Four weeks after having her streak snapped at three consecutive stakes, Peter Deutsch's Take Charge Paula seeks a return to her winning ways in Saturday's $250,000, Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks.
The 48th running of the 1 1/16-mile Gulfstream Park Oaks for 3-year-old fillies is one of seven stakes, five graded, worth $2.3 million in purses on the $1-million Xpressbet.com Florida Derby Day program.
Also on Saturday's card are the $300,000, G2 Gulfstream Park Hardacre Mile; $250,000, G2 Pan American and $250,000, G2 Honey Fox for older horses, the latter two on grass, and the $125,000 Cutler Bay and $125,000 Sanibel Island for 3-year-olds on turf. First race post time is 11:30 a.m.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who won the 2009 Gulfstream Park Oaks with Justwhistledixie, Take Charge Paula joins Heavenhasmynikki as the only two horses in a field of 13 to compete in each of Gulfstream's three graded stakes for sophomore fillies during the Championship Meet.
The daughter of 2012 Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy was a 3 1/2-length winner of the seven-furlong G3 Forward Gal Feb. 3 in both her first start at 3 and first since joining McLaughlin after being purchased privately following her victory in the House Party Stakes Dec. 9 at Gulfstream.
Last time out, Take Charge Paula ran second to well-regarded favorite Fly So High in the one-mile G2 Davona Dale March 3, a race where she conceded six pounds to the winner as the 122-pound topweight. All fillies will carry 122 pounds in the Gulfstream Park Oaks.
Jose Ortiz, aboard the Davona Dale winner who exited the race with a minor injury, has the call on Take Charge Paula from Post 3. McLaughlin is hoping for a more formful and less eventful race from a filly that has done her best racing on or near the lead.
“Last time she had kind of an interesting trip. She was out in the middle of the track down the backside and had horses come up inside of her and Jose [on Fly So High] came outside of her and dropped back to fifth, and I thought at one point on the turn we were going to be sixth,” McLaughlin said.
“Then she came back on and finished second and ran very well. The winner was impressive and we were second-best,” he added. “We gave the winner six pounds but she was the best horse any way you looked at it. This time it's equal weights for all and she's doing very well.”
Take Charge Paula's previous try around two turns resulted in a horrific trip where she was bumped and steadied and wound up well-beaten in the G2 Pocahontas last fall for previous trainer Kelly Breen. It remains the only time she has finished worse than second in eight starts, with five wins.
“We feel like she always breaks sharp from the gate so going two turns should be to our advantage here because we have speed and the mile and a sixteenth. It should work out well. Hopefully this time we're the favorite and we get it done,” McLaughlin said. “She came out of the last race in good shape. She worked well the other day and she's ready to go.”
A back-to-back winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks in 2015 and 2016, trainer Dale Romans takes aim at his third victory with both Roddy Valente and RAP Racing's Coach Rocks and William Pacella and Frank Jones Jr.'s C.S. Incharge. Another Take Charge Indy filly, C.S. Incharge ran her win streak to two with a three-quarter-length triumph in the one-mile, 40-yard Suncoast Stakes Feb. 10 at Tampa Bay Downs.
Coach Rocks, a bay daughter of 2013 Preakness (G1) winner Oxbow, broke her maiden by eight lengths in front-running fashion Feb. 14 at the Oaks distance.
“I'd like to win it again. I have a tendency to win races more than once. It's a situation where I think she's on the uptick, so we will take a shot,” Romans said. “Her last race was strong. That was the first time going two turns on the dirt and she finally put it all together. She's a young filly if you look at her page, and she's just now growing up and getting mature. She's a smart filly and she's doing good.”
Arindel homebred Blonde Bomber, a rallying third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) to cap her 2-year-old season, returns to Gulfstream for the Oaks. She has not run over her home track since a 7 1/4-length romp in the one-mile Our Dear Peggy Stakes Sept. 30, having opened her 2018 campaign finishing fourth in the Silverbulletday Jan. 13 at Fair Grounds and fifth in the Suncoast Stakes Feb. 10 at Tampa Bay Downs.
“Blonde Bomber is on her toes and good. [The Oaks] has always been on the back burner but I didn't expect to go into it with two off-the-board finishes,” trainer Stanley Gold said. “I'm not going to make any excuses for her. Sometimes things don't go the way you want them to, but she's back home and she's training good. She feels good and came out of it good, so we'll try her again and hope she can show the form that had her third in the Breeders' Cup.”
Courtlandt Farms' Cache, a homebred daughter of Distorted Humor, will make just her third career start in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. She debuted with a 2 3/4-length triumph in a seven-furlong maiden special weight Jan. 27 at Gulfstream and was a troubled fifth in the Davona Dale for trainer Mark Hennig, winner of the 2001 Oaks with Tap Dance.
“She's done really well. I thought she had a very rough trip in that last race. It was just the second race of her life and first time stretching out to a mile,” Hennig said. “I just felt like, as I explained to Mr. Adam, I feel confident it won't hurt her to go ahead and give herself another chance to jump into the picture. And if not, I'd like to just step back and take a conservative approach and plan something for this summer. I think she's a very talented filly with a lot of quality.”
Completing the Gulfstream Park Oaks field are 2017 Tempted (G3) winner Daisy and Mirhab, 2-3, respectively, separated by 1 1/2 lengths in the Suncoast; Princess Warrior, second in the G1 Alcibiades at 2 and most recently fourth in the G3 Herecomesthebride March 2 at Gulfstream; Richlyn Farm's Silver Bay, a winner of her lone two career starts, both at Gulfstream Park West, but unraced since the Juvenile Filly Sprint Nov. 11; Eight Thirtyone, undefeated in two starts at Mahoning Valley, in her stakes debut for owner Ron Paolucci, who also entered Heavenhasmynikki, fourth in the Forward Gal and third in the Davona Dale, and maiden Tell Your Mama; and Alter Moon, sixth in the Davona Dale.
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