2016 Honeybee Stakes Preview

Oaklawn is the only spur of the Kentucky Oaks trail this week, and this preview turns its focus there.

However, the Derby trail leads to both Tampa Bay Downs and Santa Anita this week, and we will not leave those races unexamined.  Nicolle Neulist delves into the Tampa Bay Derby (GII).  Paul Mazur goes west, looking at the San Felipe (GII), as well as the pair of Grade I races for older horses on the card: the Santa Anita Handicap and the Kilroe Mile.

This year marks the 29th 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 III 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 (GI) 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 (GI).


Eight Belles continues her dominance of the 2008 three-year-old fillies’ races at Oaklawn, winning the Honeybee Stakes comfortably.

Fox Hill’s Oaks candidate this year, the mighty Songbird, is taking the California route.  However, another familiar — and more locally connected — set of connections is looking for another win in the Honeybee.  Sarah Sis won the 2015 edition of this race for trainer Ingrid Mason, owner Joe Ragsdale, and rider Julio Felix.  Sarah Sis had broken her maiden at Arlington the previous year, and finished second in the Arlington-Washington Lassie.  Mason and Ragsdale are also the folks behind MARQUEE MISS, who broke her maiden on debut in the 2014 Arlington-Washington Lassie.  Even so, MARQUEE MISS has big shoes to fill to match her stablemate; Sarah Sis went on to win the Iowa Oaks (GIII) and the Raven Run Stakes (GII) last year.

Morning lines were not available at original publish time.  Updated March 10 to include morning lines.

Saturday, March 12: Oaklawn Park

Race 8: Honeybee Stakes (GIII), three-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:38pm CST

No horse would be a true shock to see in the winners’ circle after the Honeybee Stakes.  The race drew a field of just six, but even in a field of six, there are often a few complete tosses.  No one truly towers or lags on speed, and no one seems either a doomed one-way speedster or a pace-compromised plodder.  Even the rain fails to make anyone here completely without hope.  Sure, MARQUEE MISS’s abysmal slop form at age two moves her down given the forecast, but even then?  She came from off the pace in both of those starts, whereas this year, she has reinvented herself as a frontrunning to pace-pressing type instead.  SHE’S A BOOTSY TOO again has to prove her class, but has two wins over the course, and is half to a slop monster.  In short, this space would not blame anyone who pushed the ALL button here for a multi-race wager.

That said, if you’re looking for a win bet candidate here?  There is a lot to like about COSMIC EVOLUTION, and a good chance for a square price.  She has shown early speed, and stretching out from a sprint to a route, she stands to be right on the front.  Speed has been generally good at Oaklawn, and on a muddy day, it can be particularly helpful.  She has never run in the mud before, but sire Proud Citizen and damsire Ghostzapper both tend to be solid mud influences, suggesting she will take well to it.  Those relatives also suggest she will stretch out well.  Finally, on form, COSMIC EVOLUTION is second off the lay.  Her first start of the year was a win over the Oaklawn course, and a step forward from that puts her right in the thick of this.

NICKNAME will likely be favoured, but she does have the class and form to back it up.  Though she failed at odds-on in the Martha Washington, failing to overpower MARQUEE MISS, that was NICKNAME’s first race since the Breeders’ Cup.  She comes second off the lay here for Steve Asmussen, a trainer who is 18% in that circumstance.  She also has proven slop form; NICKNAME won the Frizette (GI) over a sloppy Belmont track last year.  In terms of pace, she is not typically an early lead type, but does not come from far off it.  The pace should suit, and with a step forward from last out, NICKNAME could easily get her Oaks hopes on track here.

For the third slot, it was a close consideration between DORODANSA and TERRA PROMESSA.  DORODANSA finished second in the slop at Remington in the Trapeze Stakes last december, and has consistently hit the board.  Still, she now has three starts off her fall break, and has repeatedly been “not quite” against stakes-quality company.  With that, there is a bit more upside for TERRA PROMESSA to improve.  Like stablemate NICKNAME, she is second off the lay for Steve Asmussen.  She has proven form at the mile and a sixteenth of the Honeybee, as both her maiden win at Churchill and an allowance win at Oaklawn came at the distance.  Both of those came with stalk-and-pounce type trips.  Though the waters get deeper, that preferred trip could work out here, too.  Finally, though TERRA PROMESSA has not yet raced over slop, there are indications she will handle it.  Sire Curlin has a perfectly respectable 14% progeny win rate over slop, her dam Missile Bay won twice over off going, and half-brother Awesome Arceno also won in the mud.

Selections:

#1 COSMIC EVOLUTION (10/1)

#4 NICKNAME (7/5)

#5 TERRA PROMESSA (5/2)

Longshot:  The over/under on field size for which the longshot writer will wake up is seven.  The unders came in for the Honeybee.

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