Odds-on choice On Fire Baby won the Honeybee Stakes (gr. III) by two lengths at Oaklawn Park March 10, setting up an interesting decision for trainer Gary Hartlage and owner/breeder Anita Cauley (VIDEO).
Acknowledged as one of the best 3-year-old fillies around, On Fire Baby could remain with her own gender for Oaklawn's $300,000 Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) April 11. Or her connections could opt to face males in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (gr. I) April 14.
“We’ll see how she comes out of this race before we decide on her next race, but it will be here (at Oaklawn)," Hartlage said. "We have options now. We have enough earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) at this point and she’s undefeated at Churchill.
"I’ve been training horses around here for 25 years and the last horses I’ve seen that trained like her were Curlin and Rachel (Alexandra) and I know that’s saying something, but she’s just so flashy. So professional; I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be training one like her. If I had lost today, I would have had to go crawl in a gutter. It’s Anita’s birthday. She called it the best birthday she’s ever had. ”
On Fire Baby is half sister to High Heels, who won the 2007 Fantasy for Hartlage and Ebert, and is also a half to stakes winner French Kiss.
The robust gray/roan filly has faced males already this year, finishing a close third as the favorite in Oaklawn's Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 16. Hartlage felt that there was something wrong with the filly that day when she failed to fire after chasing the pace four wide.
On Fire Baby, a daughter of Smoke Glacken out of the Gilded Time mare Ornate, bounced out of that sub-par effort to post three sharp drills, including two bullet moves, in preparation for the 1 1/16-mile Honeybee.
With Joe Johnson aboard, the 2-5 choice On Fire Baby wrested the lead from pacesetter Amie's Dini past mid-stretch of the Honeybee and gradually pulled away to win in a time of 1:43.64 on a fast track.
"I said to Anita that Joe’s going to have to work a little harder than we thought," he said. "Just as soon as I said that, Joe went and tackled her and she really hung in there tough with our horse. Our horse ran a super race."
On Fire Baby, breaking from the far outside, settled into third early as Amie's Dini shot to the lead along the inside over Rocket Twentyone. On Fire Baby advanced into second on the backstretch and those two began to pull away from the field rounding the far turn after fractions of :23.68, :47.38, and 1:11.65.
Amie's Dini, under urging by Jon Court, was determined in the stretch but the Martha Washington Stakes winner could not fend off On Fire Baby in the final furlong. On Fire Baby was fully extended by Johnson in the late going to draw off.
“She hit the side of the gate leaving there, but recovered nicely," Johnson said. "She wanted to run and I could have slowed her, but I let her run one. She got to gawking in the stretch, but as soon as I asked her, she responded. She has a great future and I’m just glad to be a part.”
Colonial Empress, a maiden from the D. Wayne Lukas barn, was 9 1/2 lengths farther back in third with Terry Thompson aboard.
On Fire Baby raced with Lasix for the first time in six starts and posted her fourth win. She won the Pocahontas (gr. II) and Golden Rod (gr. II) stakes at Churchill Downs last fall to conclude her 2-year-old campaign. The Honeybee victor improved her career earnings $312,329.
The winner carried 119 pounds and paid $2.80, $2.40, and $2.10. Second choice Amie's Dini, who spotted the winner three pounds, returned $2.80 and $2.80, completing a $5.60 exacta. Colonial Empress paid $4.20.
In a strung out finish, Silver Hustler flattened out after rallying on the turn and finished fourth. Then came Our Domain, Inca Miss, Forgotten People, and Rocket Twentyone.