Farrell, Unique Bella duking it out atop the Kentucky Oaks Leaderboard
Following two weeks’ worth of Kentucky Oaks (G1) action, Farrell and Unique Bella have established their dominance in the three-year-old filly division. As the prep season continues to heat up, these two will take vastly different paths to their showdown in the Run for the Lillies.
First up, though, is the February 25 Busher Stakes at Aqueduct, which took place under foggy conditions. The result of the race was no clearer in regards to the Kentucky Oaks as none of the top four finishers are actually nominated to the May 5 contest at Churchill Downs.
With that in mind, the race is getting short shrift in this review. Suffice to say, YORKIEPOO PRINCESS proved best once again, settling into a ground-saving trip on the rail in midpack on the backstretch. She found the way blocked briefly rounding the final turn, prompting jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. to angle her off the inside. Yorkiepoo Princess opened up and held off the late challenge from Full House to score by 1 3/4 lengths.
It remains to be seen if Yorkiepoo Princess’ connections supplement her to the Kentucky Oaks. She earned 50 points toward a spot in the starting gate and could either shorten up for the six-furlong Cicada Stakes on March 25 or go nine furlongs in the April 8 Gazelle Stakes (G2), which is another Oaks points race, worth 100-40-20-10.
The 1 1/16-mile races was worth 50-20-10-5 to the top four finishers, and Farrell added the winner’s share to the 20 she previously earned for victories in the Golden Rod Stakes (G2) and Silverbulletday Stakes.
The Wayne Catalano charge opened up on the backstretch of the Rachel Alexandra Stakes after easily taking command out of the gate. She found company entering in the turn, though, as Valadorna ranged up to her outside, but all it took was a couple taps of the whip from jockey Channing Hill for Farrell to open up once again. Maiden Majestic Quality rallied fast down the lane to stick her neck in front on the wire for second over Valadorna.
Farrell holds an advantage over most every other Kentucky Oaks contender in that she already boasts a stakes win at Churchill Downs. The one thing she hasn’t done yet is stretch out to the Oaks distance of nine furlongs. She’s had no problem going 8 1/2 furlongs, though, so the extra sixteenth of a mile shouldn’t be that much of a problem for the Malibu Moon filly.
All indications are that Farrell will continue on the New Orleans path to the Kentucky Oaks, with the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) up next on April 1. However, her connections have also floated the idea of either the Ashland Stakes (G1) on April 8 at Keeneland or just training her up to the main event on May 5.
MISS SKY WARRIOR took up an outside trip in the March 4 Davona Dale Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park, settling just off the front runners before ranging up rounding the turn to take command. With jockey Paco Lopez aboard, she appeared to weave back a forth a bit in the shadow of the wire but managed to hold off the tenacious Jordan’s Henny and fast-closing Summer Luck to earn the win and 50 points.
The Davona Dale was Miss Sky Warrior’s first start of the year for trainer Kelly Breen. She proved to be a force last November at Aqueduct, taking both the Tempted Stakes (G3) and Demoiselle Stakes (G3), the latter of which was conducted at the Oaks distance of 1 1/8 miles, and may be forgiven a bit of greenness in this, her three-year-old debut.
With that said, I was actually more impressed by Summer Luck, who came flying at the end to miss second by a neck. The Lookin at Lucky filly was forced to angle out in the stretch when her inside path started to close up, but found herself carried even wider by Modacious. The Mark Casse trainee kicked into high gear, lengthened her stride and just came up short.
Summer Luck broke her maiden at Churchill Downs last November going a mile, and this was her first try at that distance since then. Following her maiden the dark bay lass made her sophomore bow a third-place run in the six-furlong Old Hat Stakes and was a rallying fourth in the Forward Gal Stakes (G2) going seven furlongs on February 4. Could be more distance is exactly what she needs.
As for Miss Sky Warrior, she is now riding a four-race win streak and could try to extend that mark in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) on April 1. Regardless, she holds a unique distinction in that she’s one of the few Kentucky Oaks hopefuls who has already won a graded contest going nine furlongs.
Whether that’ll help her against Farrell and Unique Bella remains to be seen.
And now to the filly everyone is talking about – UNIQUE BELLA. The Jerry Hollendorfer pupil may have been winning too easily of late, as the March 4 Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park saw the gray lass challenged for the first time since she kicked off her career last June.
Unique Bella didn’t have the best of starts in the 1 1/16-mile affair. She broke in, her head in the air, and was rank for jockey Mike Smith heading into the first turn. The Tapit filly refused to settle on the inside, surging forward between Tap It All and Spooky Woods, bumping with the latter. She finally straightened out upon hitting the front and continued on her merry way, all alone, until rounding the final turn.
That’s when Unique Bella seemed to shorten stride. Could have been she lost interest, could have been Smith allowed his guard to drop with how easily she usually wins. Whatever the reason, Abel Tasman came powering up the outside and threatened the heavy favorite.
Or at least, appeared to threaten. With a tap of the whip from Smith, Unique Bella re-broke and pulled away once again to be 2 1/4 lengths clear on the wire. Despite all that, she still earned a 104 BRIS Speed rating, her second best to date.
There are some still claiming Unique Bella is the best three-year-old out there, period, and should face the boys, but Hollendorfer continues targeting the Kentucky Oaks with his latest superstar. Next up is the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) on April 8. Hopefully, if she wins as easily as Songbird did last year for Hollendorfer, Unique Bella won’t come down with a fever afterward and be forced to miss the Run for the Lillies.