While the northern parts of the country are on the chilly or downright cold side, South Florida is the place to be on Saturday when 3-year-olds take the spotlight as the major Kentucky Oaks and Derby preps get under way.
For fillies only, the Grade 2 Forward Gal will be the 8th race on the card, running two races prior to the colts' counterpart, the G3 Holy Bull. Old Hat (G3) winner Kauai Katie faces five in the Forward Gal, and it's hard to look past her based on that last race, where she won by eight lengths. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the daughter of Malibu Moon goes up against stablemate Fusaichiswonderful, a Kentucky-bred who is undefeated in five starts in Puerto Rico. It will be interesting to see how she fares against this step up in competition. My Happy Face makes her 2013 debut here; she ended her 2011 campaign with a narrow win in the G3 Tempted.
In the Holy Bull, all eyes will be on juvenile Eclipse Award winner Shanghai Bobby, Todd Pletcher's leading sophomore contender. Undefeated in five starts in his 2-year-old season, the son of Harlan's Holiday's biggest wins came in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Champagne. Among his foes are G2 Sanford hero Bern Identity and Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) runner-up Frac Daddy.
Saturday's Fair Grounds feature is the G3 Col. E.R. Bradley Handicap, for older horses on turf. High-weighted at 120 lbs. is James Street, fifth in his last out over the course in the Diliberto Memorial. He went wide and finished willingly, missing by less than two lengths. He was beaten in that by Strike Impact and Dubious Miss, both returning here. The well-traveled Optimizer, a veteran of all three Triple Crown races last year, is another expected starter. Trainer D. Wayne Lukas shopped him around the country in 2012, getting two wins from the son of English Channel, including Delaware's G3 Kent.
Coming off a decisive win in the Kalookan Queen run Dec. 29, Teddy's Promise looks to make it two in a row against eight others in Santa Anita's G2 Santa Monica. Previous to that win, she tried the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, where she set the pace, but tired badly late. Looking to foil Teddy's Promise in the seven-furlong dirt test is Belle of the Hall and Rumor, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Filly & Mare Sprint. Other expected starters are Sugarinthemorning, runner-up in this race last year, and Kindle, returning to the dirt after a half-length loss in the G2 Santa Monica.
Also on Saturday's Santa Anita card is the G3 Santa Ysabel, the fourth of 10 scheduled races. The Blue Norther is a key race here; though it was run on turf, four of its starters are returning to dirt, including Scarlet Strike, who missed the win by just a nose in a blanket finish. Following her home that day was Escape Act (4th), Heir Kitty (5th), and Fiftyshadesofhay (8th). Branding is a recent maiden winner, and Switch to the Lead wheels back after a fourth-place effort in the G2 Santa Ynez, run less than a week ago.
The only other graded stakes on Saturday is the $200,000 John B. Connally Turf Cup (G3), once billed as Sam Houston's richest race of the meet. That honor now goes to the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic, making its debut Saturday night, and therefore not granted graded status. The Connally drew a field of 10, including dual graded stakes-winner Willcox Inn. Most recently, he was ninth in the Breeders' Cup Mile, but previous to that, he ran second to 2012 multiple Eclipse winner Wise Dan in the G1 Shadwell Turf Mile. Also entered is King David, 28-1 upset winner of the G1 Jamaica Handicap back in October.
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