By J.J. Hysell
It was early in the new Churchill Downs September meet, and trainer Larry Jones was leaving at the end of a race day. A young man approached Jones and asked him if he had any young horses to watch, any good 2-year-olds that would be unveiled during the meet.
Jones was quick to respond with one name: Cassatt.
The gray daughter of Tapit – an imposing physical presence and, like many by her sire, sometimes a handful – is highly regarded by Jones and Fox Hill Farm. After being sidelined by shin issues after her debut, she returned with a stellar victory at six furlongs Jan. 9 at Fair Grounds. She’ll move up from that maiden win to stakes company in the Rachel Alexandra on Feb. 22.
With several standout 3-year-old fillies based at Fair Grounds this season, Cassatt has remained under the radar – until Sunday, when she generated buzz with her sharp work over the Fair Grounds track.
Cassatt went a mile with Rosie Napravnik aboard in 1:39.60. The work drew rave reviews from railbirds and clockers.
Cassatt will face a tough test in the 1 1/16-mile race that is part of the Louisiana Derby Preview Day program. Also pointing to the race is Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies victor Ria Antonia, who worked five furlongs in company in 1:01.80 Sunday for trainer Jeremiah Englehart.
The field is also expected to include: Pocahontas Stakes winner Untapable; Letellier Memorial Stakes winner Divine Beauty, who is also trained by Jones; and allowance winner Shanon Nicole.
The Rachel Alexandra is an Oaks points race with 50 points to the winner, 20 for second, 10 for third and five for fourth.