Favored Grace Hall stamped herself as the likely favorite for the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) when she romped to a 6 1/2-length victory in the $300,000 Gulfstream Oaks (gr. II) March 31 at Gulfstream Park (VIDEO) .
Runner-up in the 2011 Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), Grace Hall returned to the winner's circle for the first time since taking the Blue Hen Stakes at Delaware Park last October.
The winning daughter of Empire Maker is trained by Tony Dutrow for owners Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and The Elkstone Group. Darley bred the good-looking bay filly in Kentucky.
Last year's Spinaway Stakes (gr. I) winner atoned for a runner-up finish as the odds-on choice in Gulfstream's Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II) in her 2012 seasonal bow Feb. 25. Grace Hall was sent off as the 6-5 favorite in the field of eight 3-year-old fillies and completed the 1 1/18-mile distance in a relatively slow 1:49.36 on a track that had been playing fast all day.
Grace Hall is headed to the $1 million Kentucky Oaks May 4 at Churchill Downs. Dutrow said afterward that the filly would remain in training at Palm Meadows until at least April 15 before shpping to Kentucky.
Leading Gulfstream rider Javier Castellano, replacing the injured Ramon Dominguez, was aboard Grace Hall. She was taken in hand early while racing in fourth as Davona Dale upset winner Yara drove to the front over The Cat's All That and posted quarter-mile splits of :23.74, :47.19, and 1:10.80.
Grace Hall closed in on the leaders through the far turn and swept to the lead on the outside entering the homestretch. As Yara and The Cat's All That gave way, Grace Hall opened up three lengths on the rallying Zo Impressive and widened her advantage impressively in the final furlong.
“We got the perfect outside trip which is what I wanted," Castellano said. "I was hoping we’d be able to stalk the pace and that’s the way it worked out. She was very strong the entire way today. It was a really impressive effort.”
Zo Impressive, who had to steady in the early going when she bumped with Hearts of Red, closed well from fifth on the turn for Rajiv Maragh but was no match for the winner while clearly second best. Hearts of Red, 2 3/4 lengths farther back with Edgar Prado aboard, nosed The Cat's All That for third. Yara, who defeated Grace Hall by a neck at 64-1 odds in the Davona Dale, finished fifth. Then came Captivating Lass, And Why Not, and Emma's Encore.
“I didn’t make any excuses for her getting beat last time and gave the winner (Yara) credit,” said Dutrow. “Today, I was confident that she would run a big race and it set up perfect. She is happier outside in the clear (as opposed to racing inside when second to Yara in the Davona Dale)."
Out of the Ezzoud mare Season's Greetings, Grace Hall sold for $95,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. She has now banked $809,000 in a six-race career that includes four wins and two seconds.
Grace Hall paid $4.40, $2.60, $2.20. Live Oak Plantation's homebred Zo Impressive, losing for the first time in three starts while making her stakes debut, returned $3.20 and $2.80. The exacta with the two favorites was worth $12. Hearts of Red paid $7.60 to show.