Still no standout in Road to the Kentucky Oaks

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Jen Caldwell

January 30th, 2017

The Road to the Kentucky Oaks (G1) kicked off 2017 in the Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita Park and two other contests quickly followed.

Each race awarded points on a 10-4-2-1 basis to the top four finishers, good for a starting berth in the May 5 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. Last year saw an assortment of fillies earn their spot on the Oaks Leaderboard, and 2017 has continued that trend thus far.

The Santa Ynez featured a field of five going seven furlongs on January 8, and a three-filly battle developed up front when the gates opened. Resilient Humor, Shane’s Girlfriend and Princess Karen lined up across the track while Unique Bella tracked just behind and to the outside of the trio.

Resilient Humor led the way on the inside until Unique Bella under jockey Mike Smith ranged up four wide entering the turn to take command. Fellow Jerry Hollendorfer trainee It Tiz Well followed but was no match for her stablemate, who drew off under her own power to be 7 1/2 lengths clear on the wire.

The Santa Ynez marked Unique Bella’s stakes debut after the gray Tapit filly broke her maiden by 10 lengths in her second outing. She earned a 93 BRIS Speed rating for that score and could be poised to pick up the three-year-old filly baton from another Hollendorfer pupil – Songbird.

Unique Bella towered over her rivals in the Santa Ynez, not just in talent but in size as well. The massive filly will have to prove herself at a distance, and she could get the chance next out in the one-mile Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) on February 5.

On January 15, one week after the Santa Ynez, another small field of five lined up in the Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct. This particular contest was a mile and 70 yards on the inner dirt.

Libby’s Tail led the way while pressed by Lockdown the entire way down on the backstretch. Lockdown drew even entering the turn before pulling off upon hitting the stretch. Libby’s Tail wasn’t done, though, and re-rallied while drifting a bit, but could not catch Lockdown, who kicked it up a notch to be 2 1/2 lengths clear on the wire.

Libby’s Tail ran well in defeat, but Lockdown never truly looked threatened. The one time Libby’s Tail got close the Bill Mott trainee merely opened up again. Like Unique Bella, Lockdown made her stakes debut in this spot after breaking her maiden in her second outing. The First Defense filly earned a 91 BRIS Speed rating.

Lockdown’s next opportunity to earn Kentucky Oaks points at Aqueduct comes in the February 25 Busher Stakes.

Of all the fillies from last year’s points races, Farrell is the only one to earn two Kentucky Oaks points race wins. Until her, a different filly showed up in the winner’s circle in each race.

The Wayne Catalano trainee upset the Golden Rod Stakes (G2) at 10-1 last November 26 at Churchill Downs when romping by six lengths, and pulled off another easy victory in the Silverbulletday Stakes to kick off her sophomore campaign at Fair Grounds on January 21.

This time around, though, the dark bay daughter of Malibu Moon was the 4-5 favorite while facing five rivals in the mile-and-70-yard affair. Farrell didn’t disappoint, tracking pacesetter Gris Gris until challenging rounding the turn. Untapped had latched onto Farrell’s outside and, like Gris Gris, refused to back down.

In the end, though, Farrell took over and drew off under regular rider Channing Hill. Untapped faded badly while Wicked Lick just got up to deny Gris Gris second by a head.

Of the three points race winners this year, Farrell earned the lowest BRIS Speed rating for her score, an 88. She does, however, hold plenty of advantages over all other Kentucky Oaks hopefuls at this point. She’s already raced a distance close to the nine-furlong Oaks when going 1 1/16 miles in the Golden Rod, has competed and won over Churchill Downs and now has experience scoring on an off track thanks to the muddy, sealed Silverbulletday.

If she stays the Fair Grounds route to the Kentucky Oaks, next up for Farrell would be the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) on February 25.