HOT SPRINGS, AR (Wednesday, April 29, 2020) – Horses from all parts of the country converging for Friday’s ninth race at Oaklawn isn’t a fantasy. It is the Fantasy, a $400,000 Grade 3 stakes race for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles that drew a full field of 14, including champion British Idiom and four Grade 2 winners.
Probable post time for the Fantasy, which headlines a 10-race program, is 5:09 p.m. (Central). First post Friday, Day 56 of the scheduled 57-day season, is 1:05 p.m.
The card also features the $165,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Championship for state-breds at 1 1/16 miles and the $80,000 Gardenia, an overnight stake, for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1 1/16 miles. The Gardenia was an 11th-hour addition after it became apparent the Fantasy would oversubscribe.
If the Fantasy field remains intact, it will equal the second-largest in race history. The inaugural edition in 1973 had 14 starters. Our Mims led a record 15 horses across the wire in 1977 en route to a season-end Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly. With the Kentucky Oaks moved to Sept. 4 (Covid-19), the 2020 Fantasy could have long-term championship implications, too, with 10 stakes winners entered. The Fantasy will award 170 points (100-40-20-10) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks, the country’s biggest event for 3-year-old fillies.
“It’s a Grade 1-caliber race, in my eyes,” said trainer Brad Cox, who is scheduled to send out British Idiom and local stakes winner Shedaresthedevil. “It’s obviously a very good group of fillies.”
Cox has the champion, but trainer Richard Baltas has the 2-1 program favorite in lightly raced Venetian Harbor (2 for 3 overall), who will be making her first start outside California. A daughter of Munnings, Venetian Harbor has won her last two races by a combined 20 front-running lengths, including the $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) Feb. 8 at Santa Anita in her last start. Venetian Harbor won the 1-mile Las Virgenes, her two-turn debut, by 9 ¼ lengths.
“Venetian Harbor is doing great,” Baltas said. “She’s been here for a while and has had two good works over the track. All is good, so, obviously, the pressure’s on. We’re the favorite. Not much to say. Break and get a good position in the first turn.”
Venetian Harbor is scheduled to break from post 2 under Flavien Prat and carry equal top weight of 121 pounds.
“Fine with it,” Baltas said of the post.
British Idiom, the early 5-2 second choice, earned an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 2-year-old filly after winning all three starts, including the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita. In her only start this year, British Idiom finished second, beaten 4 ¾ lengths, in the $300,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds. Regular rider Javier Castellano has the return call on British Idiom from post 10.
Like Venetian Harbor, British Idiom landed in the Fantasy – originally scheduled to be run April 10 – after Covid-19 played havoc with racing schedules across the country. The Kentucky Oaks was supposed to be run Friday.
“I think she’s going to get a good setup,” Cox said. “Javier is obviously the only one that ever rode her in the afternoon. Talking to him after the Rachel, he thought she had moved forward mentally. I thought she had moved forward mentally and matured physically and mentally. I guess you want to call it second race off the layoff. It’s kind of another layoff. It’s kind of weird, but I do think she’s going to move forward. I really, really do. She’ll probably need to. I think this is the deepest field she’s faced, from top to bottom. She’s going to have to bring her ‘A’ race to get it done, but she’s acting like that she’s going to do that.”
Shedaresthedevil overcame traffic to win the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 7 in her last start. The 1 1/16-mile Honeybee is traditionally the final major local prep for the Fantasy. Based last year in Southern California with trainer Simon Callaghan, Shedaresthedevil finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length by stablemate Bonny South, in an entry-level allowance race Feb. 15. Bonny South returned to win the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) March 21 at Fair Grounds. The 1 1/16-mile allowance race was Shedaresthedevil’s 3-year-old debut and first start for Cox and an ownership group that includes Staton Flurry of Hot Springs. Shedaresthedevil has trained well leading up to the Fantasy, Cox said.
“She’s a fantastic workhorse,” Cox said. “She likes Oaklawn. She’s had two good races over the track. I would call this her third race off the layoff. Once again, she’s run some good numbers, but she’s probably going to need the best one she’s ever run in order to win this. Definitely a step up, but I think it’s a step she can take, for sure. She’s talented.”
Shedaresthedevil, who switches to Joel Rosario, is scheduled to break from post 7 and carry 121 pounds.
Other top contenders include Honeybee runner-up Alta’s Award for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and Grade 2 winners Lake Avenue (Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott), Swiss Skydiver (Kenny McPeek) and Lazy Daisy (Doug O’Neill). Asmussen is also scheduled to start Fire Coral, a two-time winner at the meet who will be making her stakes debut.
“Obviously, this running of the Fantasy is extremely deep,” Asmussen said. “We're disappointed in both their draws. Both are forwardly placed and with 14 horses in the field, it will make it difficult for them to get the positions that they need. But both fillies have run and run well here at Oaklawn. They both deserve this opportunity.”
Lake Avenue won the $250,000 Demoiselle Stakes (G2) Dec. 7 at Aqueduct before finishing third behind Swiss Skydiver in the $200,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) March 28 at Gulfstream Park in her last start.
Also entered are New York Groove, a mid-Atlantic-based multiple stakes winner for trainer Michael Trombetta, and Aqueduct stakes winner Ice Princess for trainer Danny Gargan. Ice Princess is cross entered in the Gardenia.
The Fantasy field from the rail out: Ice Princess, Kendrick Carmouche to ride, 121 pounds, 20-1 on the morning line; Venetian Harbor, Flavien Prat, 121, 2-1; Swiss Skydiver, Brian Hernandez Jr., 121, 6-1; Lake Avenue, John Velazquez, 121, 15-1; Harvey’s Lil Goil, Martin Garcia, 121, 12-1; Kansas Kis, Florent Geroux, 117, 30-1; Shedaresthedevil, Joel Rosario, 121, 12-1; Ring Leader, Joe Talamo, 121, 30-1; Lady Glamour, Julie Burke, 117, 50-1; British Idiom, Javier Castellano, 121, 5-2; Fire Coral, Tyler Baze, 117, 15-1; New York Groove, Stewart Elliott, 121, 20-1; Lazy Daisy, David Cohen, 121, 20-1; and Alta’s Award, Ricardo Santana Jr., 117, 12-1.
Fair Grounds Oaks third Antoinette is among 14 horses entered in the inaugural $80,000 Gardenia Stakes, which drew a full field of 14. Probable post time for the 1 1/16-mile Gardenia, a recently added overnight stake for 3-year-old fillies, is 4:38 p.m. It goes as race 8.
Antoinette, a homebred for Godolphin LLC (Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum), has a 2-0-1 record from four lifetime starts and earnings of $140,750. She won the off-the-turf $100,000 Tepin Stakes Dec. 5 at Aqueduct for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 1986.
Antoinette is scheduled to break from post 10 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez and carry equal top weight of 122 pounds. She is 8-1 on the morning line.
The Gardenia field from the rail out: Black Kat Taps, Brian Hernandez Jr. to ride, 117 pounds, 30-1 on the morning line; Piece of My Heart, Joe Talamo, 119, 8-1; Gingham, Martin Garcia, 119, 3-1; Turnstone, Declan Cannon, 114, 30-1; Daphne Moon, Walter De La Cruz, 119, 4-1; Quick Decision, Terry Thompson, 119, 12-1; Strong Flag, Ricardo Santana Jr., 117, 9-2; Comical, Joel Rosario, 122, 15-1; Ice Princess, Kendrick Carmouche, 122, 10-1; Antoinette, John Velazquez, 122, 8-1; His Glory, David Cohen, 119, 8-1; Shanghai Keely, Stewart Elliott, 122, 30-1; Kiss the Girl, Tyler Baze, 119, 30-1; and Punk Rock Princess, Flavien Prat, 119, 30-1.
Gingham will add blinkers for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.