HOT SPRINGS -- With many of their connections spread across the horse racing landscape, seven 3-year-old fillies are entered to race in Oaklawn's Grade III $600,000 Fantasy Stakes today.
The 1 1/16-mile race, and its offer of 170 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points, is the 11th of 12 races on the card at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. Post time is scheduled for 5:54 p.m.
Also on the card, five 3-year-old filly sprinters are entered in the $200,000, 6-furlong Purple Martin Stakes. Post time for the Purple Martin is 3:09 p.m.
Oaklawn's feature races will contend for attention with three Kentucky Derby qualifiers elsewhere, two of which have attracted trainers and jockeys connected to Fantasy entrants. Horses will race for Derby points today in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby in California, the Grade II Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., and the Grade II Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in New York. All three will distribute 170 Derby qualifying points.
Steve Asmussen trains Fantasy morning-line favorite Pauline's Pearl and Grade I Santa Anita Derby entrant Ottothelegend. Brad Cox trains Sun Path and Coach, top contenders in the Fantasy, and 3-5 Blue Grass program favorite Essential Quality, winner of Oaklawn's Southwest Stakes on Feb. 27. Robertino Diodoro trains likely Fantasy pace-setter Ava's Grace, but he is in Lexington to watch Keepmeinmind's final attempt to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
Jockey David Cohen chose to ride Keepmeinmind instead of Ava's Grace, a filly who has yet to race beyond 6 1/2 furlongs. Cohen said he is confident Ava's Grace will fit with the Fantasy field.
"She always shows she wants to go longer, especially in workouts, but more so just the way she just wants to settle," he said. "The more time you give her to settle seems to be best for her. Hopefully, the distance for her isn't an issue. I think the style of a longer race will fit her better."
Diodoro said he thought from the start Ava's Grace would excel in route races.
"Right from Day One, we always thought she was a two-turn filly," Diodoro said. "Just the way she trains and gallops out after races and works, she looked like a two-turn horse."
Diodoro said jockey Ramon Vazquez, Cohen's replacement, will try to put Ava's Grace in front before the Fantasy's first turn.
"Our plan is, we're going to be the pace," Diodoro said. "First time going around two turns, our plan is to be on the lead."
Fans at Oaklawn likely will watch those televised races before and after the Fantasy. Asmussen will certainly watch the Fantasy and Pauline's Pearl first. A daughter of Tapit, Pauline's Pearl is the 9-5 program favorite and currently ranked 14th on the Kentucky Oaks points list with the 20 she earned for her second-place finish in Oaklawn's Honeybee Stakes on March 6.
Oaklawn riding leader Ricardo Santana Jr. is listed to ride Pauline's Pearl.
There are 14 stalls in the Kentucky Oaks starting gate. The race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., is scheduled for April 30.
Sun Path, the 2-1 morning-line second choice by Munnings, was ridden by Joe Talamo to a third-place finish in the Honeybee, three-quarters of a length behind Pauline's Pearl.
Talamo said every Fantasy entrant is a legitimate contender, but he likes Sun Path's chance best.
"I think she has a real good shot," Talamo said.
Sun Path is 17th on the Oaks points list with 11.
"On paper, it's a pretty wide-open race, really," Talamo said. "Numbers-wise, Sun Path, she's run some pretty big races. If she goes back to any one of those, she should be right there."
Diodoro plans to watch his potential Fantasy front-runner on TV after Keepmeinmind tends to his final shot at 3-year-old immortality.
The first turn of heads toward Keepmeinmind, a late closer by Laoban, came at Keeneland, where he finished second as a 2-year-old in the Grade I Breeders' Futurity and third in the Breeder's Cup Juvenile last fall. Consequently, the Blue Grass was an easy choice for his next start.
"He's run well over the track," Diodoro said. "Oaklawn's track has been playing very speed-biased most of the year. We know he likes Keeneland, so that was a big part of [my decision]."
Oaklawn stakes schedule
DATE RACE CONDITIONS DISTANCE
Today $600,000 Fantasy Stakes+ 3-year-olds, fillies 1 1/16 miles
Today $200,000 Purple Martin 3-year-olds, fillies 6 furlongs
10 $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby* 3-year-olds 11/8 miles
10 $500,000 Ct. Fleet Sprint Hcp.+ 4-year-olds and up 6 furlongs
10 $400,000 Oaklawn Mile 4-year-olds and up 1 mile
10 $250,000 Carousel 4-up, fillies and mares 6 furlongs
16 $150,000 Rainbow Miss 3-year-olds, fillies (AR) 6 furlongs
16 $150,000 Rainbow 3-year-olds (AR) 6 furlongs
17 $1 million Oaklawn Handicap# 4-year-olds and up 11/8 miles
17 $1 million Apple Blossom Hcp.* 4-up, fillies and mares 1 1/16 miles
24 $200,000 Bachelor Stakes 3-year-olds 6 furlongs
30 $200,000 Arkansas Breeders’ 3-year-olds and up (AR) 1 1/16 miles
DATE RACE CONDITIONS DISTANCE
1 $300,000 Oaklawn Invitational 3-year-olds 11/8 miles
*Grade 1 race #Grade 2 race +Grade 3 race (AR) denotes Arkansas-bred race