Ike and Dawn Thrash’s Dawn After Dawn was a solid performer in each of her four past starts, registering two wins – one in the La Canada Stakes (gr. II) – under jockey Garrett Gomez. But a newcomer to American stakes competition has Gomez switching tack, and unless agent Ron Anderson is far off base, Juddmonte Farms’ Ventura could be the horse to beat when trainer Bobby Frankel sends her postward in the $200,000 Vinery Madison Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland.
“There’s a lot of talk about the Frankel filly,” said John Sadler, trainer of Dawn After Dawn. “Since that’s where my jock went, I guess you have to consider her.”
The April 9 race for older fillies and mares has drawn a solid field of 11 starters ready to try their luck at seven furlongs on Polytrack. Familiar names include Wild Gams, Street Sounds, and Mini Sermon, all runners with successful experience over the Lexington track’s synthetic surface. But Ventura has also won on Polytrack, albeit overseas.
A daughter of the late Chester House bred in Kentucky by Juddmonte out of the Be My Guest mare Estala, Ventura began her career in England and won or placed in six of seven efforts there – including a win in the Digibet.com Hyde Stakes at Kempton Park last November – before shipping to Frankel’s barn. First time out in the U.S., she was the handy winner of a 6 ½-furlong allowance on the downhill turf course at Santa Anita March 6. Gomez was aboard for that start and thought the filly showed great potential, and Anderson is bent on keeping the mount until something happens to prove otherwise.
“I think she might be a scary type of filly, that’s how good she might be,” Anderson said. “I know (her last start) was a condition race down the hill and all, but if you look at her past performances she’s event better on synthetics than she was on turf. If she’s better on synthetics than she was the other day, believe me, she’s very, very good.”
But Dawn After Dawn is also very good. She wired the field in the 1 1/8-mile La Canada Stakes (gr. II) under Gomez in February and finished second to Nashoba’s Key in her last start – March 9 Santa Margarita Invitational Handicap (gr. I) at Santa Anita. The Successful Appeal
filly, bred in Florida by Hartley/De Renzo Thoroughbreds out of the Sword Dance mare Jhenais Jewel, lost that race after setting the pace in the nine-furlong event under Victor Espinosa. In the Madison, however, Sadler plans for Dawn After Dawn to take a different tactic – thanks to Godolphin speedster Zada Belle, a proven frontrunner making her first start in stakes company under Rafael Bejarano.
“I want to see her back off the pace,” Sadler said. “She’s just been in some paceless races and by circumstances happened to get the lead because nobody else wanted it. But switching back to the shorter distance, I’d like to see her farther back.”
Dawn After Dawn carries a high weight of 123 pounds for the first time in her career, the dubious honor shared with Mini Sermon. She counts Keeneland among her preferred surfaces with a third-place finish in last year’s Ashland (gr. I) to her credit; she finished three-quarters of a length behind Christmas Kid and runner-up Octave. Assistant Larry Benavidez will saddle while Sadler remains in California.
“I’m not too worried about the weights going seven furlongs,” the trainer said. “She fits this race on a lot of different levels; she’s got proven form since she’s already good on that track and ran well there last spring. I think she’s pretty solid in the race.”
Another solid filly and one who may benefit from a trip just off the pace is Edward Evans’ Virginia homebred Mini Sermon. Also assigned 123 pounds, the Pulpit filly (out of the Storm Cat mare Ministorm) must rebound from a third-place finish Gulfstream’s one-mile Sabin Handicap (gr. III). In that Jan. 6 effort for trainer Todd Pletcher, she set the pace but weakened at the head of the stretch and conceded the victory to Golden Velvet by 2 ½ lengths. Her race before that, the Nov. 23 Top Flight Handicap (gr. II), was won by a determined nose after she stalked the pace in third for much of the one-mile event.
Eb Novak’s Wild Gams, a Forest Wildcatfilly, has not won in two efforts since a victory in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland last fall – she was ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint and second by a neck in the Nov. 25 Bessarabian Stakes going seven furlongs at Woodbine for trainer Ben Perkins Jr. This will be her first start of the season.
Mike Pulaski’s Street Cry filly Street Sounds must also come back from poor performances. Winner of the Stonerside Beaumont Stakes (gr. II) last spring, she was eighth in the Dec. 29 Frances A. Genter Stakes (gr. IIIT) and ninth in the Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup (gr. IT) last October for trainer Michael Matz.
$200,000 Vinery Madison Stakes (gr. II, race 8, approximate post 4:40 p.m. EDT), seven furlongs for older fillies and mares, Polytrack
PP, Horse, Weight, Jockey
1.Looky Yonder, 117, Julien Leparoux
2. Wild Gams, 117, Ramon Dominguez
3. V. I. P. Princess, 117, Miguel Mena
4. Windyindy, 117, Javier Castellano
5. Street Sounds, 117, Jose Lezcano
6. Mini Sermon, 123, John Velazquez
7. Ventura, 117, Garrett Gomez
8. Dawn After Dawn, 123, Robby Albarado
9. Carriage Trail, 117, Edgar Prado
10. Change Up, 117, Kent Desormeaux
11. Zada Belle, 117, Rafael Bejarano