Considering she won the event last year and is coming off a nose defeat against the boys five weeks ago, Ventura would seem to be a cinch for the $300,000 Vinery Madison (gr. I) on April 9 at Keeneland. But that is not the case, as the Chester House filly will face six capable fillies on the Polytrack, including multiple stakes winners Informed Decision and Bsharpsonata.
The seven furlong Madison was upgraded for the first time this year to a grade I. Last year, as a grade II, Ventura overcame a slow start, was 10th after a half-mile, and went seven-wide into the stretch under Garrett Gomez before scoring by a length. It was her first graded stakes victory.
Since then, the Bobby Frankel trainee has become a star, winning the Just a Game (gr. IT) on Belmont’s turf, the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint at Santa Anita, and kicking off her 5-year-old season with a win in the Jan. 31 Santa Monica Handicap (gr. I) over the same Pro-Ride surface. The dark bay has nearly beaten the males twice too. She lost to Rahy's Attorney by a little more than a length in the $1 million Woodbine Mile (Can-IT) last September and most recently, was beaten a nose by Gio Ponti in the March 7 Frank Kilroe Mile (gr. IT) at Santa Anita.
Owned and bred by Juddmonte Farms and out of the Be My Guest mare Estala, Ventura is 8-6-1 from 17 starts with nearly $1.6 million in earnings. Gomez will keep the mount on the 4-5 morning-line favorite, who drew post 4 and will give six pounds to all but one of her rivals.
George Strawbridge Jr.’s Informed Decision may present the biggest threat to Ventura, although she enters off a nearly six-month layoff. When last seen, the daughter of Monarchos was romping to a 4 1/4-length victory in the Oct. 18 Lexus Raven Run Stakes (gr. II) on the Keeneland Polytrack. The month before that she won the Missile Belle Stakes on the Belmont dirt. Both were at the Madison distance.
A lightly-raced 4-year-old, Informed Decision is 5-0-1 from seven starts for trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Included in those victories was a 6 1/4-length annihilation in an allowance sprint at Keeneland one year ago, giving her a pair of no-doubt-about it wins on the strip. John Velazquez will get the return mount and they will break from the rail. Informed Decision, the 5-2 second choice on the morning line, turned in a bullet work April 6 at Keeneland in preparation for the Madison.
After an outstanding 2008 season, Cloverleaf Farms II's homebred Bsharpsonata will make the second start of her 4-year-old season. The Todd Pletcher trainee set the pace and led into the stretch of the Feb. 15 La Canada (gr. II) on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride before finishing third in the nine-furlong race.
The Pulpit filly has had a single start over the Keeneland Polytrack – and it was a good one. In last year’s Ashland (gr. I), she led in deep stretch before being tackled at the wire by Little Belle. That tough-luck loss snapped a four-race win streak for Bsharpsonata, which included a victories in the Forward Gal and Davona Dale Stakes – both grade IIs at Gulfstream Park. Eibar Coa will get the call and they will break from the outside post.