Will Baffert win 5th straight Sunland Park Oaks? (Probably)
This weekend features two Kentucky Oaks (G1) prep races giving away points – the $150,000 Bourbonette Oaks (G3) on Saturday at Turfway Park and the $200,000 Sunland Park Oaks on Sunday at, you guessed it, Sunland Park.
Each race will award points on a 50-20-10-5 scale to the top four finishers toward a starting berth in the Kentucky Oaks. They are the last pair to do so, because after this the points are bumped up to 100-40-20-10 for the remaining six races.
There is a sort of last-chance qualifier on April 12 at Keeneland in the $250,000 Beaumont S. (G2), but it’s only worth 10-4-2-1 like the early prep season races.
Getting back to this weekend, the Sunland Park Oaks is the big story as trainer Bob Baffert attempts to record his fifth straight victory in the race.
Really, of the two races, the Sunland Park Oaks has the more interesting field. Sending eight sophomore fillies on dirt 1 1/16 miles will likely prove much more useful to the May 1 Kentucky Oaks than the one-mile Bourbonette Oaks on synthetic Polytrack.
The Sunland Park Oaks even drew a better field, or at least two really good runners in the Baffert-trained duo of Callback (Street Sense) and Maybellene (Lookin at Lucky).
The former prevailed by a half-length in the Las Virgenes S. (G1) following a season-opening second in the Santa Ynez S. (G2). Callback was given a slight break after the January 31 Las Virgenes, and has been working up a storm at Santa Anita Park in the interim to ready for this one.
Maybellene is seeking a return to her two-year-old form that saw her just miss when third by three parts of a length in the Starlet S. (G1) and finish second in the Desi Arnaz S. The bay miss didn’t do so well in the Las Virgenes, crossing the line in eighth, and ran fourth on the turf most recently in the China Doll S., so a return to the main track at a distance could be just what she needs for a return to the winner’s circle.
If either Callback or Maybellene win the Sunland Park Oaks, it will not only be Baffert’s fifth straight in the race but his seventh from the last nine runnings. To give their trainer that honor, the duo will have to overcome five from locally based barns and one who shipped in to (sort of) take the local prep.
That latter filly, Suva Harbor (Rockport Harbor), comes from John Sadler’s shedrow at Santa Anita. The gray lass ran sixth in the Las Virgenes before shipping to Sunland and wiring the Island Fashion S. by 2 ¾ lengths. Unfortunately, Suva Harbor came out on the first turn and was disqualified to last of eight in that stakes contest, so she’ll be looking to assert her class against elevated winner Rousanne (Desert Party) once again.
Rousanne comes from the barn of Justin Evans, the leading trainer at Sunland last season. Another with Sunland Park training titles on his resume is Henry Dominguez, who has three entered in the Sunland Park Oaks including nice last-out maiden winners Fancy and Flashy (Zensational) and Scat Means Go (Scat Daddy). Dominguez’s other runner, We Need Art (Sky Mesa), was placed third after finishing fourth in the Island Fashion on February 22.
Completing the field on Sunday is Babes Cylver Slew (Old Fashioned), who is 1-2-0 from three Sunland starts for local conditioner Joel Marr. The gray filly has gone off favored in her past two, but is listed at 12-1 on the morning line for the Oaks. She could surprise everyone at a nice price if she handles the stretch out to 1 1/16 miles.
(On a side note, Marr was the guy who saddled Peppers Pride to break the modern North American record for 16 consecutive wins when earning her 17th straight on October 8, 2004. She broke the previous mark of 16 shared by 1948 Triple Crown legend Citation, 1995-96 Horse of the Year Cigar, 1990 Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Mister Frisky and Louisiana-bred star Hallowed Dreams. Peppers Pride would go on to retire undefeated with 19 wins.)
Harlan’s Destiny looks to be the top draw in the oversubscribed Bourbonette Oaks on Saturday on Turfway’s Polytrack, but it’s that very track that could prove her downfall.
The Henderson, Kentucky, venue is one of the last few holdouts for synthetic tracks – along with Arlington (Polytrack), Golden Gate Fields (Tapeta), Presque Isle Downs (Tapeta) and Woodbine (Polytrack changing to Tapeta) – and the Bourbonette Oaks has drawn its share of turf and synthetic runners.
Harlan’s Destiny is one of only two in the field with stakes winning experience on dirt, and brings a four-race win streak into the Bourbonette Oaks. Her only loss came on Arlington’s Polytrack in her career debut last September so, while Harlan’s Destiny might have Oaks credentials, it’s not for the Bourbonette Oaks.
Instead, Sharla Rae (Afleet Alex) could prove best on Saturday off a rallying neck win in the California Oaks on Golden Gate’s Tapeta. The Doug O’Neill pupil also captured the Barretts Debutante S. on dirt at Los Alamitos in September, proving her abilities across the different surfaces.
Photo: Sharla Rae (Shane Micheli/Vassar Photography)