked post-race after her third last-time out in a slow time, yet Asmussen isn’t known as a quick morning worker. Shows a work on March 3rd to tune up for this event. She tried to stalk/close in two races at a mile at Oaklawn, and the short stretch configuration of Oaklawn’s two turn miles might have taken some starch out of those runs. Perhaps the extra distance does her good.
#5 PANGBURN (7/2)
#2 OCEANWAVE (9/2)
#6 INDIAN ANNIE (15/1)
Longshot: #8 SARAH SIS (7/2) did an excellent job of exposing Take Charge Brandi in the Martha Washington as a pro-tem leader of the three-year-old fillies division that’s ripe for an upheaval. Her belated closing run last time out was also done at the short-stretch mile that is more favorable to those on the pace, like Take Charge Brandi was. So with extra ground, SARAH SIS makes sense in this race regardless of how you feel about the Washington winner (super filly worthy of taking on the boys – or – something more questionable). Thrice second in open stakes company, the Arlington-Washington Lassie runner up from last fall has put up figures that compare well to others in the field. The margins of loss have been close in her two stakes starts at three: a neck behind PROMISE ME SILVER (who is expected to defect) going short and a head last out. Perhaps this is the time the photo goes her way.
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