Trainer Matthew Chew has taken a shot with Singing Kitty from the start, and he'll do it again April 4 in the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I).
It began with a $32,000 claim, won in a two-way shake, on the then 2-year-old filly, when she won entered for a tag going six furlongs at Los Alamitos Race Course mid-December.
"We were looking for a nice, useful filly that could go around two turns," Chew said. "We went over to Los Al and liked what we saw, and ended up dropping a claim."
That move proved deft. The California-bred filly by Ministers Wild Cat , who had struggled to beat winners previously, prevailed easily that day by 2 3/4 lengths, but that was only the beginning.
Chew took another shot, sending the filly out for her first turf race New Year's Day at Santa Anita Park in the Blue Norther Stakes. She showed speed, but under cautious instructions from Chew, jockey Tyler Baze guided her to a seventh-place finish. Santa Anita Park, Saturday, April 04, 2015, Race 7
The Blue North effort was beneficial, however, because three weeks later she captured her first stakes win in the California Cup Oaks at odds of 7-1, then stunned a field of eight in the China Doll Stakes March 7 at 19-1, beating heavily-favored Curlin's Fox by 1 1/2 lengths. Both were mile turf tests at Santa Anita.
Now it's time for Chew to take yet another shot by entering Singing Kitty in the Oaks, which requires a return to dirt for the bay filly. It would be Chew's first graded stakes victory (he's been training since 1982) and would provide a spot for Singing Kitty in the gate for the May 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
"It's not often you get to run in a grade I and you don't expect these things," Chew said. "This is lightning in a bottle. If you drop a claim, realistically, you're just looking to get your money's worth, but this is what you dream of."
It's also a thrill for first-time owner Peter Jeong, who co-owns Singing Kitty with Chris Aulds.
"The guy wins two stakes with the first horse he's ever owned," Chew said with a laugh.
Singing Kitty, who will break from post 4 with Aaron Gryder—the same rider who guided her to the stakes wins—may be the sentimental favorite for the Santa Anita Oaks, but bettors will almost surely favor Stellar Wind.
The daughter of Curlin was an impressive winner by 2 3/4 lengths in the Santa Ysabel (gr. II) for Hronis Racing Feb. 28, defeating fellow Santa Anita Oaks entrants Light The City (second) and Glory (third) in her stakes debut.
Stellar Wind will return Santa Ysabel rider Victor Espinoza and break from post 6 for trainer John Sadler.
China Doll runner up Curlin's Fox, who was fancied at even money for the turf race, returns to take on Singing Kitty again in the Santa Anita Oaks, along with She's a Big Winner, who was third in the same race.
Two stakes newcomers—Kaleem Shah's Luminance and Ramona Bass' Wild At Heart—also exit the same race. Luminance, trained by Bob Baffert, is undefeated in two starts and won her last by a nose over Wild At Heart in a mile allowance/optional claiming even at Santa Anita Feb. 28.
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Light the City (KY) Kent J. Desormeaux 122 Jerry Hollendorfer - 2 2Glory (KY) Rafael Bejarano 122 Jerry Hollendorfer - 3 3Curlin's Fox (KY) Mike E. Smith 122 Carla Gaines - 4 4Singing Kitty (CA) Aaron T. Gryder 122 Matthew Chew - 5 5Luminance (KY) Martin Garcia 122 Bob Baffert - 6 6Stellar Wind (VA) Victor Espinoza 122 John W. Sadler - 7 7Wild At Heart (KY) Flavien Prat 122 Richard E. Mandella - 98 8She's a Big Winner (PA) SCRATCHED 0 UNKNOWN -
Santa Anita Park, Saturday, April 04, 2015, Race 7