Live Lively got the jump on odds-on choice Dreaming of Julia in the $245,000 Davona Dale (gr. II) and never looked back while registering a front-running 1 1/2-length victory in her stakes debut Feb. 23 at Gulfstream Park (VIDEO).
With Joel Rosario aboard once again, Live Lively has now won three races in a row for trainer Mark Hennig and owner Lee Lewis. She was making her first start around two turns in the Davona Dale.
Live Lively, the 2-1 second choice in a field of five 3-year-old fillies, carried five pounds less than top-weighted Dreaming of Julia. The 9-10 favorite, a grade I winner last year, carried 122 pounds in her first start since finishing third in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) Nov. 2.
With the Davona Dale win, the lightly raced Live Lively took the lead in the race for a starting slot in this year's Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) with 50 points. Dreaming of Julia, who earned 20 points with her second-place finish, is now second in the points standings with 32 points.
Live Lively, by Medaglia d'Oro , is the second foal out of stakes-winning sprinter Glacken's Gal, by Smoke Glacken. Bred in Kentucky by Edward A. Cox Jr., she was a $160,000 Keeneland September yearling buy in 2011.
"I figured she'd fall out of there (and go to the lead) it was just a matter if somebody was going to go with here," Hennig said. "She's got a good turn of foot and she's never showed us any lack of stamina. I figured if they tried to run with here it might have been a tall task. I was pleased. She couldn't have prepared any better for this and I was expecting a big race out of her."
The winning time for the 1 1/16-mile test was a solid 1:42.30 over a fast track.
Breaking from post 4 in the small field, Live Lively popped the gate to clear the field into the close clubhouse turn and opened up a three-length advantage over Dreaming of Julia early on the backstretch. With the favorite in pursuit, Live Lively raced comfortably off the rail while clipping off quarter mile fractions of :23.54, :46.77, and 1:10.21.
In spite of the swift pace, she was ready for the challenge when Dreaming of Julia attempted to close in during the stretch run and remained in control to the wire while extended under steady urging from Rosario.
"She did it so easily in front the whole way just trying to save some for the end," said Rosario, who has ridden Live Lively in all three of her wins. "I wasn't sure about the distance, but she looks like she can do anything. Every time she looks better and better and keeps improving."
Dreaming of Julia, ridden by John Velazquez for trainer Todd Pletcher, was unable to catch the winner but was a clear second by 5 3/4 lengths over Private Ensign and Javier Castellano.
"I thought she ran extremely well, we were sort of at the mercy of the pace scenario, so I think we had to take her out of her comfort zone earlier than we wanted to try and keep some pressure on the winner," Pletcher said of the runner-up. "The winner was too good and we were just second best of the day."
Lady Banks was fourth, with Twice Told Tale eased in the stretch.
Live Lively was coming off a front-running 11 1/4-length romp in a Gulfstream optional allowance $75,000 claimer at seven furlongs Jan. 1. She broke her maiden at Aqueduct Racecourse Nov. 23 after debuting with a third-place effort at Belmont Park last June. The victory, worth $150,000, boosted her career earnings to $220,300.
The winner paid $6.20, $3.20, and $2.20 while topping a $13.40 exacta with Dreaming of Julia, who returned $2.60 and $2.10. Private Ensign paid $2.10 to show.
Hennig said the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II) March 30 could be Live Lively's next start.
"She's seems to love training at Palm Meadows and when she comes down here she looks like a picture in the paddock," he said. "She never gets stirred up by the shipping. I don't see any point to running around to another racetrack at this point."