Hot favorites and longshots made their pitch in the three Kentucky Oaks preps on Saturday, with the unbeaten Kathleen O. moving towards the top of the future book with a stylish victory in the 2022 Gulfstream Park Oaks. Yuugiri went gate-to-wire and fought off all-comers in the G3 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park, and 52-1 shocker Candy Raid came home like a good thing in the ungraded Bourbonette at Turfway Park; all three appear to be heading for Churchill Downs next month.
Gulfstream Park Oaks
There is a school of thought that contends the Kentucky Oaks is a more compelling race than the Derby this year, and the impressive victory of Kathleen O. in the 2022 Gulfstream Park Oaks on Saturday lends weight to that opinion.
The unbeaten daughter of Upstart took her winning streak to four with a comfortable success on her first try around two turns and her first beyond a mile, justifying prohibitive odds of 1-2 and confirming herself as one of the main contenders for the Kentucky Oaks on May 6, alongside the similarly unbeaten Echo Zulu and G1-placed Secret Oath.
She was always travelling well within herself, sitting last of the six as Cancel This laid down the fractions and then moving around the turn to dispute with Goddess Of Fire, her only viable rival in a field full of overmatched fillies, at the top of the stretch. The dispute didn’t last long; Javier Castellano sent Kathleen O. to the front and she easily drew clear to beat Goddess Of Fire by two and three-quarter lengths in a time of 1:43 and four-fifths. There were more than 17 lengths back to Running Legacy in third.
“I think she wants to go further, run a distance of ground,” said trainer Shug McGaughey. “She does everything right and does it pretty easy. The Kentucky Oaks is a big spot for me. I won it once, don’t remember the thrill, and I’d like to have it again.”
With the late-running Kathleen O., McGaughey – who hasn’t even had a runner in the Oaks since 2003 – could have that chance. The filly was already assured of a place in the 14-horse gate for the Kentucky Oaks through her victory in the G2 Davona Dale here last month, and is now third-favorite for the fillies’ classic. The 40 Road to the Kentucky Oaks points Goddess Of Fire earned for second place ensures her spot in the Oaks too.
Yuugiri so game
It looked much harder work in the other major Kentucky Oaks trial of the weekend, the Fantasy at Oaklawn Park, but Yuugiri rolled up her sleeves and got the job done willingly, running herself into contention for Churchill Downs with an ultra-game performance.
The 4-1 chance did it from the front, breaking on top and setting brisk fractions through the first half-mile, pressed all the way by second-favourite Bubble Rock. At the top of the stretch Bubble Rock was still there, and when Beguine nosed through on the rail it looked as though Yuugiri might be swamped. She’s made of tough stuff, though, and put away Bubble Rock before outlasting Beguine in a fight to the line, getting there by a neck, stopping the clock in 1:43 and three-fifths.
Beguine didn’t quit at any stage and had three lengths to spare over the fading Bubble Rock; the favourite Dream Lith was never in the race at any stage, finishing fifth.
“She was just very brave,” said jockey Florent Geroux. “She was very tight the last sixteenth, but she showed a lot of heart and that’s what made the difference. She really put her head down and she was going to get it done.”
This was Yuugiri’s first success at stakes level after hitting the board three times, most recently behind Secret Oath in the G3 Honeybee over today’s course and distance. The 100 RTKO points she earned here puts her in the gate at Churchill Downs but trainer Rodolphe Brisset didn’t fully commit to a tilt at the Oaks, instead waiting to consult with the filly’s Japanese-based owners before making a plan, though he was leaning towards giving Yuugiri her chance at the big time. Beguine will head to Louisville, but Bubble Rock is expected to revert to turf.
Candy a sweet surprise
There was a boilover in the Bourbonette at Turfway Park, as boxcar longshot Candy Raid upset the field and put herself in line for an unexpected assault on the Kentucky Oaks next month.
The daughter of Candy Ride was 52-1 in the pools and rightly so after being well beaten on her two previous starts in stakes company, and when she had only three horses behind her with three-eighths to run her odds looked about right. Rafael Bejarano knew better.
“I felt like I had a lot of horse under me,” said the jockey. “And I thought it was time I got out of trouble.”
Candy Raid got out of trouble fast, circling the field around the turn, coming five wide into the stretch and sweeping into the lead. As soon as she hit the front the race was over as a contest and she cleared right away for an impressive victory, stretching four and a half lengths clear at the wire, the clock showing a tick under 1:43. Tap Dancing Lady came through fast and late to join Catiche on the line, the pair dead-heating for second spot a neck ahead of North County. Hot favourite Sandstone was never out of the mid-division and finished seventh.
The pre-race tactics were followed perfectly. “I told Rafael to settle her down and just come with one run,” said trainer Keith Desormeaux. “She just needs a chance, and I knew she’d come running if she could.”
It was Candy Raid’s third win from ten starts and her first of 2022. A 52-1 winner would normally be written off as a fluke, but such was the authority shown by Candy Raid that she is certainly worth a try at the Oaks, as the 50 points she earned with victory have assured her of a place in the fillies’ classic.
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