Snow Dance won the Suwanee River for last year's Kentucky Derby-winning connections.

Snow Dance won the Suwanee River for last year's Kentucky Derby-winning connections.


Gulfstream Park Race Report: Mirror Image

Published in the March 9 issue of The Blood-Horse
If you didn't check your calendar carefully, you would have sworn that the featured stakes at Gulfstream on the weekend of March 2-3 were the same race. After all, both times the husband-wife teams of owners Debby and John Oxley and trainers Donna and John Ward Jr. stood in the winner's circle following a 1 1/8-mile graded stakes win by a daughter of Forest Wildcat Ward purchased as a yearling at Saratoga in 1999. And both featured remarkably similar running styles: Pat Day keeping a 4-year-old filly close to the pace before rallying down the lane to overtake a Mark Hennig-trained Edward Evans homebred for a win. Compounding the confusion, both fillies wore the number six saddlecloth, and both were making their second start of the year following a second-place finish in their 2002 bow.

But if you looked closely, you would have noticed some clear differences between the win in Saturday's Rampart Handicap (gr. II) by Forest Secrets and Sunday's tally in the Suwannee River Handicap (gr. IIIT) by Snow Dance. Besides the surface--Snow Dance has had all of her success on turf, with all four of her stakes wins coming over the weeds--the Oxleys' turf star is a muscular gray with a bothersome tendency to wait on horses after getting to the front.

"She's still inexperienced enough to think she can plain outrun horses," said Donna Ward, who oversees a string of 34 horses trained by her husband at Palm Beach Downs training center. After watching the replay showing Snow Dance doing exactly that, holding off a late charge by Step With Style by three-quarters of a length, she added, "That can sometimes hurt her, especially the way horses can make a big closing move on the turf."

By contrast, Forest Secrets extended her lead down the lane for a relatively facile three-length score over Summer Colony. And unlike Snow Dance, the Rampart winner races in the cerise silks of Debby, who got the horse as an anniversary gift from her husband in May 2000. "Every year I pick out one filly and give it to her," said John, who would later joke that the Suwannee River win was a way to stay even. "I thought these two were the nicest yearling fillies in the (Saratoga) sale."

Although hampered at first by a lung infection, a malady that would get the best of her during last summer's heat, Forest Secrets developed rapidly for the Wards, capturing the Acorn Stakes (gr. I) in just her third career start. She returned to health and to form in time to win November's Falls City Handicap (gr. III) at Churchill versus older runners, and was sent south for a 4-year-old campaign that began when she ran into a buzzsaw named Miss Linda in the Sabin Handicap (gr. III). Though that Argentine-bred was held out of the Rampart, Forest Secrets still had to deal with Summer Colony, a winner of six straight by an average margin of about nine lengths.

Donna Ward, though, was nonplussed, scoffing that while four of those wins came versus maiden or conditioned allowance foes, "Forest Secrets went through her conditions in a grade one." And Day rode the solid bay with equal confidence, remaining in the three-path--"the best part of the racetrack," he called it--within striking range throughout. He engaged Summer Colony near the three-eighths pole and the two standouts of the six-horse field were inseparable rounding the turn, a condition Day righted when he gave Forest Secrets a shake turning for home. She drew off with authority, her win timed in 1:49.83.

Now being able to boast of a stable with a top filly for both surfaces, Donna Ward indicated that the Breeders' Cup--the Distaff (gr. I) for Forest Secrets and the Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) for Snow Dance--would be the goal. Moreover, with both under her watch at Palm Beach Downs, she is able to daily see the happy redundancy that was on display this weekend. "They're both individuals but there's an awful lot of things they do alike," she said. "I told Pat once you've ridden one you might just as well have been on both."

(Chart, Equibase)