Ermine Breezes Toward Kentucky Oaks; Field Taking Shape

Oxbow Racing's Ermine, one of 15 runners pointed toward the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) May 5 at Churchill Down, tuned up for a run in the 1 1/8-mile race with a six-furlong work in 1:13.40 April 18 at Churchill Downs.

The Ronny Werner-trained Ermine is one of 15 fillies considered "likely" for the Oaks. The field includes three fillies, Last Romance, Miss Norman, and Top Notch Lady, which were not among the original 159 nominees for the race, but will be supplemented for a fee of $25,000. The race is limited to 14 starters, with preference given to horses with the highest total earnings in graded stakes races.

Unlike the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), there is no preference for original nominees over supplemental entries.

Ermine, winner of the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park in her most recent start, could be left out of the race based on earnings. The Honeybee was not a graded stakes race so none of the $79,700 earned by Ermine in her five career races would count toward getting her into the starting gate for the Oaks.

"That's scarin' me," Werner said. "But to me it's all irrelevant. You need to be at your best, especially in that race (Oaks), and I don't see any way she could have her best running three weeks to three weeks. She just couldn't have done that. If we get in, we get in. I hope we do, but if don't we'll just have to regroup. But it's definitely one we want to run in."

The Honeybee win was the second consecutive victory for Ermine and Werner considered running his filly back in the Fantasy (gr. II), but decided to train the filly up to the Oaks at his Churchill Downs base.

"She's just kind of a thinner-made filly and can a little picky in the (feed) bucket at times," the trainer said. "But she's been doing great and knocking the bottom (of the feed bucket) here and has put on some weight. To go three weeks (between the Honeybee and the Fantasy) and try to wheel back in three weeks (in the Oaks), I just didn't see that was doable. I really honestly think this is the best way to have her at her best."

Ermine, a daughter of Exchange Rate, worked in company with older stablemate Cheyenne Spirit. Jockey Robby Albarado was aboard for the move and will have the mount aboard Ermine in the Oaks if she were to get into the race.

"I was very pleased with that work," Werner said. "I wanted to work her in some company and I'm getting Cheyenne Spirit ready for a race next week, so I wanted this type of work for her, as well. So it kind of worked out for both. I did want a better work out of Ermine and a little bit longer work, and I got what I wanted and it worked out just right."

Also working toward an Oaks start, Wonder Lady Anne L, trained by Richard Dutrow Jr. for IEAH Stables and Joseph Plumeri, worked six furlongs in 1:12 1/5 at Palm Meadows Training Center April 18.

In addition to Ermine, the list of "possible" Oaks contenders includes:

Balance (David Hoffmans, Amerman Racing)

Bushfire (Eddie Kenneally, Homewrecker Stables)

Diplomat Lady (Chris Paash, Charles Cono)

Ex Caelis (Wayne Lukas, Circle C Group Stables)

Itty Bitty Pretty (Doug O'Neill, STD Racing and Jason Wood)

Last Romance (Richard Dutrow Jr., Sanford Goldfarb, Michael Dubb, and Bunch of Character Stables)

Lemons Forever (Dallas Stewart, Willis Horton and Stewart)

Miss Norman (Karin Long, Greg Norman)

Press Camp (William Morey, Peters Stables, Rancho Miguel, and Matthew Shaver)

Quiet Kim (Bob Hess, Jr., Chris Houchin)

Ready to Please (Todd Pletcher, James Scatuorchio)

Top Notch Lady (Mark Casse, Robert Wilson)

Wait a While (Todd Pletcher, Arindel Farm)

Wonder Lady Anne L (Richard Dutrow, Jr., IEAH Stables and Joseph Plumeri)