Heavily favored Ashado, out of action since November 29, showed no signs of rustiness while tallying a 3 3/4-length victory over Victory U.S.A. in Saturday's $300,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) at 1 1/16 mile.
The 3-year-old daughter of Saint Ballado, ridden for the first time by Cornelio Velasquez, surged past Victory U.S.A. in mid-stretch while three wide and kept to the task to win in a time of 1:43.
"My filly ran a big race," Velasquez said. "At the three-sixteenth pole, my horse was full of run. She's a nice filly."
Victory U.S.A, ridden by Corey Lanerie, was 2 1/4 lengths in front of Shadow Cast. Steady Course, the 5-2 second choice in the field of six, was fourth, 5 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
Breaking form the inside, Ashado rated on the inside in third behind front-running Quick Temper, who established a moderate pace (:23 4/5, :47 3/5, 1:12 1/5). Entering the final turn, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly runner-up angled wide and easily reached the leaders as they set down for the drive. She was in full control with a furlong to go.
"We had the obvious concerns with her traveling to a track she hadn't run over, but she showed up with her "A" game today," winning trainer Todd Pletcher said. "It was very impressive. We will see how she comes out of the race, and she'll run once more, either in the Fantasy or the Ashland before the Kentucky Oaks. We're very pleased."
Victory U.S.A., forwardly placed throughout, appeared to throw in the towel in the stretch, but came on gamely to gain the place.
Trainer Bob Baffert took it in stride.
"She wasn't really geared up for a race like this, but she worked great and we decided to take a shot," Baffert said. "She was a bit hot in the paddock, but I like the way she ran. It's early in the year."
With Robby Albarado aboard, Shadow Cast closed willingly for third to get past Steady Course, who had ranged up while wide on the far turn before flattening out in the lane.
Ashado closed out 2003 with a nose victory in the Demoiselle (gr. II) at Aqueduct in November. Prior to that, she was a game second to Halfbridled in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). Her fifth win in seven career starts was worth $180,000 for owners Starlight Stable and Martin J. Saylor, pushing her lifetime earnings to $790,800.
Aaron and Marie Jones bred Ashado, who is from the Mari's Book mare, Goulash, in Kentucky. She was sold for $170,000 at Keeneland's September 2002 yearling sale.
Ashado paid $4.20, $2.60 and $2.20. Victory U.S.A. returned $3.40 and $2.40. Shadow Cast's show was $2.60.