Lilacs and Lace, under a vigorous ride by Russell Baze, collared front-running Cathy's Crunches past the 16th pole and drew off to a 1 1/2-length victory in the $92,000 California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields Jan. 1 (VIDEO).
The race was marred by the breakdown of Game to Run, who was injured while tracking the pace approaching the final turn of the 1 1/16-mile event on Golden Gate's Tapeta racing surface. According to California Horse Racing Board veterinarian Dr. Forrest Franklin, the daughter of Game Plan sustained a condylar fracture of her right front cannon bone and was euthanized.
With the scratch of Seismic Speed, the field for the California Oaks was reduced to four. Lilacs and Lace was able the tables on the 1-2 choice Cathy's Crunches, whose three-stakes winning streak came to an end. Cathy's Crunches came from behind to defeat Lilacs and Lace in the one-mile Corte Madera Stakes by a half-length Dec. 4.
This time, it was Cathy's Crunches on the lead, and she appeared to be cruising for jockey Chad Schvaneveldt, opening a two-length lead while posting easy fractions of :25.35, :50.89, and 1:15.81. She was still in front by 1 1/2 lengths mid-stretch before Lilacs and Lace, under the whip from the quarter-pole, came charging on the outside. Second choice Lilacs and Lace dug in gamely and swept past the favorite with relative ease.
“I thought she was a talented filly but apparently she’s more talented than I thought," Baze said. "The way the leader was cruising I didn’t think there was any way we could run her down. She put two lengths on us at the top of the stretch and I thought I was riding for second money. I let my filly drift out a little bit in mid-stretch and then she really kicked it in. She ran great because the leader finished strong."
Trained by Duane Offield, Lilacs and Lace raced without blinkers in the California Oaks and earned her first stakes victory for owners/breeders Judy Hicks and Kathryn Nikkel. The chestnut is a Kentucky-bred daughter of Flower Alley out of the Seattle Slew mare Refinement.
The California Oaks is the first leg of the new “Black-Eyed Susan 2.2” bonus program that will reward any filly that can win the California Oaks, Santa Anita Oaks March 5, the Gulfstream Park Oaks April 2, and the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico Race Course May 21 with a $2.2 million payday ($2 million for the owners, $200,000 for the trainer).
“She’s just starting to get mature," Offield said. "I took the blinkers off just to get her to relax. She was too keen the first part (in the Corte Madera). We wanted to get her to come from off the pace because she’s going to need to do that to go on to some bigger races. On the second turn I thought we’d be second.
"The bonus is an incentive. We might try that (the Santa Anita Oaks) and see what happens. There’s not going to be anything up here for her.”
Schvaneveldt could offer no excuse for Cathy's Crunches, who shouldered top weight of 122 pounds, five more than Lilacs and Lace. Cathy's Crunches was purchased privately by Jerry Hollendorfer and Mark DeDomenico after breaking her maiden in her debut by 9 1/2 lengths at Calder in June and went on to record a 5-1-1 mark in seven starts in 2010.
“I had everything my own way and she laid her body down when I asked her in the stretch," Schvaneveldt said of the favorite. "I couldn’t believe the other filly ran us down, and she went by us pretty easy.”
After winning once in five starts with two seconds in 2010, Lilacs and Lace earned $60,000 for the California Oaks victory to boost her total to $95,550.
Sent off as the second choice, Lilacs and Lace paid $6.80 and $2.20 and keyed a $14.40 exacta. Cathy's Crunches returned $2.10. It was 5 1/2 lengths back to third-place finisher Sister Glady Oh La. There was no show wagering.