Saturday's Grade 2, $300,000 Delaware Oaks will feature a rematch between Tell a Great Story and Ile St. Molly as a field of nine three-year-old fillies lines up in the 1 1/16-mile contest at Delaware Park. Those are the only two stakes winners in a race that, since its return to Delaware's stakes schedule in 1997, has produced five eventual winners of the Alabama Stakes, two three-year-old filly champions and one Horse of the Year.
Tell a Great Story made her stakes bow in the Go for Wand, just getting up at the wire to deny Ile St. Molly by a nose. The chestnut daughter of Bluegrass Cat is no stranger to adversity, as she almost did not survive her birth on April 5, 2010. The Sagamore Farm homebred, born tiny and unable to breath, was termed a "dummy foal" due to her inability to feed from her mother after birth and was nursed to health by her handlers.
That didn't stop the Maryland-bred miss from growing up to break her maiden debut by 5 3/4 lengths for trainer Ignacio Correas IV at Laurel Park in January. Tell a Great Story was third next out over that track in a 5 1/2-furlong optional claimer, then stretched out to 1 1/16 miles when shipping to Pimlico and just missing by a head in a similar contest on April 12. She finally broke through against winners a month later under those same conditions before going on to take the Go for Wand at Delaware in her prep for the Saturday's Oaks.
"She is doing well and we think she is going to make a good showing," Correas said. "We are going to do exactly what we did before the Go for Wand. We are going to ship in the day before the race. On the morning of the race, we are going to gallop and go to gate. She has been very good in the gate lately, and she has been very good shipping lately. She has had some problems with both in the past, but she has been handling both well. In her last two or three races, she has been very good, so we are going to just do what we have done with her recently with success."
Correas knows if she can run back to her Go for Wand performance, Tell a Great Story will be tough.
"Hopefully, she runs the same way and if she runs the same race, we know we are going to have a good chance," he remarked. "Her two workouts coming into this race have been good, and she is training very well. She has been getting better with every race, and I think that is because she is becoming more mature and focused.
"This is going to be a big step up for her, though. When you run for this kind of money with these stakes, it is never easy, so we are also looking at this as a chance to see where we are with this filly. We are very happy with where we are now and we will see where we are after the race. Hopefully, we will be a whole lot happier."
Ile St. Molly, who had 11 1/2 lengths to spare over Alli Leigh in the Go for Wand, was already a stakes winner heading into that race. The Ile St. Louis sophomore had captured Oaklawn Park's Lady Razorback Futurity during her two-year-old campaign, and earlier this year added that track's Rainbow Miss and Delaware Park's Our Mims to her resume.
"We have been trying to teach her to lay off the pace a little bit, but however it sets up, I think we can do either this time," trainer Kenny Smith said of his star pupil. "I think we can win on the lead or I think we can just set off the pace if we have to do it. I look for a good race out of her.
"She is easy and a pleasure to train. A lot of them will surprise you, and that is why you got to give them all a chance to run in these kind of races to see if they can handle it. Some of them handle it and some of them do not. I have had a bunch of horses in my career handle it, but I have had a whole lot more who have not. That is a part of the game. But I think this filly is special. I think she is going to run really well, and I do not think the mile-and-a-sixteenth will bother her one bit.
"In the Go for Wand, both of those fillies finished awfully strong with a pretty fast final quarter. My filly was a little aggressive down the backside, but we got outrun, and when you get outrun, you just go to the next race."
While all eyes will be on Tell a Great Story and Ile St. Molly, Maracuya could upset the apple cart following a fourth-placing in the Black-Eyed Susan on May 17. The Ralph Nicks trainee captured her initial two starts at Gulfstream Park in March and will have jockey Edgar Prado aboard for her second stakes try.
Also entered are Go for Wand third Alli Leigh; Broomsage, who was third in the Our Mims and fourth in the Go for Wand; and Dancing Afleet, winner of her last two by a combined 11 1/2 lengths.
One race following the Delaware Oaks, a field of 10 distaffers will go 1 3/8 miles on the turf in the Grade 3, $200,000 Robert G. Dick Memorial Stakes. Trainer Graham Motion won six of the first 13 renewals of this race named after a former chairman of the Delaware Racing Commission, and the 47-year-old native of Cambridge, England, will have three shots on Saturday.
"Because we have enjoyed success in this race, it is always on my radar, so I am always thinking about what horses to point toward this stake," Motion explained. "It is a race in which we have been lucky, and we have won it with some really nice mares. A few of those have become really nice brood mares. Hopefully, we will make a good showing this year."
Among those looking for a "good showing" will be Qushchi, who just missed by a head in the Keertana going the distance at Churchill Downs on May 18. The British-bred daughter of Encosta de Lago is seeking her first U.S. victory after placing in her subsequent three stateside starts, including a third in the Bewitch in April.
"She has been improving," Motion noted. "She seems to have really improved since coming to the United States. I thought she ran a big race at Keeneland in the Bewitch when she finished third to another of my fillies, Strathnaver. I thought she ran very well that day, and I think she came back to run another big race at Churchill, quite frankly, so I have had this race in mind for her ever since. She has had four very competitive races in the United States, so we are hoping she takes the next step and gets a victory."
Valiant Girl is another English import who is seeking her first stakes credit. The Lemon Drop Kid four-year-old also has four U.S. starts under her girth, but has yet to face black-type rivals. In her most recent race, the bay filly ran fourth while going nine furlongs under the Twin Spires.
"Valiant Girl is a filly I have wanted to run further but have not had the opportunity," Motion said. "I know this is a big step for her, but I really think she is going to like the distance. To be honest, she has run well, but I just think she needs the distance so she can take it to the next level. I think she will be competitive. She came to me with the thinking that she would be the kind of filly that would fit in this type of race, and I have been conservative with her. There are just so few opportunities to run at this distance in an allowance race, so now is a good time to step her up to see how she handles the competition."
Game Fair is Motion's third entry, and the four-year-old daughter of Quiet American will be returning to the grass following a third-placing in an off-the-turf allowance at Delaware Park on June 15.
Looking to keep Motion from the winner's circle will be Treasured Up, who already accomplished that task when denying Qushchi in the Keertana last out for trainer Al Stall Jr. The Medaglia d'Oro dark bay earned her first stakes win in that contest, and was also third in the Regret last season.
Others in with a chance include multiple Grade 3 victress Laughing, who just captured the Eatontown Handicap at Monmouth Park two weeks ago; stakes winner Clare Skies Ahead, placed in the All Along for the past two seasons; and Sheepshead Bay upsetter Tannery.