Brad Cox already planned on being a busy man come May 4.
As the trainer of grade 1 winner Monomoy Girl, Cox is set to have one of the favorites when the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) goes to post at Churchill Downs on the first Friday in May. In addition to the demands that come with handling a filly who is a neck away from being undefeated, Cox now has the happy issue of having multiple charges to tend to in their quest for the lilies after Sassy Sienna edged Wonder Gadot by a nose in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park April 13.
The 1 1/16-mile Fantasy Stakes offered 100 qualifying points to its winner toward the Oaks. With her late surge between rivals Friday, Sassy Sienna earned her first graded stakes win and the right to give her stablemate some fits next month.
"She had to dig in. In the last sixteenth, I didn't know if she was going to win it or be third. I was kind of thinking she was going to be third," Cox said of Sassy Sienna. "She ran a tremendous race. She's a very tough filly who always gives you all she's got. Hopefully, we've got some left for three weeks from today."
While most of the barn's spotlight has been on Monomoy Girl, Sassy Sienna has been a reliable source of quality for Cox, hitting the board in seven of her nine career starts. Her trainer thought enough of the daughter of Midshipman to start her in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (G1) at Keeneland in October when she ran fourth. Making her season debut at Oaklawn in a Jan. 15 allowance/optional claimer, she delivered an eye-catching, 9 1/2-length win.
"We've liked her all along," Cox said. "She's shown us a lot from the get-go, and now it's on to the Oaks."
Sassy Sienna came into the Fantasy off a third-place effort to Cosmic Burst and Amy's Challenge in the March 10 Honeybee Stakes (G3). Both of those rivals were back in the eight-horse Fantasy field, and much like she did in the Honeybee, Amy's Challenge did all she could to make her front-end speed last.
After cutting the quarter-mile in :22.87 over a fast (sealed) track, Amy's Challenge opened up by four lengths as she reached the half in :45.88 and pushed that advantage to five lengths approaching the final turn.
Sassy Sienna was stalking the pacesetter in second under Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens, and when Amy's Challenge started getting leg-weary in the lane, the former shifted out and continued on with a sustained bid to get the nod over equally game graded stakes winner Wonder Gadot.
"It was an awesome, awesome trip," Stevens said. "I didn't use her much away from the gate last time. I shuffle back and it kind of backfired on me. She was super sharp, and the crew had her ready.
"She left there running and sat a good trip in second, and she just kept grinding it out. I told those guys I was wishing today was a mile and an eighth, and that's a good thing because she will get the mile and an eighth for the Oaks. She is springing forward at the right time."
Wonder Gadot was 2 1/4 lengths clear of Amy's Challenge for second, locking herself into a trip to Louisville as well. Cosmic Burst was fourth, with Bo Peep completing the top five.
The final time for the Fantasy was 1:45.63.
Owned by Medallion Racing and Jerry McClanahan, Sassy Sienna improved her record to three wins from nine starts and rewarded backers who supported her at odds of 11-1. She was bred in Kentucky by Haymarket Farm and is out of the Pleasant Tap mare Tap for Gold.