The countdown to the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) is on and the connections of the 14 fillies expected in the starting gate are eager to race for the lilies on the First Friday in May at Churchill Downs.
"We're just happy to be here," said Gary Hartlage, trainer of High Heels. "She is a good filly. I don't mind her post position (three, under jockey Joe Johnson), and if she runs back to her race in the (grade II) Fantasy (Stakes at Oaklawn Park), I think we will be hard to beat."
A daughter of E. Dubaiout of the Gilded Time mare Ornate, High Heels, owned and bred by Anita Ebert, won the Fantasy over fellow Oaks starter Cotton Blossom by 6 3/4 lengths.
In a dream scenario, Hartlage said he would prefer High Heels to be eighth or ninth early behind a hot pace. "Hopefully, there is a half in :46 and change, and Joe can just sit back and let her do her thing. When she is right, he just sits still and lets her go."
High Heels is listed at 6-1 on the morning line.
Cot Campbell, who campaigns Cotton Blossom under the Dogwood Stable banner, is anxiously awaiting a rematch with High Heels. "The race in Arkansas was a little bit of a surprise," said Campbell while watching the daughter of Broken Vow gallop around the Churchill oval Wednesday morning. "When she turned for home, I thought we were good, but that other filly engulfed her. We were beat off, but I don't know if that was our day."
Campbell said he is pleased with Cotton Blossom's post five. "You would think Dreaming of Anna would take the lead and try to go all the way, and you would think we would be able to drop in where we want," he said. "We have the rationale for winning it. I think she has a good shot to take it."
Before the Fantasy, the Todd Pletcher-trained Cotton Blossom scored a two-length win in the Florida Oaks in her 3-year-old debut.
Pletcher will also saddle 5-2 morning-line favorite Rags to Riches, as well as Octave. Rags to Riches will break from post 11 while Octave will go from gate five.
Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith own Rags to Riches while Jack Wolf's Starlight Stables and Donald Luccarelli own Octave.
"We were happy with all three," said Pletcher. "I didn’t mind being a little bit on the outside with Rags to Riches because that’s kind of the way she’s been having to run. At Santa Anita, she was outside a lot and it shouldn’t bother her. (Posts) four and five are okay for the other two.”
Pletcher won the 2004 Kentucky Oaks with Starlight Stable, Paul Saylor and Martin Johns’ Ashado. The winner of three consecutive Eclipse Awards as America’s top trainer is looking forward to another bid for America’s top race for 3-year-old fillies.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever come up to a big race as confident as we were with Ashado, but all three of these fillies are doing extremely well,” Pletcher said. “Certainly Rags to Riches’ races leading up to this have been impressive, so we’re looking forward to it.”
Octave, who will be ridden by John Velazquez, is listed as the 6-1 co-third choice in Mike Battaglia’s morning line. Cotton Blossom, who will have Edgar Prado in the saddle, has been installed as an 8-1 risk.
Trainer Doug O'Neill said he was not discouraged by Mistical Plan's post 13 for the J. Paul Reddam-owned filly. "The one nice thing is that she won the Fair Grounds Oaks from the outside," O'Neill said as he followed his filly to the racetrack. "She has a little history of success in winning from the outside, so we are going to stick with that."
A California-bred daughter of Game Plan, Mistical Plan led from gate to wire in the Fair Grounds Oaks before drawing away from fellow Oaks starter Octave by 3 1/4 lengths. Most recently, she finished fifth in the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) over the Keeneland Polytrack.
Jockey David Flores gets the call aboard Mistical Plan and the pair is listed at 12-1 on the morning line.