By J.J. Hysell
While the California-based Kentucky Derby points races haven’t shed much light on contenders, the Oaks points races out West are looking quite salty.
The Grade 1 Las Virgenes Stakes Saturday at Santa Anita – which offers 10 points to the winner, four for second, two for third and one for fourth – features an eight-horse field loaded with promise.
The one-mile test marks the anticipated return of Hollywood Starlet winner Streaming for trainer Bob Baffert. The daughter of Smart Strike is 2 for 2 and will be making her first start on dirt, although she trains on dirt regularly and posts superb times. She’s cutting back in distance from the 1 1/16-mile Starlet off the layoff. This filly is already considered a top Oaks prospect and could vault into the top three with a sharp performance here.
Taste Like Candy, who couldn’t last and was beaten by Streaming after setting the pace in the Starlet, was the victim of another Baffert filly, Awesome Baby, in the Santa Ynez Stakes. In that six-and-a-half furlong contest, Taste Like Candy was moved into a stalking position, but could never reach Awesome Baby.
Blue Norther Stakes winner Sushi Empire is a daughter of Empire Maker making her first start on dirt in her sixth career start. Although she doesn’t boast the credentials or the speed of a few of these foes, that pedigree angle is often dangerous. She boasts a classy pedigree, out of the Danzig mare Dowell House, who won on multiple surfaces.
Proof of the Empire Maker angle will break from post four. Artemis fared well in her first two starts, but the Jerry Hollendorfer trainee had a breakout performance when she switched to dirt, coming from off the pace to break her maiden at a mile. This is an “under-the-radar” Oaks contender who could make a name for herself here.
Earthflight makes her U.S. debut in tough company. She’s shown steady improvement with experience, but works on dirt toward her first try on the surface don’t inspire. Look for her to make an impact on turf.
Arethusa looked like the real deal when she romped on synthetic in the Sharp Cat Stakes. Her fifth place performance in the Starlet was the result of a terrible start in which she bore out and was bumped hard. It could be this daughter of A.P. Indy, out of a Coronado’s Quest mare, is maturing slowly. She has a pedigree tailored for classic distances.
Fashion Plate is interesting in this spot. She flourished when switching to dirt and moving into a pacesetter’s role. It will be interesting to see what tactics are used here under the guidance of jockey Gary Stevens. The daughter of Old Fashioned has a pedigree suited for sprint to middle distances.
Saintly Joan, a daughter of Northern Afleet, was third in the Sharp Cat and fifth in the Blue Norther. She’s facing many of the same foes here and would need a sharp turnaround to beat them.