The finish of Friday's Grade 2, $300,000 La Troienne could wind up looking a lot like that of the 2011 Kentucky Oaks as Plum Pretty and St. John's River renew acquaintance over 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs. The La Troienne is the first of six stakes on the Kentucky Oaks Day program.
Originally a destination for the now-retired Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, the La Troienne will now have as its focus Plum Pretty, whose signature victory in the 2011 Oaks propelled her to stardom. Though a dominating score in the Grade 2 Cotillion proved to be her only other victory in five subsequent outings last season, the Bob Baffert-trained miss got her four-year-old campaign off to a marvelous beginning three weeks ago in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park.
Making her first start in five months, Plum Pretty overcame a slow start in the 1 1/16-mile Apple Blossom and rated in second behind Twelve Twenty Two to the far turn. Asked by Rafael Bejarano for her bid, Plum Pretty smoothly passed that rival approaching the quarter pole and won ridden out by 2 1/4 lengths.
St. John's River concedes much in the way of recent activity to Plum Pretty, who beat her by a diminishing head in last year's Kentucky Oaks. The daughter of Include has been out of action since running fifth in the Grade 1 Alabama on August 20, and the 1 1/16-mile distance might prove a tad short given she was life and death to get up in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks at the same trip last summer. She will be reunited in this stepping stone with Rosie Napravnik, who last rode the filly in the Oaks.
Absinthe Minded weakened to fourth in last year's La Troienne after setting the pace and is still seeking her first graded triumph despite several Grade 1-placings. A potential target for Plum Pretty here, Absinthe Minded might need a career effort over track where she is only one-for-nine.
Making their first starts since November are Afleeting Lady, runner-up by a neck in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap, and Maristar, a closing third in the Grade 2 Chilukki on Breeders' Cup weekend. Grade 2 Indiana Oaks winner Juanita was most recently second to Havre de Grace in New Orleans Ladies, but otherwise looks a cut below the top players. Love Theway Youare, second in a modest renewal of the Grade 1 Santa Margarita in the slop, completes the field.
Mucho Macho Man, third a year ago this weekend in the Kentucky Derby, will be among the serious players in the Grade 2, $300,000 Alysheba for older horses over 1 1/16 miles. Sidelined following last year's Triple Crown, the Kathy Ritvo-trained bay has won three straight since his return, including a 1 1/2-length score in the Florida Sunshine Millions Classic over subsequent Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap winner Ron the Greek, and a two-length victory in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap over the likes of Tackleberry and Jackson Bend.
Successful Dan crossed the wire first in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap over this track in the fall of 2010, but was demoted to third after causing interference. Sidelined by infirmities for the next 16 months, the Grade 2-winning gelding made his long-awaited return against allowance foes at Keeneland on April 6, and beat a graded-quality field by a length going about seven furlongs.
Entering the Alysheba on an upswing is the former claimer Nates Mineshaft, who ripped off four straight wins at Fair Grounds over the winter including a tour de force victory in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap by 7 1/4 lengths. He preceded that win with another wire-to-wire triumph in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap. Expected to show speed from post 1, Nates Minehsaft will attempt to carry his Louisiana form elsewhere for trainer Austin Smith.
Among the other main contenders in the field of 10 are Fort Larned, a grandson of the Hall of Fame mare Bayakoa, who pulled off upsets in the Grade 3 Skip Away at Gulfstream and the Challenger at Tampa Bay Downs in his last two. Grade 2 veteran Apart, who has not raced since August, is a Grade 3 winner over the course and distance, as is another returning vacationer, Colizeo.