(Travel Column / Coady Photography)
From the Fair Grounds Media Team:
In horse racing, it’s never too early to look ahead. Trainer Brad Cox started doing just that shortly after Travel Column’s eye-catching November 28 win in the Golden Road (G2) at Churchill Downs. Kentucky Oaks here we come. The path to the April 30 Oaks begins in earnest Saturday at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, when Travel Column starts as what figures to be a strong favorite in the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra (G2) presented by Fasig-Tipton. Run at 1 1/16 miles, the Rachel Alexandra offers 85 qualifying points for the Oaks, with the winner getting 50 on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
OXO Equine’s Travel Column (post 8 at 2-1 with Florent Geroux) was always cut out to be a runner. The daughter of Frosted was sold for $850,000 as a yearling and didn’t disappoint in her debut, winning off by 4 ¼ lengths at Churchill in a September MSW, ironically enough on Kentucky Oaks Day. She was a distant third in the Alcibiades (G1) at Keeneland after a slow start caused her to rush up early to get into contention, and she predictably flattened out late.
Travel Column announced her presence in the Golden Rod, in what was one of the most impressive performances by a juvenile of any sex all year. Travel Column was sandwiched at the start, raced last-of-9 early, then got caught in traffic entering the far turn. She couldn’t get out until midstretch, then hit sixth gear in an instant and won going away. Cox, like everyone else, was impressed—after it was all over.
“I loved her going into the race, I was concerned during the race, and I loved her even more after the race,” Cox joked. “It was a little bit of a worry. We saw it in the Alcibiades too, she breaks a little slow and had to make a premature move. But once she gets going, she’s a really, really nice filly and she’s shown it time and again.”
Travel Column has kept a steady worktab at Fair Grounds this winter and signaled her readiness for the Rachel Alexandra with a 6-furlong move on January 31 in 1:13. She did it in company with stablemate Essential Quality, who was last year’s undefeated 2-Year-old Champion. Travel Column has more than held her own.
“She worked in tandem with Essentially Quality and has worked with him a lot and it’s worked out well, they both get plenty out of it,” Cox said. “She holds her own and for her to be able to do it with the 2-Year-Old Champion colt says a lot. She gets you excited for sure.”
Cox won the Oaks in 2018 with Monomoy Girl and last year with Shedaresthedevil, so he knows how to get a 3-year-old filly to peak in the most important race of their lives. He hopes Travel Column will take that next step on Saturday on the road back to Louisville for the big dance on the last Friday in April.
“Hopefully this is the start of a three-race streak,” Cox said. “You just watch your horse and you want them to have a good experience every time you lead them over there. I think she’s set up for that on Saturday with the way she’s been training. I’m excited about what she’s shown us so far as a 3-year-old in the morning.”
Lothenbach Stables’ homebred Charlie’s Penny (post 9 at 9-2 with Brian Hernandez Jr.) surprised in the local prep, winning the January 16 Silverbulletday going away by 3 ½ lengths, in what was her two-turn debut. The daughter of Race Day entered off a third-place finish in the local 6-furlong Letellier in December and was a 9-1 outsider, but she settled in third early and powered home late over fellow rival Souper Sensational. Block left the Silverbulletday feeling good, but knows Charlie’s Penny will need to answer the bell one more time.
“To see her get around two turns was a confidence builder for all of us,” Block said. “She’s trained well in between, done what we’ve asked her to do, and maintained herself well since. She’ll have to take another pretty big step forward to be competitive with the likes of Travel Column, and Clairiere and I look for Souper Sensational to move forward as well. It’s a group that will certainly make us all take a look afterwards and see what path to take.”
Stonestreet Stables’ homebred Clairiere (post 1 at 5-2 with Joe Talamo) was second to Travel Column in the Golden Rod and is another who will make her 3-yer-old debut in the Rachel Alexandra. The daughter of multiple grade 1 winner Cavorting was spotting experience to Travel Column last time, as she entered off just a debut win at Churchill in October for trainer Steve Asmussen. Clairiere has also been training at Fair Grounds this winter and, if things go according to plan, the two fillies will get very acquainted with each other during the first half of the season.
“She’s a very good, lightly-raced filly with a huge pedigree,” Asmussen said of Clairiere. “It’s the right spot to start her back and we’re really looking forward to it. But obviously we have our eye down the road (towards the Kentucky Oaks) with her too.”
Live Oak Plantation’s Souper Sensational (post 2 at 8-1 with Declan Carroll) was second in the Silverbulletday, and like Charlie’s Penny, she too had her own questions to answer. The daughter of Curlin entered 2 for-2 for trainer Mark Casse, though both wins were sprinting over the Tapeta at Woodbine. Souper Sensational didn’t have a smooth trip in the Silverbulletday, as she was last in the six-horse field, while the pace of :49 4/5 was a crawl early. Casse’s local assistant Dave Carroll applauded Souper Sensational’s desire.
“It wasn’t ideal circumstances that day and she got squeezed back a bit at the start too,” Carroll said. “But she didn’t worry about it, laid back and made the one run, and here we are. I think this race will tell us where we are going forward, if she can handle this two-turn trip again, it will give us a lot of options.”
Tom Amoss will start three in the Rachel Alexandra, with Cosmic Racing’s Zoom Up (post 6 at 6-1 with James Graham) the most well-regarded off a strong optional-claiming win here January 18, in what was her two-turn debut. The daughter of Upstart hit the board in her first two starts in Kentucky then broke her maiden locally going 6 furlongs by a neck but she looked like an even better horse stretching out last time. Zoom Up settled early, kicked clear in midstretch, and won going away by 2 lengths. It was an effort that had even Amoss taking notice.
“She ran really well and it even surprised me a little bit, by how effortless it was to make the transition from one-turn to two turns,” Amoss said. “She’s really improving and her race was impressive, so we’re looking forward to the Rachel Alexandra.”
Amoss also will run BCWT Ltd.’s Off We Go (post 4 at 15-1 with Mitchell Murrill), who makes her two-turn debut off a close second in an optional-claimer here January 22 in her 3-year-old debut, and Joel Politi’s Littlestitious (post 7 at 12-1 with Colby Hernandez), a distant fifth in the Silverbulletday after setting the pace early.
Brad King, Jim Cone, Scott Bryant, and Stan and Suzanne Kirby’s Moon Swag (post 3 at 15-1 with Adam Beschizza) could improve after finishing third, beaten 4 lengths with a troubled trip in the Silverbulletday in what was her two-turn debut. The daughter of Malibu Moon had yet to run past 6 furlongs and took up sharply entering the first turn but ran on through the lane in an encouraging effort.
Completing the Rachel Alexandra field is Norman Stables and Mark Norman’s Becca’s Rocket (post 5 at 20-1 with Marcelino Pedroza), who broke her maiden here going two turns in November for trainer Scotty Gelner.
With such a stellar history of recent participants, Fair Grounds remains hopeful the Rachel
Alexandra will soon achieve grade I status is deserves. In 2018, Rachel Alexandra champion Monomoy Girl went on to win both the Longines Kentucky Oaks and the Breeders’ Cup Distaff en route to earning an Eclipse Award as Champion 3-Year-Old Female. The following year (2019) Serengeti Empress and Liora, the 1-2 finishers in the Rachel Alexandra, would also make up the exacta in the Kentucky Oaks. Our 2020 third-place finisher Swiss Skydiver has gone on to win five graded stakes, including the Alabama (G1) (in advance of a runner-up finish in in the Kentucky Oaks), and the Preakness, which was run as the third leg of the Triple Crown last year.
In the last 25 years, nine winners of the Kentucky Oaks also participated in the Rachel Alexandra. They include:
2019 – Serengeti Empress, won both
2018 – Monomoy Girl, won both
2015 – Lovely Maria, 2nd in the Rachel, won the Kentucky Oaks
2014 – Untapable, won both
2012 – Believe You Can, 4th in the Rachel, won the Kentucky Oaks
2008 – Proud Spell, 2nd in the Rachel, won the Kentucky Oaks
2005 – Summerly, won both
1999 – Silverbulletday won both
1997 – Blushing K.D., won both
Additional Rachel Alexandra quotes:
Cox, Travel Column: “I’m looking forward to getting her started but that race came up really good on paper. It’s a good test and it won’t be a walk in the park. There are some really nice fillies who have a race over the track; it’s going to be a test. Her works have just been really good. She’s always been a really good work horse but we’ve seen more of the same as we’ve gotten back to action this year.”
Block, Charlie’s Penny: “I hope to get a good trip around there and give her a fair chance to see if she can compete with a group like this. From my stand point, I’m really proud of what she’s accomplished. Each race she’s really stepped up and answered everything we have asked of her. I’ll be really happy if she’s competitive against this group. You always want to win, obviously, but if she’s competitive with this group I’m going to be really happy with that. She’s got that instinct to compete and that’s hard to come by. She doesn’t have that blueblood pedigree but she’s put herself where she’s at. If she’s competitive, I’ll be real proud of her where she’s at.”
Carroll, Souper Sensational: “There’s no pressure with our filly. We know we have a very talented filly on our hands. She looks great but she needs to step up. The Golden Rod fillies are the ones to beat and there are others as well. they have some big-time pedigrees that say they are going to run all day. They are bred to go long. So this race will tell us where we’re at. There are a lot of big races for 3-year-old fillies that we can run in, but is it one-turn or two turns? At the end of the day, we love the filly and we’re really looking forward to the race.
Amoss, Littlestitious: “I think, when you look back at the Silverbulletday, the pace was a real crawl and her and the big favorite (Sun Path) were up on the front and neither one finished up at all. It was a bit of a head-scratcher. I’m left believing we didn’t run our style of race, which is to sit back and make a late run, so I would look for us to do that.
Amoss, Off We Go: “Stretching out we should be forward. It’s funny how you can look at one set of speed figures and see something totally different than another. The speed figures I use rate her last race very highly, but when you look at the Racing Form, it looks like just another race. I’ve been using my speed figures for a long time and I believe in them, so that’s what I’m going with.”