Bushfire Too Hot to Handle in Florida Oaks

Bushfire, under John Velazquez, shook off a last-place trip in the Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park Feb. 4 and scored a three-quarter length victory in the $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday.

Trained by Eddie Kenneally, Bushfire was overly aggressive early in the Oaks, said Velazquez, but settled in nicely on the pace at the half-mile mark and held off Saratoga Drive in the stretch.

"She handled it perfect, a little on the aggressive side in the first part of the race, but finally she got to relax on the backside," Velazquez said. "From then on, it was all her. I was going to wait on her. In the stretch, she was pulling up and waiting till (Saratoga Drive) got up to her, then she started running again."

The Florida-bred, owned by Ron and Ricki Rashinski, was sent off as the fourth choice on the tote board at 6-1. She covered the 1 1/16-mile dirt course in 1:46.25. Favorite Crystal Current, out of George Steinbrenner's Kinsman Stable, held on for third in the field of nine.

Stolen Prayer, along the inside, led the opening quarter-mile in :23 while dueling with Bushfire before the latter took over, cutting fractions of :47 1/5 for the half and six furlongs in 1:12 1/5 while edging away from the tiring Stolen Prayer.

The win was Bushfire's third in five starts. Her paycheck of $117,500 upped her career earnings to $145,940. She paid $13.40, $7 and $3.40 as the fourth choice of the public. Saratoga Drive, ridden by Javier Castellano, returned $5 and $3, while Crystal Current, Cornelio Velasquez aboard, was $2.40 to show.

Kenneally said Bushfire could run next in the Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland or the Fantasy (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park.

Saturday's bounce back performance didn't surprise the trainer, who said Bushfire hated the sloppy track in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream.

"We took a shot in the slop because we didn't know if she'd care for it or not," Kenneally said. "She came back with a good effort. Next time, we can have her relax early."

(Chart, Equibase)