HOT SPRINGS, AR (Friday, April 24, 2020) – Perhaps no Oaklawn listed stakes race in the short COVID-19 era was transformed more than Saturday’s Carousel for older female sprinters. Although it carries just a $125,000 purse, the 6-furlong event attracted two millionaire Grade 1 winners and a multiple Oaklawn stakes winner, Amy’s Challenge, for trainer Mac Robertson.
“It’s going to be a tough race,” Robertson said moments before watching Amy’s Challenge work a half-mile April 17. “I think she’d been 1-2 if they ran three weeks ago. She was doing great.”
The two heavyweights rerouted to the Carousel were Bellafina for Southern California-based trainer Simon Callaghan and Mia Mischief for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Not surprisingly, one of those horses, Bellafina, is the prohibitive 8-5 program favorite for the Carousel, which headlines an 11-race card Saturday, Day 53 of the scheduled 57-day meeting. Probable post time for the Carousel, race 10, is 5:16 p.m. (Central). First post Saturday is 12:35 p.m.
The Carousel, which drew eight entrants, was originally scheduled to be run April 11 before being moved in a shuffling of late-season stakes races. Other dominoes began to fall around that time, too.
Bellafina was to have made her 4-year-old debut in the $100,000 Las Flores Stakes (G3) April 5 at Santa Anita before racing there was suspended late last month. Now, she’s seeking to win for the first time in five career starts outside Southern California. Bellafina hasn’t started since finishing second in the $300,000 La Brea Stakes (G1) Dec. 28 at Santa Anita.
“We were always going to try and bring her back in an easier spot than her last few races, which have been contentious Grade 1s,” Callaghan said. “Kind of landed on this spot for obvious reasons. She’s doing really good. She looks like she’s getting over the track pretty well there.”
A daughter of Quality Road, Bellafina has a 6-3-1 record from 13 lifetime starts and earnings of $1,446,725. Her resume includes victories in the $300,000 Chandelier Stakes (G1) as a 2-year-old at Santa Anita and the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G1) last year at Santa Anita. Bellafina also finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length, by future dual Eclipse Award winner Covfefe in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
Bellafina tuned up for the Carousel with a half-mile work in :47.80 April 18 at Oaklawn under Joe Talamo, who is named to ride from the rail Saturday.
“It’s perfect timing to start her year off,” said Callaghan, who trains Bellafina for a group that includes the nationally prominent Kaleem Shah. “After this race, we’ll take her back to California and then, hopefully, the racing calendar will be a little bit clearer in the next few weeks and we can plan next steps for her and the whole barn. She’s doing really good, and we feel she’s kind of ready to run and needs to run. This is why we’re there.”
Callaghan said the year-end goal for Bellafina is the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
The early 9-2 second choice is Amy’s Challenge, who exits a runner-up finish in the $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes Feb. 29. Amy’s Challenge is a three-time Oaklawn stakes winner, including the $100,000 American Beauty and $100,000 Spring Fever last year.
Mia Mischief (9-2) has a 9-6-1 overall mark from 20 lifetime starts and earnings of $1,140,234. She finished second to Amy’s Challenge in the $125,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters in 2018 at Oaklawn and ran ninth in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1). She recorded her biggest career victory to date in the $500,000 Humana Distaff (G1) last May at Churchill Downs and was targeting that race again before schedules became disrupted across the country. Mia Mischief was a sharp allowance winner in her 5-year-old debut March 20.
Also entered in the Carousel are Midnight Fantasy and What a Fox, first and third, respectively, in the 2020 Spring Fever; Lady Suebee, who returns to sprints for trainer John Sadler; and Sunny Dale, a three-time winner at the meet for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
The Carousel field from the rail out: Bellafina, Joe Talamo to ride, 117 pounds, 8-5 on the morning line; Midnight Fantasy, Martin Garcia, 122, 5-1; Sunny Dale, Joel Rosario, 124, 6-1; What a Fox, David Cohen, 122, 8-1; Classy Act, Adam Beschizza, 122, 15-1; Amy’s Challenge, Alex Canchari, 117, 4-1; Lady Suebee, Tyler Baze, 117, 20-1; and Mia Mischief, Ricardo Santana Jr., 122, 9-2.