Amerman Racing Stables' Balance heads a field of eight 3-year-old fillies entered for Saturday's $500,000 Ashland Stakes (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies at Keeneland. The 1 1/16-mile test is a major prep for the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I).
A daughter of Thunder Gulch, Balance is the likely favorite in the Ashland off a pair of grade I wins in the Santa Anita Oaks and Las Virgenes Stakes in Californa.
"In all of my 35 years, this is the hardest horse I've ever trained," said Balance's trainer, David Hofmans. "She has a mind of her own. You have to do everything her way."
Balance will be ridden in the Ashland by Victor Espinoza and will break from the No. 6 post.
Another major contender figures to be Ron and Ricki Rashinski's Bushfire, winner of the Florida Oaks at 1 1/16 miles, the same distance as the Ashland, in her last race.
"She's a front-running filly and, historically, the Keeneland track favors speed," said Bushfire's trainer Eddie Kenneally. "So we feel pretty good about it." Also entered in the Ashland is Arindel Farm's Wait a While, winner of the Davona Dale (gr. II) and third in the Bonnie Miss Stakes (gr. II ), both at Gulfstream Park.
"She's doing well. Be happy to hit the board (in the Ashland)," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "She'd benefit from a wet surface."
$500,000 Ashland Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, 5:20 p.m.), 3-Year-Old Fillies, 1 1/16 MIles
(Post Horse Jockey)
1 Bushfire, Cornelio Velasquez
2 Coolwind, Eusebio Razo Jr.
3 Wait a While, John R. Velazquez
4 Performing Diva, Rene Douglas
5 Sweet Sugaree, Shaun Bridgmohan
6 Balance, Victor Espinoza
7 Saratoga Drive, Javier Castellano
8 Itty Bitty Pretty, Mark Guidry