2016 Martha Washington Stakes Preview

Saturday’s card at Oaklawn features the second stakes of the season for three-year-old fillies: the $100,000 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 (GIII) on March 12, and concludes with the Fantasy (GIII) on April 9.

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.  She has since been retired, and will be bred to Curlin this year.

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.  Team Sarah Sis will attempt to notch another strong Martha Washington performance this year, as Mason and owner Joe Ragsdale return this year with MARQUEE MISS.


Take Charge Brandi holds off Sarah Sis to win the 2015 Martha Washington Stakes by a head.

In addition to the Martha Washington, Picks and Ponderings will preview races from coast to coast this Saturday.  Nicolle Neulist will also preview the pair of three-year-old preps at Santa Anita, the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (GIII) for open company and the Las Virgenes Stakes (GII) for fillies.  Meanwhile, Paul Mazur will preview the pair of Grade I races at Gulfstream.  Illinois-bred The Pizza Man kicks off his seven-year-old season in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap, while the east coast handicap division starts the year in the Donn.

Morning line odds were not available at original publish time.  Updated February 4 to add morning lines.

Saturday, February 6 — Oaklawn Park

Race 8: Martha Washington Stakes, three-year-old fillies, one mile on the dirt, post time 4:38pm CST

This race looks to have quite a bit of speed.  Though DURANGO is the only really one-way speed, MY MASTER PLAN is rarely far early, READY TO CONFESS does her best near the front, and even MARQUEE MISS and LOVABLE LYSS have shown some zip early.  With this kind of a setup, it looks like a beautiful situation for DORODANSA.  She has never finished worse than second in three starts at a mile, and has done her best from off the pace.  However, she does not need to be too far off — particularly good if Oaklawn is playing as speed-friendly as it was for swaths of last week.  She already has a race over the track at the same distance as the Martha Washington.  Though she finished second, that was after a protracted duel with READY TO CONFESS.  If DORODANSA can make her move a bit later, she should be well set to mow the speedy types down.

It is still difficult to know whether MARQUEE MISS is going to like two turns, since both of her previous two-turn races have been flops.  However just about everything else about her is likable.  Both of those aforementioned route races came before the addition of blinkers.  Her one other try on a dry track with blinkers was a cracker: an open-lengths victory over DURANGO last out in the six-furlong Dixie Belle on January 15.  That was right here at Oaklawn, proving she can take to the surface, and she gets rider Channing Hill back in the irons.  Hill has been strong recently with trainer Ingrid Mason, as well.  In twelve starts together over the last two months, they have three wins (for a +$2.72 ROI), with six money finishes.  In terms of pace, she is versatile.  She posted a frontrunning victory last out, surviving a speed duel to kick well clear.  In her Arlington-Washington Futurity victory, she rallied from a few lengths off.  The off-pace style would make more sense given how this race looks on paper — but, it did in the Dixie Belle as well, and she slugged it out on the front.  Being by Cowboy Cal out of a Marquetry mare who has produced another two-turn winner, there are no immediate red flags to suggest a mile will be a bridge too far for MARQUEE MISS.  All in all, she has a shot, and should be a square price given the money likely to be shoved at NICKNAME.

The aforementioned NICKNAME has not raced since the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) in October, where she was a well-beaten fourth.  However, she does not face the likes of Songbird and Rachel’s Valentina here.  Two starts back, in the Frizette, NICKNAME won at a mile, albeit at one turn instead of two.  She should be forwardly placed, though she has shown the ability to win a speed duel or sit just off.  The plethora of frontrunners here does not help her, but it does not make her hopeless either.  She will be tough to take as the likely heavy favourite, particularly between the layoff and trainer Steve Asmussen’s paltry 6% strike rate so far this Oaklawn meet.  However, NICKNAME is the class of the field, and makes sense as a defensive use in multi-race tickets.  If she comes back the same horse she was last year — much less better — she could win this.

Selections:

#5 DORODANSA (4/1)

#6 MARQUEE MISS (10/1)

#1 NICKNAME (8/5)

Longshot:  Trainer Donnie Von Hemel sends a pair into the Martha Washington.  Though MY MASTER PLAN is undefeated in four starts at Remington, #3 READY TO CONFESS (6/1) appeals more.  Both of these fillies shipped to Arkansas from Remington, a premier source of live horses this Oaklawn meet, but READY TO CONFESS has already racked up a win over the local oval.  She graduated third out at Remington, in her first try over two turns.  Though that came in the slop, the light was on, and READY TO CONFESS outgamed DORODANSA to take an allowance at a mile over the Hot Springs dirt.  With all of the other speed in the race, the Martha Washington should prove a bit tougher test than the allowance last out was.  But, she has shown enough gameness to be in with a shot.  In addition to the local win, READY TO CONFESS also gets regular rider Luis Quinonez back.  As Quinonez has also ridden MY MASTER PLAN in every one of her previous starts, this speaks loudly.

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