Much of the undercard on Kentucky Oaks day at Churchill Downs was all about the fillies, and three impressive performances from distaffers lit up a cloudy afternoon. The boys got a slice of the action through Olympiad, who continued his winning spree in the G2 Alysheba Stakes.
Matareya is heading for the big league after an impressive success in the G2 Eight Belles, Bleecker Street is unbeaten in six after adding the G3 Modesty to her haul, and New Year’s Eve is upgrading fast after a clear-cut victory in the G2 Edgewood.
Alysheba Stakes – Grade 2
Olympiad is faster, stronger
There was another gold-medal performance from the hugely progressive Olympiad at Churchill Downs on Friday, the lightly raced four-year-old stretching his winning streak to four with a dominant success in the Alysheba Sakes.
The 4-5 favourite was always in the catbird seat under Junior Alvarado, pressing the dawdling fractions set by Weyburn, and when the pace-setter gave way at the top of the lane Olympiad asserted, swiftly putting away the challenge of Happy Saver and coasting clear to win by two and a half lengths in a time of 1:41 and three-fifths.
Second-choice Happy Saver held on to the silver medal by a length and a half from longshot Title Ready, with Weyburn – who was bumped as the principals drifted towards the rail in the stretch, although the stewards took no action – hanging on to fourth place.
“He’s a Grade 1 horse who hasn’t had the chance yet to win a Grade 1, but we’re definitely going forward to those races,” said Alvarado. “I’m very happy with what we have.”
Olympiad, a son of Speightstown, is now six-for-nine and is reaping the benefit of trainer Bill Mott’s renowned patience with his horses, after missing most of his three-year-old campaign following a setback. Mott did not suggest a target for his colt, but the $1m G1 Metropolitan Handicap – the Met Mile – at Belmont Park on June 11 is an obvious possibility.
Eight Belles Stakes – Grade 2
Matareya moves up again
It was an afternoon – mostly – for horses staying on a winning roll, and Matareya added her name to that list when extending her streak to three with a decisive victory in the Eight Belles.
The even-money favourite was given the perfect trip by Flavien Prat, saving ground on the rail as Pretty Birdie posted quick fractions and then moving up to challenge as they exited the turn. The front-runner put up a fight but Matareya landed the knockout blow, driving clear through the final sixteenth to win by two and a quarter lengths, stopping the clock in 1:21 and four-fifths. Pretty Birdie stuck bravely to the task to cross the line two lengths clear of Wicked Halo in third.
“She broke well but I just got outrun early,” said Prat. “But she was travelling well on the rail and when I tipped her out she was there for me. I thought it was a really good run.”
Matareya is climbing the ladder one step at a time, following her win in the G3 Beaumont at Keeneland with this G2 prize, and trainer Brad Cox is now planning to step her up again for the G1 Acorn over a mile at Belmont Park on June 11, in which she could clash with barnmate Juju’s Map, runner-up in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and winner of an allowance optional claimer earlier on the card.
Edgewood Stakes – Grade 2
New Year’s Eve something to celebrate
Luis Saez warmed up for his hour of glory in the Kentucky Oaks by springing a surprise in the Edgewood aboard New Year’s Eve, although there was no fluke about the way the 14-1 shot upset the applecart, making her stakes breakthrough on her Graded debut.
The daughter of Kitten’s Joy was last through the first half-mile as Spicer towed them along, but Saez rattled her cage around the turn and she came running hard, travelling seven wide into the stretch and clearing right away down the centre of the track to score by a comfortable two and three-quarter lengths. McKulick rallied gamely for second, four and a half lengths ahead of barnmate and favourite Dolce Zel, but the winner had flown, stopping the clock in 1:43 and two-fifths.
“She’s been a bit slow mentally but she’s getting it bit by bit,” said trainer Brendan Walsh, who fitted his filly with blinkers for the first time. “So we gave her some time to figure things out and I was quietly confident that she’d be better today – and she was.”
New Year’s Eve, who was having her first run away from the Fair Grounds, is now three-for-four in a career that only began in December and on this evidence will be ready to stretch out further next time.
Modesty Stakes – Grade 3
Joy of six for Bleecker Street
The bandwagon keeps on rolling for Bleecker Street, who is now unbeaten in six following her narrow success in the Modesty, in the process leading home a one-two for trainer Chad Brown.
The grey daughter of Quality Road is renowned for leaving it late in her races and this was no exception, as she had six horses in front of her at the top of the stretch after racing in last place to halfway, behind the slow pace set by Mona Stella. However, as soon as Flavien Prat found the even-money favourite some daylight between horses she took off like a rocket, running down barnmate Fluffy Socks to score by a half-length, with the same margin back to Hendy Woods in third. The stopwatch showed 1:50 and change.
“I thought it was a great performance to win that race, because we went slow early and I was further back than I wanted to be,” said Prat of the filly who only began her career in the August of her three-year-old season, and has now won three Graded stakes in a row.
“Bleecker Street ran amazingly well, an undefeated horse, six-for-six, she’s hard to fault,” said Brown. “She’s a remarkable talent. Without a doubt, it was her best race yet.”
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