Indiana Oaks will produce a first-time stakes winner – guaranteed!
That’ll change once the race is done, but picking a winner out of this group is no easy task. They’ve all found ways to lose, recording close seconds by necks and noses, but someone has to emerge triumphant on Saturday.
That someone could turn out to be Ahh Chocolate from trainer Neil Howard’s barn. The bay filly just began her career in February at Fair Grounds and took an allowance at Keeneland in her next outing.
Ahh Chocolate faced stakes rivals for the first time in the Black-Eyed Susan S. (G2) – no easy spot – and found herself running wide on both turns.
The Stoneway Farm homebred nearly ran up on the heels of the horses in front of her on the first turn and jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. was forced to pull her out to avoid an accident. The filly was tugging hard on the backstretch and settled widest of all while keeping in good contact with the leaders. She was finally allowed to run rounding the final turn, made up good ground and briefly appeared in contention down the lane.
Nobody was getting to the winner that day, and Ahh Chocolate just lost second to Include Betty, who returned last out and captured the Mother Goose S. (G1) by 3 1/4 lengths at Belmont Park.
Ahh Chocolate has steadily improved in her numbers, earning a nice 93 BRIS Speed figure for the Black-Eyed Susan, and keeps Hernandez aboard as she seeks a return to the winner’s circle.
Pangburn was briefly touted as a Kentucky Oaks (G1) horse following her third in the Honeybee S. (G3) over the spring, but trainer Kenny McPeek bypassed that contest with his charge. Instead, the bay filly showed up on the turf against the best of her generation in Lady Eli and was soundly beaten in the Wonder Again.
Returning to the dirt last out in the Iowa Oaks (G3), Pangburn faced a familiar foe in Sarah Sis, who beat her in the Honeybee. The Kentucky-bred miss split rivals entering the stretch but still had a lot to do in midstretch. Pangburn kicked into high gear late and just missed collaring Sarah Sis by a nose on the wire.
The sophomore earned a career-best 95 BRIS Speed rating for her Iowa Oaks effort and will get Robby Albarado in the saddle for the first time as she attempts to, finally, earn a first stakes victory.
Oceanwave and Sweetgrass also have a shot at stakes glory. The former was second in the Honeybee and Fantasy S. (G3) before off-the-board performances in both the Kentucky Oaks and Acorn S. (G1) in her past two. This drop in class could be just what Oceanwave needs to get back into form.
Sweetgrass was close on Pangburn’s heels in the Iowa Oaks and wound up third on the wire. That followed a subpar seventh, her first unplaced finish, in the Black-Eyed Susan. The bay miss could continue to improve in this spot for trainer Ian Wilkes.
The Indiana Oaks shares Saturday’s card with the $500,000 Indiana Derby (G2) and four $100,000 stakes events -- Indiana General Assembly Distaff S., J. Kenneth Self Shelby County Boys and Girls Club S., Mari Hulman George S. and Michael G. Schaefer Memorial S.
Photo: Oceanwave (Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography)