John Oxley's grade I winner Spring in the Air will face a full field of 13 rivals in the $500,000 Central Bank Ashland (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16 miles on the main track at Keeneland April 6.
The Ashland, which also drew two also-eligibles, awards 170 points toward qualification for the May 3 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs with 100 points going to the winner.
It will go as the ninth race on Saturday's 10-race program with a post time of 5:13 p.m. (ET). First post time Saturday is 1:05 p.m.
Spring in the Air, one of two entrants for trainer Mark Casse, has the distinction of being the only grade I winner in the Ashland field with her score in last fall's Darley Alcibiades. The bay filly has the added advantage of recording that victory over the Keeneland Polytrack at the Ashland distance.
She will be attempting to become the fifth filly to sweep the Alcibiades and the Ashland. Of those five, only Optimistic Gal (1975) and Silverbulletday (1998) went on to win the Kentucky Oaks after their Ashland victories.
Spring in the Air also ran second in the 2012 Natalma Stakes (Can-IIT), but finished a distant fifth in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). She made her 2013 debut March 11 with a runner-up finish to stablemate and Ashland rival Spring Venture in the March 11 OBS Championship (Filly Division) Stakes at Ocala Training Center.
"Spring in the Air bled pretty badly in the Breeders' Cup so it took us a little longer to get her back (to the races), whereas Spring Venture was able to have one start back at Gulfstream (before the OBS Championship)," explained Casse of the two daughters of Spring At Last. "The race in Ocala was great—it was a nice little prep...I thought Spring Venture would have a bit of an edge and Spring in the Air might get a little tired and that's what happened. Both of them came out of the race in good order and have been training really well. I would think they'd be tough (in the Ashland); they have a fair amount of experience over the synthetic."
Jockey Patrick Husbands, who was aboard for the Darley Alcibiades triumph, has the call Saturday on Spring in the Air, and the pair will break from post 11.
Bred in Ontario by WinStar Farm, Spring in the Air is out of the Unbridled mare Unbridled Run and was a $130,000 purchase at the 2012 Ocala Breeders' Sale Co.'s select sale of 2-year-olds in training.
Spring Venture, owned by Gary Barber and Stoneway Farm, is one of two other graded stakes winners in the field, having captured the 2012 Natalma over Spring in the Air and the Mazarine (Can-III) at Woodbine. Miguel Mena has the mount on Spring Venture and will break from post 4.
In her most recent work, Spring Venture covered four furlongs in :48 1/5 at Keeneland March 31 and was clocked the fastest of 16 horses at the distance. "That was just like a fast gallop for her and she did it effortlessly," said Casse.
Bred in Kentucky by Stoneway, Spring Venture is out of the Rahy mare Zahwah. She was a $320,000 purchase at the 2012 OBS June sale of 2-year-olds and horses of racing age.
Casse noted he's satisfied with the post positions of both Spring in the Air and Spring Venture.
"I was a little worried about being too far outside, but Spring Venture got the 3 hole, which with her speed is a good deal," he said. "With Spring in the Air, I think Patrick will be able to scoot over and not be too wide in the first turn."
Two of the biggest threats to Spring in the Air and Spring Venture appear to be the Graham Motion-trained Kitten's Point and Tuttipaesi.
Owned by Augustin Stable, Kitten's Point won the March 2 Herecomesthebride Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park and finished second in the JPMorgan Chase Jessamine (gr. III) at Keeneland last fall. The filly will be ridden by Edgar Prado and break from post position 7.
Irish-bred Tuttipaesi raced her first five starts in Europe and won two stakes in Italy last year. The daughter of Clodovil captured the Ginger Brew Stakes on turf at Gulfstream in her first outing on United States soil, followed by a third-place effort in the Herecomesthebride. Owned by Valor Ladies, she will break from post 1 under jockey Alan Garcia.
"They've both done well since they ran at Gulfstream and I had this race in mind for both of them," said Motion. "Kitten's Point broke her maiden on the synthetic and Tuttipaesi won on (the synthetic) in Europe. So we felt like they both could handle that surface...(the Ashland) is a grade I for 3-year-old fillies and they're both in good form, so it seemed like a good opportunity."
Other Ashland runners include three additional Darley Alcibiades contenders: runner-up Broken Spell, third-place finisher Magical Moon, and 11th-place finisher Kitten's Dumplings.
Completing the field are stakes winners Nipissing, Redressthebalance, and Allanah; and graded stakes-placed runners Private Ensign, Wave Theory, Every Way, and Emollient.
$500,000 Central Bank Ashland (gr. I, Race 9, 5:13 p.m.), 3YO Fillies, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Tuttipaesi (IRE), A Garcia, H G Motion
2. Nipissing (ON), S R Bahen, R Halden
3. Private Ensign (KY), C J Lanerie, D L Romans
4. Spring Venture (KY), M Mena, M E Casse
5. Broken Spell (KY), J Rocco, Jr., D W Lukas
6. Redressthebalance (IRE), J L Castanon, D F O'Neill
7. Kitten's Point (PA), E S Prado, H G Motion
8. Kitten's Dumplings (KY), S Bridgmohan, M J Maker
9. Allanah (KY), N Arroyo, Jr., K Gorder
10. Every Way (KY), J Graham, M Stidham
11. Spring in the Air (ON), P Husbands, M E Casse
12. Wave Theory (KY), J R Leparoux, C C Brown
13. Emollient (KY), M E Smith, W I Mott
14. Magical Moon (MD), R Napravnik, A M Stall, Jr.
15. Adriani (KY), J Rosario, D Fawkes
16. Cash Is Queen (KY), R Albarado, S S Lyster
All carry 121 pounds.