Ashland: Defining Purpose defines herself as Oaks filly

Chalk players were left licking their wounds at Keeneland on Friday, with the G1 Ashland, the marquee event on the first day of the spring meet, falling to 20-1 shocker Defining Purpose, who will use the victory as a stepping-stone to the Kentucky Oaks. Speed was the key to the two stakes races on the undercard, with Mo Stash going wire-to-wire to make his stakes breakthrough in the G3 Transylvania and Corona Bolt using the same tactics to land the ungraded Lafayette.

KENTUCKY OAKS ODDS

Ashland Stakes

G1, $600,000, 1m 1/16 dirt, 3yo fillies

Purpose defines herself as Oaks filly: There have been several upset results on the Kentucky Oaks trail this year and Defining Purpose produced another on Keeneland’s opening day, scampering home at 20-1 in the Ashland to deny slight favorite Punchbowl and Julia Shining in a thrilling finish.

The grey daughter of Cross Traffic had finished a flat sixth in the G3 Honeybee on a wet Oaklawn track on her last outing, but looked a different proposition on this faster surface, stalking the steady fractions laid down by longshot Effortlesslyelgant until taking over at the top of the lane.

Defining Purpose opened up daylight mid-stretch and needed that buffer, as both Punchbowl and Julia Shining rallied hard through the last sixteenth only to find the wire coming too soon. Defining Purpose held on by a half-length, with a neck separating place and show; last year’s champion two-year-old filly Wonder Wheel was a major disappointment, never a factor in sixth spot.

Ashland Stakes Race Video

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“She got into a nice rhythm and I told myself to wait, and wait,” said jockey Brian Hernandez. “When she kicked on, with that short stretch [to the sixteenth-pole], I was pretty confident.”

The 100 Road to the Kentucky Oaks points Defining Purpose – now three-for-seven lifetime – earned with this win assures her of a place in the Kentucky Oaks four weeks from now. Her trainer Kenny McPeek has been runner-up three times in the Oaks, and this year’s model is 30-1 on the Jazz Sports future book to end that unenviable run.

“It’s been a little frustrating,” said McPeek, winning his third Ashland. “But you’ve got to be in it to win it – and she’s in it now.”

Punchbowl and Julia Shining, who should both appreciate the extra yardage at Churchill Downs, will need defections from further up the Oaks leaderboard if they are to be involved on the first Friday in May. Wonder Wheel has the points to make the 14-horse cut, but her participation may be uncertain after this second successive defeat.

Ashland Stakes Payouts

HorseWinPlaceShow
1. Defining Purpose42.6811.665.74
2. Punchbowl 3.462.78
3. Julia Shining  3.74

Winning time: 1m 43.31s

Transylvania Stakes

G3, $400,000, 1m 1/16 turf, 3yo

Stash makes a big splash: All the action was on the front end in the other stakes races on Friday’s card, on both turf and the main track, with Mo Stash trailblazing his way to a stakes breakthrough in the Transylvania, showing a clean pair of heels to the favoured Nagirroc and Webslinger.

The 5-1 fourth-choice had his task made a little easier by the scratch of morning-line favourite Carl Spackler, but he did it all on his own terms after breaking sharply under Luis Saez, laying down no more than boilerplate twelves down the back-stretch and into the turn.

Transylvania Stakes Race Video

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“He’s a smart horse,” said Saez, completing a double on the day. “I just put my hands down and he relaxed.”

Off those fractions the lead was the only place to be and Mo Stash had plenty up his sleeve for the stretch run, turning back the late challenge of Nagirroc to get the job done by a length, with the same margin back to the rallying third-favourite Webslinger.

“He just kept going, and today it looked like he could go another sixteenth,” said trainer Vicki Oliver. “There’s a lot of races out there between a mile and a mile-eighth and we’ll pick out some nice ones.”

Mo Stash was taking his record to two-for-six and underlining his appreciation for the Keeneland lawn, over which he finished fourth in last year’s G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf and was runner-up in a sprint stakes the time before.

Transylvania Stakes Payouts

HorseWinPlaceShow
1. Mo Stash12.966.704.82
2. Nagirroc 4.843.52
3. Webslinger  3.90

Winning time: 1m 43.05s

Lafayette Stakes

Ungraded, $400,000, 7f dirt, 3yo

Bolt strikes gold in speed test: The same front-running tactics paid off in the Lafayette, as Corona Bolt maintained his perfect record in sprints with a game wire-to-wire success, holding off California raider Hejazi and boxcar longshot Freezing Point.

Lafayette Stakes Race Video

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As expected over the shorter distance, the fractions had a lot more sizzle about them than in the Transylvania, with the 2-1 second-choice blazing through the first quarter in 22 and one-fifth, then knocking off the half-mile in 44 and four-fifths, as Hejazi shadowed him all the way around.

That burn-up took its toll in deep stretch, with both the front-runners coming home in comparative slow motion through the final eighth. However, Corona Bolt, with the rail to assist him, had sufficient in reserve to assert over the favoured Hejazi and move away under Florent Geroux to score by a length, with Freezing Point finishing off willingly for third, two and a half lengths further back.

“He’s definitely a one-turn horse,” said trainer Brad Cox. “He’s a very, very good colt and I think he has a big future – we need to find some Graded stakes for him now.”

The only blemish on Corona Bolt’s five-race resume is his lacklustre sixth place on a sloppy track in the G3 Southwest at Oaklawn Park, when the combination of the surface and the mile-sixteenth proved his undoing. This was his first attempt at seven furlongs, and now races such as the G1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at Saratoga could be on his agenda later in the year.

Lafayette Stakes Payouts

HorseWinPlaceShow
1. Corona Bolt6.823.522.90
2. Hejazi 2.882.64
3. Freezing Point  7.16

Winning time: 1m 23.21s

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