Saturday Stakes Preview: What a Weekend to Wrap Up 2017

(Photo of Mr. Misunderstood / Courtesy of Churchill Downs)

What a weekend to finish up the 2017 racing calendar. Stakes races dot the race cards all over North America, and some of the most thrilling horses of the year will be on full display — hoping to finish the season with the same kind of splash as a cork on a shaken bottle of the best New Year’s Eve bubbly.

Here is a look at some of the best races that should draw your attention, focus and applause, as we do a quick fly over of the great United States of America.

At the Fair Grounds:

Three-year-old colts and fillies will have a final chance to end their 2017 campaign on a high note in the Pago Hop and the Woodchopper Stakes, both of which drew full fields of 14 and are run at one mile on the Stall-Wilson Turf Course.

The 32nd running of the $75,000 Woodchopper Stakes is headed by Flurry Racing Stables LLC’s Mr. Misunderstood — who is an undefeated 7-for-7 on the turf and is slated as the lukewarm 4-1 morning line favorite by Fair Grounds odds maker Mike Diliberto.

Named after a song and album by country music singer Eric Church, the son of Archarcharch is also undefeated over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course in two starts.

In addition to that, he will be in search of his fifth consecutive victory.

Since coming off a layoff after a lack luster effort in Hawthorne’s Gr. III Illinois Derby, he has won all four of his starts, all of which were stakes races. In August, he fired off the bench in the Super Derby Prelude Stakes over the Louisiana Downs turf and returned to the Shreveport oval once more to a victory in the Super Derby on Sept. 9. He followed his two Louisiana Downs stakes wins with a pair of stakes triumphs over Churchill Downs’ Matt Winn Turf Course in the Jefferson Cup Stakes on Sept. 30 and the Gr. III Commonwealth Turf on Nov. 11. Florent Geroux will be aboard from post five.

Cox also sends out Cowboy Culture for Head of Plains Partners LLC and Cheyenne Stables LLC, who breaks from post eight under Corey Lanerie. Like his stable mate, he also is 2-for-2 over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course. The son of Quality Road won an allowance race at the end of last year over the Fair Grounds turf which he followed up with a win in the Keith Gee Memorial Stakes over eventual Risen Star and Louisiana Derby (both Gr. II) winner Girvin. Since then, he scored a pair of turf stakes wins in the Gr. III Arlington Classic on May 27 and Indiana Grand Race Course’s Centaur Stakes on Sept. 6. Last time out, he was a disappointing ninth in the Gr. II Twilight Derby at Santa Anita on Oct. 28.

Cox is not the only trainer who will send out a pair for the Woodchopper Stakes. Trainer Tom Proctor will be represented by Big Bend (post seven, Robby Albarado) and Caribou Club (post 12, Joe Bravo), both of which will be putting winning streaks on the line for Saturday’s race.

Owned by Union Rags Racing LLC, Big Bend has won his last three starts and defeated older horses in Keeneland’s Gr. III Sycamore last time out at odds of 18-1 on Oct. 19. Prior to that effort, he beat fellow 3-year-olds in the Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs on Sept. 10 which was preceded by an allowance win on the Delaware Park turf. Glen Hill Farm’s Caribou Club may not have the resume that his stable mate does, but has nevertheless proven himself consistent in his racing career. In nine career starts, the son of City Zip has finished on the board eight times, including a third place finish behind graded stakes winner Bowies Hero in the Oceanside Stakes at Del Mar. Caribou Club will enter Saturday’s race off of two narrow allowance wins where he was a half-length winner going down the hill at Santa Anita and last out defeated graded stakes placed Holiday Stone in a one-mile Del Mar allowance race on Nov. 23.

Rounding out the Woodchopper Stakes field are Just Move On (post one, Jose Valdivia, Jr., 20-1), Balandeen(post two, David Cabrera, 30-1), Don’task Don’ttell (post three, Mitchell Murrill, 15-1), First Premio (post four, Colby Hernandez, 6-1), Uncontested (post six, Channing Hill, 10-1), Cedartown (post nine, Jack Gilligan, 12-1), It’s Your Nickel (post 10, James Graham, 20-1), St. Louie Guy (post 11, Christopher Emigh, 30-1), Oxford Lane(post 13, Brian Hernandez, Jr., 15-1), and Kitten’s Cat (post 14, Miguel Mena, 8-1).

 Heading the field for the 33rd running of the $75,000 Pago Hop Stakes is Coffeepot Stables LLC’s Farrell. The daughter of Malibu Moon is a half-sister to Gr. I winners Carpe Diem and JB’s Thunder, and will be making her turf debut for trainer Wayne Catalano when she breaks from post 11 under jockey Channing Hill, Catalano’s son-in-law. At the beginning of her 3-year-old campaign, Farrell swept the series of races on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks at the Fair Grounds when she won the Silverbulletday Stakes, the Grade II Rachel Alexandra and the Gr. II Fair Grounds Oaks. She entered the Gr. I Kentucky Oaks as the 4-1 second choice but was a disappointing 14th and last when she was beaten 48¾ lengths behind Abel Tasman. Following such an effort, she did not see racing action until September, where she was fifth in Churchill Downs’ Dogwood Stakes. Farrell redeemed herself next out when she won the Gr. II Chilukki over Churchill Downs’ main track, her most recent outing.

Trainer Brad Cox will be sending out a pair of fillies for the turf event, including Magic Joan who breaks from the 4 slot under Shaun Bridgmohan at odds of 8-1. Owned by e Five Racing Thoroughbreds, the full-sister to multiple graded stakes winner Blueskiesnrainbows will be making her stakes debut in the Pago Hop and enters the race off a runner-up effort over the Aqueduct turf course behind Speighgal. Her only other start was a maiden victory in her career debut at Belmont Park on Oct. 25, which she won by a half-length.

Cox also sends out LNJ Foxwoods’ Sensitive, who is in search of her first stakes win. The daughter of Divine Park was unsuccessful in her two starts against stakes company. As a 2-year-old, she was a well-beaten ninth in Belmont Park’s Chelsey Flower Stakes when under the care of conditioner Michael Dickinson. This year, Sensitive ran in the Gr. III Pucker Up at Arlington Park where she was a disappointing seventh behind fellow Pago Hop entrant Fault(post seven, Corey Lanerie, 6-1).She enters Saturday’s race with a string of two runner-up efforts against allowance company on the turf at Kentucky Downs and Keeneland, respectively. Sensitive breaks from post 12 under Florent Geroux.

The remainder of the field is comprised of Righteous Ruth (post one, James Graham, 12-1), Into Summer (post two, Adam Beschizza, 12-1), Hallie Belle (post three, 12-1, Robby Albarado), Sully’s Dream (post five, Jose Valdivia, Jr., 8-1), Oh So Terrible (post six, Calvin Borel, 30-1), Gentle Kitten (post eight, Miguel Mena, 20-1), Rum Go (post nine, Colby Hernandez, 20-1), Hotshot Anna (post 10, Marcelino Pedroza, 15-1), Bella Bella (post 13, Brian Hernandez, Jr., 30-1) and I’m Betty G (post 14, Joe Bravo, 9-2).

(Daddys Lil Darling / Photo Courtesy of Churchill Downs)
At Santa Anita:

Normandy Farm’s homebred Daddys Lil Darling heads a deep and competitive field of 10 sophomore fillies in the Grade I, $300,000 American Oaks at Santa Anita. Slotted as the nation’s final Grade I stakes of the year, the American Oaks will be contested at a mile and a quarter on turf.

Sharing top billing with Daddys Lil Darling, who will be shipping west from her Kentucky base, are New York shipper New Money Honey, local distaffer Madam Dancealot and Desert Duchess, a reformed claimer who comes off the best race of her career in a minor stakes at Gulfstream Park West.

Daddys Lil Darling was most recently a close third in the Grade II Mrs. Revere Stakes over a yielding turf at 1 1/16 miles on Nov. 24 at Churchill Downs.

This Kentucky-bred daughter of Scat Daddy has been second in no less than four Grade I stakes, including the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II two starts back at Keeneland on Oct. 14. Bred by her owner, she romped to a 4 ½ length win in an ungraded stakes going 1 5/16 miles on turf three starts back at Kentucky Downs Sept. 10–which would certainly indicate she can handle a mile and a quarter. A respectable fourth in her only try at a mile and quarter, five starts back in the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational on July 8, she rates top billing with “Big Money” Mike Smith aboard for the first time on Saturday.

New Money Honey is no slouch, either. In what was her lone Santa Anita appearance, this Medaglia d’Oro filly annexed her first Grade I win, the one mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf on Nov. 4, 2016. Based in New York with Chad Brown, she was all heart in taking the Grade I Belmont Oaks Invitational at a mile and quarter on turf three starts back on July 8. Although she retains the services of four-time Eclipse Champ Javier Castellano, New Money Honey comes off a pair of subpar efforts, a well beaten fifth at 4-1 in Saratoga’s Grade I Alabama on Aug. 19 and most recently, a dull sixth place run as the 5-2 favorite in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Keeneland Oct. 14. With a string of what appears to be pedestrian half mile drills at Belmont Park since her last start, Brown will hope to have her fresh and ready to close out the year.

Madam Dancealot is an Irish-bred and raced into September of her 2-year-old campaign in England, she’s been a gem of consistency in her last five starts for Richard Baltas. A Group III winner at 2 in England, she took the Grade II San Clemente Handicap three starts back at one mile on turf July 23 and was subsequently third, beaten a diminishing neck as the 7-2 favorite in the Grade I, 1 1/8 miles turf Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 19. In what may have been her finest hour, she came rolling from off the pace to finish third, beaten four lengths in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Stakes on Oct. 14–finishing 3 ½ lengths behind Daddys Lil Darling. With regular pilot Jamie Theriot relocated to New Orleans, she’ll be reunited with Corey Nakatani, who rode her to a win and a second place finish this past spring at Santa Anita.

Race 7 of 9 Approximate post time 3:30 p.m. PT

1. Madam Dancealot–Corey Nakatani–122
2. Kathy’s Song–Brice Blanc–120
3. Bernina Star–Kent Desormeaux–120
4. Daddys Lil Darling–Mike Smith–120
5. Pantsonfire–Rajiv Maragh–120
6. Beau Recall–Joe Talamo–120
7. Desert Duchess–Drayden Van Dyke–120
8. Rymska–Irad Ortiz, Jr.–122
9. New Money Honey–Javier Castellano–124
10. Coachwhip–Flavien Prat–120

First post time for a nine-race card, that will also include the Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes and the Grade III Midnight Lute Stakes, is at 12:30 p.m.

(Calculator / Photo Courtesy of Santa Anita)

Also at Santa Anita:

Shrouded in controversy since his debut nearly four years ago, top sprinter Masochistic is set to make his first start since early May as he heads a field of nine 3-year-olds and up in Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 Midnight Lute Stakes at Santa Anita. Idle since distanced over a wet fast track going seven furlongs in the Grade II Churchill Downs on May 6, the 7-year-old California-bred gelding will be making his first start for Bob Baffert in the Midnight Lute.

Masochistic’s primary competition on Saturday is located to his immediate outside, as Kaleem Shah’s homebred Americanize, who was most recently a well beaten fourth in the Grade I Cigar Mile Handicap Dec. 2 at Aqueduct, figures to be plenty tough as he returns to the sprint game.

Peter Miller’s Calculator, well beaten in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint Nov. 4, is a top sprinter who will no doubt vie for favoritism and rates a huge look with four-time Eclipse Champion Javier Castellano set to ride.

Trainer Mark Glatt is well represented by lightly raced Silent Bird, who comes off a troubled third place run in the Grade II Pat O’Brien Stakes going seven furlongs on Aug. 26.
Jerry Hollendorfer’s venerable Ike Walker, a 5-year-old gelding, comes off a solid second condition allowance win going a flat mile on Nov. 16 and will to purloin his recent route form into victory at 6 ½ furlongs.

If it were possible, Masochistic would no-doubt be cast prominently in a Dick Francis novel. Originally trained by A.C. Avila, Masochistic was fifth at odds of 8-1 in his career debut March 15, 2014 at Santa Anita. Subsequently bet down to 2-1 favoritism off a morning line of 20-1 in a maiden special weight affair going six furlongs on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs, Masochistic responded with a 14 length score for the ever-crafty Avila, who was soon besieged with inquiries as to the machinations of such an improbable victory. Fast forward to Nov. 5, 2016, when the then 6-year-old gelded son of Sought After finished second in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint when conditioned by Ron Ellis. Although he ran second, Masochistic was stripped of his purse money because a trace amount of prohibited medication was found in his system. Following that, he made the early lead and finished second, beaten one length as the 1-2 favorite in the Grade I, seven furlong Triple Bend Stakes here on March 11. In what would be his final start for Ellis, he pressed the pace and faded to finish 13th in the Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes as the 2-1 favorite on May 6. With Baffert calling the signals for the first time, 7-year-old Masochistic has been on a serious five-day work pattern since late November and appears primed for a big effort as he’ll be ridden for the first time by Drayden Van Dyke. The leading money earner in the field with $857,550, he’s 16-8-3-0 overall.

Although his 2017 earnings haven’t kept pace with last year’s ($142,480 to $254,960), Calculator merits considerable respect as he’s kept good company, particularly in his last two starts. Most recently seventh in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 4, he was second, beaten 1 ½ lengths two starts back by Giant Expectations in the Grade II, seven furlong Pat O’Brien Stakes Aug. 26. The Pat O’Brien looks even better in retrospect, as Giant Expectations pulled off an upset here on Tuesday in the Grade II San Antonio Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

NOTE: Calculator’s presence on Saturday takes on added significance, as he was one of several hundred horses rescued from the horrific fires at San Luis Rey Downs Training Center on Dec. 7. Transported to Del Mar, he appears to acclimated well, as he has three recorded works at the seaside for Peter Miller, his most recent a three furlong move in 38.60 Tuesday morning. He’ll be ridden for the first time by four-time Eclipse Champ Javier Castellano.

Race 8 of 9 Approximate post time 4 p.m. PT

1. Silent Bird–Kent Desormeaux–120
2. Ohio–Brice Blanc–120
3. Ike Walker–Irad Ortiz, Jr.–122
4. Masochistic–Drayden Van Dyke–120
5. Americanize–Rafael Bejarano–122
6. Solid Wager–Victor Espinoza–122
7. Tough Sunday–Tyler Baze–120
8. Calculator–Javier Castellano–120
9. Smokey Image–Gary Stevens–120

Also at Santa Anita:
Trainer Chad Brown will hope to pack a potent one-two punch with eastern invaders Penjade and Elysea’s World as they take on four other fillies and mares, including Neil Drysdale’s locally based Responsibleforlove in the Grade III, $100,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes at Santa Anita. Named for the legendary deceased Hall of Fame conditioner, the Frankel has attracted six fillies and mares three and up at a mile and one eighth on grass.

Although Penjade’s resume is devoid of a graded stakes placing, this 4-year-old French-bred filly surged late to take an ungraded stakes going 1 1/16 miles on turf Nov. 25 at Aqueduct and she’s won four out of her last five starts–her lone setback a 1 ¼ length defeat when fourth two starts back in the Grade III Athenia Stakes at Belmont Park Oct. 28. With her regular rider and America’s leading jockey by races won this year, Irad Ortiz, Jr. coming into ride, Penjade is a logical choice to go favored on Saturday. Seemingly a deep closer earlier in her career, Penjade sat closer to the pace in her last two wins, both at 1 1/16 miles on turf. She sports an overall mark of 16-5-6-2, with earnings of $360,061.

Fourth, beaten a half length at odds of 9-5 by her stablemate, Penjade on Nov. 25 at Aqueduct, Elysea’s World provides Brown with an enviable two-card hand in the six-horse Frankel. Although she has yet to win a graded stakes, dating back to July of last year at Saratoga, she’s placed in no less than six graded events and will hope to “break through” in her Santa Anita debut Saturday. Ridden on Nov. 25 by Joel Rosario, she’ll be reunited in the Frankel with Javier Castellano, who guided her to a close third place finish two starts back in the Grade III Athenia Stakes on Oct. 28 at Belmont Park.

Race 4 of 9 Approximate post time 2 p.m. PT

1. Penjade–Irad Ortiz, Jr.–122
2. Midnight Crossing–Brice Blanc–120
3. Laseen–Victor Espinoza–120
4. Elysea’s World–Javier Castellano–120
5. Gliding By–Rafael Bejarano–120
6. Responsibleforlove–Joe Talamo–122

This Weekend at Aqueduct:
Waterville Lake Stable’s Sea Foam will seek his third straight victory overall and second consecutive stakes win, headlining a field of nine New York-bred 2-year-olds in the 39th running of the Damon Runyon at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Sea Foam earned a personal-best 82 Beyer Speed Figure after finishing a length ahead of Stoney Bennett to win the Notebook on November 26 at the Big A. The victory at six furlongs – the Damon Runyon distance – in his stakes debut came after breaking his maiden by a neck over Gio D’Oro on November 3 in Ozone Park, earning the Medaglia d’Oro colt his first trip to the winner’s circle after starting his career with three straight second-place efforts.

Trained by Christophe Clement, Sea Foam drew the rail for the first time in six career starts. Off at 4-1 on the morning line, jockey Kendrick Carmouche, who won his 3,000th career race on December 19 at Parx, will have the call for the first time.

West Point Thoroughbreds and RAP Racing’s Empire Line will be making his first stakes start after capturing his debut with a two-length win on December 1 at Aqueduct. Set as the 3-1 morning-line favorite, Empire Line, for trainer George Weaver, will look to go 2-for-2 in his career with both wins at six furlongs as he will break from post 6 with Eric Cancel aboard.

Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Battle Station will add another stakes winner to the mix, with the son of Warrior’s Reward starting his career 2-for-2, including a 9 ¼-length romp in the Bertram F. Bongard on September 22 at Belmont, before running eighth in the Sleepy Hollow on October 21 on Big Sandy.

Battle Station, trained by Wesley Ward, rebounded to finish second against optional claiming company on November 25 at Churchill Downs and will make his Big A debut at 5-1 odds from the outside post with Julio Garcia in the irons.

Audible, who has won back-to-back starts at Aqueduct at one mile after running third in his first race on September 27 at Belmont, will move up to stakes company for the first time for trainer Todd Pletcher. The Into Mischief colt will have the services of jockey Christopher DeCarlo for the first time, drawing post 8 at 7-2.

At Gulfstream Park:
John Oxley’s Dance Strike may lack the experience of his 13 rivals in the $75,000 Tropical Park Derby, but the 3-year-old son of Tapit will have no shortage of star potential when he takes to the Gulfstream Park turf course for the last of five turf stakes.

Dance Strike is scheduled to make his stakes debut in the 1 1/16-mile turf stakes for 3-year-olds with a resume of just three races – but three very exciting races that include two eye-catching off-the-pace triumphs.

“I’ve been impressed with him. You’ve only seen the beginning, but he’s got to learn, as may Tapits do,” trainer Mark Casse said. “I find Tapits get better as they mature and run.”

Dance Strike was unraced as a 2-year-old and debuted at Gulfstream with a 1 ¼-length victory Aug. 20. Six weeks later, the Kentucky-bred colt lost a photo finish in his first start against winners before overcoming considerable early trouble to rally from 10th and last to draw off to a stunning two-length triumph at Gulfstream Park West Nov. 18.

“He did everything wrong last time. I don’t know how he won,” Casse said. “He’s not going to have that luxury [Saturday]. This is a tough race. He’s going to have to do things and do them right to have any chance, but he’s got a lot of raw talent.”

Dance Strike trained brilliantly as a 2-year-old but never made it to the starting gate for a freshman campaign

“When we had him as a 2-year-old his workmate and his partner all the time was Dream Dancing, who went on to win a Grade 1. He would train as good as she would,” Casse said. “We just had a constant foot issue with him, starting and stopping three or four times. That’s why he ended up going south [to Florida]. We’d send him to the track and then back home. Everything is based out of Ocala. We get them pretty close to running, then we decide where we want to send them. After a few attempts at sending him different places, we decided to keep him close to home.”

Dance Strike was bought at the 2015 Fasig Tipton Kentucky October sale for $410,000.

“He was the entire package. We liked his pedigree; we liked his conformation,” Casse said. “We’re always looking for stallion prospects down the road. When we find those, Mr. Oxley will step up. He fits those criteria, so that’s why he cost what he cost.”

Casse had the option to run Dance Strike against older horses in a two-other-than optional claiming allowance, but opted for the Tropical Park Derby.

“One thing I do try to do is to keep them in their age group as long as I can. This is the last chance to do that,” said Casse, who captured the 2014 Tropical Park Derby with Oxley’s Sky Flight. “Right now, I’m trying to get racing into him, because the more he runs the better he’s going to become. This is not an easy spot, but he’s learning.”

Emisael Jaramillo has the return mount.

Also At Gulfstream Park:
Martini Glass has one of the most impressive resumes in the field of the 12 fillies and mares entered to run in the $75,000 Via Borghese Stakes over the Gulfstream Park turf course, but the multiple Grade 1 stakes-placed filly definitely has the most diversified body of work.

“She’s extremely versatile. The only thing I haven’t done with her is run her on the synthetic, not that we’re planning to. She’s won going seven-eighths; she’s won on dirt; she’s won on turf; she’s won in mud; she’s finished second at a mile and a quarter,” trainer Keith Nations said. “She’s extremely versatile.”

Martini Glass, who won the $125,000 Claiming Crown Tiara over the Gulfstream Park turf course Dec. 2, has blossomed during her 4-year-old campaign, during which she finished second behind Songbird in the Delaware (Park) Handicap (G1) and second behind Romantic Vision in the Spinster (G1) at Keeneland, both on dirt.

“She’s probably better on dirt, but there just doesn’t seem to be many dirt races going two turns right now for fillies and mares,” Nations said.

Martini Glass was claimed by Nations and Vince Campanella for $16,000 out of a winning debut at Tampa Bay Downs in February 2016.

“We had seen her training in the morning and heard some things that she could be OK. We took a flyer to be honest,” said Nations, who had to win a shake to add her to his stable roster. “We weren’t the only ones who had an eye on her.”

Martini Glass has won eight of 18 starts since being claimed while earning in excess of $450,000. Her most impressive performance came in the 1 ¼-mile Delaware Handicap, in which she made a strong stretch bid before settling for second behind multiple champion Songbird.

“Realistically we were hoping to finish second or third. We didn’t think she could outrun Songbird, obviously, but she gave us a scare. I couldn’t be more thrilled,” Nations said. “In mid-stretch, it looked like she had a chance to win that race against that filly. It was pretty thrilling.”

Jose Ferrer was aboard Martini Glass in the Delaware Handicap before being sent to the sidelines with an injury. Paco Lopez has been aboard for her second-place finish in the Spinster and her victory in the Claiming Crown Tiara.

Lopez has the return mount for the 1 3/16-mile Via Borghese, but Ferrer was aboard for Martini Glass’s five-furlong breeze in 59 1/5 seconds at Tampa Bay Downs last Friday.

“He worked her the other day. He said, ‘Not only is she getting bigger and stronger, but she’s just getting better and better,’” Nations said. She’ll have to be to tackle this group. It looks like five or six horses in there that can win this race.”

Rebecca Hillen’s Beauly is scheduled to make her first start since finishing fourth, beaten 1 ¼ lengths by victorious War Flag, in the Flower Bowl (G1) at Belmont Oct. 8. The Brian Walsh-trained 4-year-old filly has won two of six starts since being imported from Great Britain, including a victory in the Indiana General Assembly Stakes at Indiana Grand. Leading rider Luis Saez has the mount.

Trainer Chad Brown has entered Galileo’s Song and Texting, a pair of 4-year-old fillies who finished second and third, respectively, in the Long Island Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct Nov. 4. Dell Ridge Farm’s Galileo’s Song, who also finished second in the Boiling Springs (G3) at Monmouth in July, will be seeking her first stakes success. Joel Rosario has the mount. The Long Island Handicap was the stakes debut for Sarah Sharp Farish’s Texting, who will be ridden by John Velazquez.

Finally At Gulfstream Park:

Arlene London’s Miss Sky Warrior, a speedy four-time graded-stakes winner on dirt, will make her grass  debut while seeking a return to form in Saturday’s $75,000 Tropical Park Oaks at Gulfstream Park.

A total of 26 sophomore fillies were entered for the 23rd running of the 1 1/16-mile Tropical Park Oaks, which was split into two divisions to be contested as the seventh and ninth races, respectively. The 11-race program begins at noon.

Miss Sky Warrior, by Grade 1 winner First Samurai, put together a four-race win streak that overlapped her juvenile and sophomore seasons. She captured the 2016 Tempted (G3) and Demoiselle in New York before heading south, where she was an impressive winner of the Davona Dale (G2).

The Kelly Breen trainee returned to Aqueduct for the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle, coming away with a front-running 13-length romp over eight rivals that earned her a date in the May 5 Kentucky Oaks (G1), where she was bumped early and contested the pace before fading to eighth.

Breen didn’t bring Miss Sky Warrior back to the races until the 1 1/16-mile Turnback the Alarm (G3) Oct. 28 at Belmont Park, winding up fourth after leading the way for six furlongs in her first try against older horses. Most recently, she was third as the favorite in the Comely (G3) Nov. 24 at Aqueduct.

“I’m trying to get her back to her winning ways. I’ve been told in the past by her owner that there’s a lot of turf in the pedigree,” Breen said. “She worked out on the turf at Palm Meadows and really flew over it. Not to say that she doesn’t like dirt, but we’re going to try this as another opportunity and keep all our options open.”

In her first breeze since arriving in South Florida, Miss Sky Warrior went five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.50 over the turf course at Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training facility in Palm Beach County. She covered the same distance in an easy 1:04 Dec. 15.

Breen said the timing of the Oaks is an ideal bridge for Miss Sky Warrior’s return to dirt in the $200,000 Royal Delta (G2) for fillies and mares 4 and up going one mile Feb. 19 at Gulfstream.

“There weren’t many options right now, so if we’re going to look for something late in February this was a good spot,” he said. “Her workout two weeks ago was as good as I’ve seen on the grass. We breezed her behind horses on the turf to make sure that she liked the grass and see how she accelerated. If she makes the lead, great. If she can rate, it would be even better.”

Miss Sky Warrior will carry co-highweight of 121 pounds including jockey Nik Juarez from Post 1 in the field of 13.

This horse ran a tremendous race,” said Smith, who at 52 is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown. “He’s so gifted. He’s sent from heaven. He’s just amazing.

“Did you see him standing in the gate?” added Smith, sporting the red-and-gold silks of China Horse Club after having worn the white-and-green colors of WinStar Farm in the Derby and Preakness. “He’s standing so still … I actually thought, ‘He’s not going to break today.’ I mean, he left there like he was going 440 yards in Ruidoso, New Mexico.”

Mike Smith, Jockey of Justify

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