Grace Hall

Grace Hall

Coglianese Photos

Kentucky Oaks Field Taking Shape

Several stars have emerged along the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) trail.

This year’s Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) picture is shaping up nicely, with a talented cast of fillies poised to contend on the first Friday in May at Churchill Downs. While some of the fillies have boasted stellar 2-year-old campaigns that have carried over into their sophomore seasons, others have only recently emerged onto the scene with a victory in one of the major Oaks preps.

Here’s a closer look at some of the top 3-year-old Oaks-bound fillies according to the graded stakes earnings list:

Grace Hall

The daughter of Empire Maker , who ranks first by graded stakes earnings, has been ultra consistent, never finishing out of the money in her six-start career.

Trained by Tony Dutrow for Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and the Elkstone Group, Grace Hall broke her maiden on her first try last summer at Delaware Park and followed up that victory with consecutive scores in the Spinaway (gr. I) at Saratoga and Blue Hen Stakes at Delaware Park.

When asked why he had decided to enter Grace Hall in such a prestigious race as the Spinaway so early in her career, Dutrow explained, “We were feeling very good about her before she ever ran and took her over to Delaware, and she did what she promised to do.

“So I moved her to Saratoga two days later to prepare her for the Spinaway. I didn’t know she would win it, but I thought she would run very well. We just saw no reason to fool around. She’s promised to be a nice filly all along.”

Grace Hall’s next two starts were solid runner-up efforts in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Churchill in November and the Feb. 25 Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park. In her most recent outing at the Florida track, Grace Hall captured the March 31 Gulfstream Oaks Stakes (gr. II).

“When you look at her numbers, you’re not going to see a sensationally fast horse, but she just runs against the best class there is and she’s always a handful to compete with,” said Dutrow of Grace Hall, who will ship to Churchill May 1. “None of (her victories) have been surprising…she has shown a nice kind of horse from the time she walked into the barn.”

Believe You Can

Like Grace Hall, Brereton Jones’ homebred filly Believe You Can has recorded three stakes scores thus far, two of which were graded, during her eight-start career.

The daughter of Proud Citizen, who broke her maiden in front-running style last summer at Delaware Park, went on to capture the 2011 Temped Stakes (gr. III) at Belmont Park.

Believe You Can launched her 2012 campaign with a victory in the Jan. 21 Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds. She further solidified her Oaks status with a score in the March 31 Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II).

Trainer Larry Jones said the key to Believe You Can’s conditioning was taking things at a leisurely pace.

“We could tell she was one of our best prospects all along; we just brought her along slow,” Jones explained. “There have been a couple of disappointments along the way, but we tried to figure out what we did wrong and decided not to do it again. It’s like any young horse…you’ve got to play with them and figure out what you can do and can’t do.”

In one of Believe You Can’s three off-the-board efforts, she finished sixth, beaten 4 1/2 lengths by fellow Oaks contender On Fire Baby in the Pocahontas Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill last fall. In spite of that loss, however, Jones isn’t concerned about she will handle the track come Oaks day.

“She’s very easy going; she does everything very professionally,” said Jones of Believe You Can, who is scheduled to ship to Churchill the week of April 16.

Karlovy Vary

The daughter of Dynaformer just recently burst onto the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) scene when scoring in her first stakes, the April 7 Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.

“She seems to have come out of her race very well,” said Rusty Arnold, who trains the filly for owner/breeder Alex Campbell Jr. “We see no problems and our plan is to take her (to the Oaks); we see no reason not to.”

Karlovy Vary started her 3-year-old season with a score in an optional claiming contest on turf at Gulfstream Park Feb. 26, but before that, she had a pair of troubled unplaced efforts in the 2011 Ginger Brew at Gulfstream and the Golden Rod (gr. II) in her only start on dirt at Churchill.

Arnold can only hope Karlovy Vary will be able to turn things around on Oaks day. Since turning 3, she has shown tremendous mental maturity, which Arnold anticipates will continue help her focus better while on the racetrack. 

“I feel like she can handle the dirt, but how I feel doesn’t mean a thing,” he said. “She’s going to have to go over there and handle it.”

Arnold will send Karlovy Vary to Churchill the week of April 16 to get her re-accustomed with the facility. “She’ll have two works on the track, she’ll be in the paddock and the gate plenty, and hopefully we’ll have a good three weeks over there,” he said. 

Some of the other leading Oaks contenders include On Fire Baby, Killer Graces, Broadway's Alibi, Yara, Summer Applause, Reneesgotzip, and Eden's Moon.

On Fire Baby, who impressively captured the March 10 Honeybee Stakes (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park, will train up to the Oaks instead of running in the April 11 Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) or Arkansas Derby (gr. II) April 14.

Trained by Gary Hartlage for owner/breeder Anita Cauley, On Fire Baby became one of the favorites for the Kentucky Oaks last fall when she won both the Pocahontas and Golden Rod. In addition to her win against her own sex in the Honeybee, she also finished third in the Jan. 16 Smarty Jones Stakes against males.

Killer Graces, a seasoned campaigner of 11 starts, won last year’s Hollywood Starlet Stakes (gr. I) and two other black-type races at the Southern California track. The Oaks will be the first trip outside California for the daughter of Congaree , who is winless in three starts this year at Santa Anita Park.

Killer Graces most recently ran third in the Providencia Stakes (gr. IIIT) in her first start on the grass. She is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, who owns her in partnership with Daniel Borislow, Gillian Campbell, and Steve Melen. 

Broadway’s Alibi, a promising daughter of Vindication, is riding a four-race win streak, which includes victories in the Jan. 29 Forward Gal (gr. II) and April 7 Comely Stakes (gr. III). Trained by Todd Pletcher, the E. Paul Robsham Stables homebred will also be making her Churchill debut in the Oaks.

Yara, Summer Applause, Reneesgotzip, and Eden’s Moon each have one graded stakes victory to their credit on their way to the Oaks.

Yara captured Feb. 25 Davona Dale (gr. II), Summer Applause won the Feb. 25 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr. III), Reneesgotzip took the Santa Ynez (gr. II), and Eden’s Moon prevailed in the Las Virgenes (gr. I). None of the fillies have previously campaigned at Churchill.