Undefeated Cathryn Sophia looms as a most imposing foe to six rivals entered for the $200,000 Davona Dale (gr. II), a mile stakes for 3-year-old fillies on the undercard of the eight-stakes Fountain of Youth (gr. II) program Feb. 27 at Gulfstream Park.
The John Servis-trained filly has captured the first three races of her career for Cash is King by a combined 34 1/2 lengths to distinguish herself as a rising star in her division. After her debut at Parx Racing in late October—a 12 3/4-length score—she swept to a 16 1/2-length victory in the Gin Talking Stakes at Laurel Park Dec. 5, and turned in an overpowering 5 1/4-length romp in the Forward Gal (gr. II) at Gulfstream Jan. 30.
Unlike her first two front-running triumphs, Cathryn Sophia settled well off the pace after she broke a step slow in the Forward Gal and surged to a dominating victory under a hand ride.
"It was obviously not what we were expecting by any means, with the break and everything. But she handled everything professionally. She did everything right," Servis said. "Other than getting bored a little bit and switching leads in the stretch, which she seems to be doing in every race, she's done everything right."
Although Servis had always expected the daughter of Street Boss to be talented racehorse, the handy manner in which she has dismissed her rivals in her first three races, despite racing greenly, has caught him off guard.
"She's surprised me a lot. I guess the one thing that makes me take notice is that she's shown that there's still a lot to improve on," Servis said. "She had run only two times going into her last trace. It's more a matter of maturity than anything."
The versatility and ability to rate that Cathryn Sophia demonstrated in her last start have bolstered her trainer's confidence about her chances of successfully transferring her outstanding form around two turns in the future, as well as at Saturday's one-turn mile distance.
"I would say I'm a lot more comfortable about the two turns after her last race, but you never know until you lead them over there and see how they handle the two turns," said Servis, who is tentatively looking ahead to the 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II) April 2. "The one thing I feel good about is that she doesn't need to be in front now, which is a good thing. The way she settled in her last race pretty much lets us put her where we want her."
Cathryn Sophia is slated to be ridden by Javier Castellano for the first time in the Davona Dale, filling in for injured Joel Rosario, who was aboard for her victory in the Forward Gal. The Davona Dale is worth points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.
Castellano may well have to call upon Cathryn Sophia's ability to rate off the pace with the presence of R Girls a Charmer in the field.
Gary Barber's filly has demonstrated high early speed in all three of her front-running starts, including a 6 3/4-length maiden score at six furlongs at Gulfstream Jan. 2 and a four-length romp in the seven-furlong Gasparilla at Tampa Bay Downs Jan. 23.
The daughter of In Summation captured her stakes debut in her first start for Barber and trainer Mark Casse.
"Mr. Barber is always looking to buy horses privately after they show they have talent," said Casse's son and top assistant, Norm. "Her race was obviously very impressive when she broke her maiden."
R Girls a Charmer certainly didn't disappoint her new connections in the Gasparilla.
"We had high expectations going in. She came over to us in really good order. She seems to be a very special filly," said Norm Casse, who oversees the day-to-day training of his father's stable at Palm Meadows Training Center. "She's really fast. The Tampa race was what we were expecting."
Luis Saez is scheduled to ride R Girls a Charmer for the first time Saturday.
The 1-2 finishers in the Nov. 28 Demoiselle (gr. II) at Aqueduct Racetrack are scheduled for their respective 2016 debuts in the Davona Dale. Alpha Delta Stable's Lewis Bay defeated Michael Tabor's Thrilled by 1 3/4 lengths at 1 1/8 miles in the Demoiselle.
Prior to her runner-up finish to Lewis Bay in the Demoiselle, Todd Pletcher-trained Thrilled ran the first four races of her career on turf, including a loss by a nose in the Miss Grillo (gr. IIIT) at Belmont and an off-the-board finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT) at Keeneland.
Gelfenstein Farm's Dearest, who defeated R Girls a Charmer in their respective debuts at Gulfstream Park West Nov. 28, is slated to seek her third straight victory without a loss Saturday. The Gilberto Zerpa-trained daughter of Midshipman followed up her debut with a 1 1/4-length victory in a seven-furlong optional claiming allowance at Gulfstream Jan. 17.
Gulfstream Park, Saturday, February 27, 2016, Race 5
PP Horse Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L 1 1Thrilled (KY) John R. Velazquez 116 Todd A. Pletcher 6/1 2 2Dearest (KY) Edgard J. Zayas 116 Gilberto Zerpa 5/1 3 3Bagema (KY) John Cruz 116 Mikhail Yanakov 30/1 4 4Lewis Bay (KY) Irad Ortiz, Jr. 122 Chad C. Brown 4/1 5 5Cathryn Sophia (MD) Javier Castellano 122 John C. Servis 6/5 6 6R Girls a Charmer (FL) Luis Saez 120 Mark E. Casse 9/2 7 7Rontos Lily (FL) Emisael Jaramillo 116 Enrique A. Sanchez 30/1
Gulfstream Park, Saturday, February 27, 2016, Race 5