Trainer Doug O'Neill's ability with top 3-year-olds cannot be doubted and the multiple classic-conquering conditioner added to that last season when he shipped in Paul Reddam's Land Over Sea to easily annex the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks – a race he also took with Reddam's Musical Plan in 2007. This year, he heads to the Big Easy a few weeks earlier and with serious shots in each of Louisiana Derby Preview Day's co-features: the G2 Risen Star Stakes for open 3-year-olds and the G2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes for fillies – two races that have become key preps for the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, respectively.
O'Neill's ridgling, So Conflated, enters on the strength of a victory in the California Derby on Jan. 21 over Golden Gate's synthetic Tapeta course. In what was the son of Eskendereya's first try around two turns and out of maiden company, the gray aced the test, defeating six others in a three-quarter-length tally. Mario Gutierrez, who has been aboard both of O'Neill's Kentucky Derby winners, comes in for the ride, but was assigned an arguably disadvantageous 14-hole post in the 1 1/16-miles event.
The Florida-bred has kept good company in his short career. In three starts including his Dec. 3 unveiling, So Conflated has a pair of victories, one which was an adjudged elevation after next-out winner Dabster was disqualified. He was third behind highly touted American Anthem in his Del Mar debut.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to come down there and run for big purses and against quality fields,” O'Neill said. “It's a great place to see where you are with your top 3-year-olds at this point. I like the long stretch for So Conflated and with 3-year-olds, I don't mind being on the outside with him. He's doing well.”
O'Neill also is bringing ERJ Racing, W C Racing and Dennis O'Neill's Shane's Girlfriend, who looks to bounce back from a 10-length drubbing received at the hands of divisional leader Unique Bella. Said effort – just her third lifetime start – was her first in two months after she shipped to Louisiana to romp in the G3 Delta Princess in mid-November. The daughter of Adios Charlie impressed speed figure aficionados that day and looks to return to form in a return to two turns.
“She's doing really well, too,” O'Neill said. “Last out, we dropped her to one turn and it was a weird race and we also ran into (Unique Bella) that day. She was stuck between horses in a hot pace on the backside. I think she will be much more comfortable this time around two turns.”
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