Oaklawn Park’s road to the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) begins Feb. 11 in Hot Springs with the one-mile Martha Washington Stakes. The $125,000 race for 3-year-old fillies leads to the March 11 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles and the April 14 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at the same trip.
The Martha Washington has proved to be an important early step for 3-year-old fillies. Eight Belles, runner-up in the 2008 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), stretched her legs in this spot, as did Hall of Famer Rachel Alexandra in 2009. Take Charge Brandi, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2014, won the event in her 2015 bow.
Nine fillies have passed the entry box for 2017, and several appear to have a shot of moving up and moving on.
Scott and Joe Ford’s Westrock Stables’ Torrent could spell trouble for the rest of the cast. The Blame filly notched a one-mile allowance optional claiming win at Oaklawn Jan. 20 while breaking from post 10. She’ll have post six this go ‘round with Ramon Vazquez up. She’s trained by Ron Moquett, who has 10 wins at the meet already.
Although second to Washington entrant Perfect Wife in December in Remington Park’s Trapeze Stakes, Torrent's recent score and a bullet :47 1/5 move Feb. 5 indicate improvement. Her dam, Tidal Pool, was second in the 2010 Fantasy and third in the Kentucky Oaks that year.
Ken McPeek trains Perfect Wife for Paul Fireman’s Fern Circle Stables. The Majesticperfection filly took the Trapeze wire to wire by five lengths. She broke her maiden at Keeneland first out last October, then was fourth in an allowance optional claiming race during Churchill Downs’ fall meet.
Another of interest is the winner of the six-furlong Dixie Belle Stakes, Chanel's Legacy, who will need to show she can handle some added ground; two outings at mile last year proved tiring.
There are two other strong players making their 3-year-old debuts.
On the rail is James Miller’s Lovely Bernadette, a winner of three straight in 2016 including the Rags to Riches Stakes at a one-turn mile at Churchill last October. Tested at the graded level, she was fifth behind Farrell in the grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes under the Twin Spires for trainer James DiVito.
Third in the Golden Rod was Clearview Stables’ Ever So Clever (Medaglia d'Oro —Foxy Danseur, by Mr. Greeley). The Steve Asmussen-trained dynamo was also second in the two-turn Pocahontas Stakes (G2) in September at Churchill.
Out of multiple graded stakes-placed Foxy Danseur, Ever So Clever’s pedigree runs back through the Phipps family as her third dam, grade 3 winner In Conference, was bred and raced by the late Ogden Mills Phipps.