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Minnesota Oaks Preview

by Angela Hermann

We’ve finally reached a distance test for our state-bred three year olds. The favorites in Saturday’s Oaks look formidable, but let’s see what each entrant has to offer:

$60,000 Minnesota Oaks:

1. Pleasant Life – This gray filly has tried a route of ground twice now, and seems to have turned the corner with the added yardage. Though she started the year in for a $10,000 tag, the Vic Hanson trainee was able to take down older open foes in her last try at 7 ½ on the turf. Compromised by a slow pace in her first race on dirt, she was reserved a bit further back on the turf and surged late to defeat J’Noodle and fellow Oaks entrant Bailout Bailey. She will get the distance, now it’ll be interesting to see how much she’s improved since her four length defeat at the hands of Sajani.

2. Polar Plunge – Favored prohibitively at 7/5, all eyes will be on the daughter of stakes winning Shakopee. She has yet to taste defeat, but also has a distance question to answer. When interviewed following the Frances Genter Stakes, young Dustin Dugas surmised that Polar Plunge does her best work sprinting and would most likely stick to short distances. Gary Scherer, however, has an excellent record with stretching horses of this quality. Until they beat her, this is still your front-runner for champion three year old filly and strictly the horse to beat.

3. Bailout Bailey – The lone maiden in this field, Bailout Bailey enters the Oaks with her work cut out for her. Thus far the Crimson Classic filly’s only on-the-board finishes have come on our turf course, twice against $25,000 claimers. Virginia Peters dons this filly with blinkers for the first time, but odds are against the hood making up multiple lengths on others in this field. Pleasant Life, Martha’s Yankee, and Academy’s Win have all broken their maiden at the expense of Bailout Bailey. In the running for the longest shot on the board.

4. Grace of Greatness – Mac Robertson looks to turn the tables on Polar Plunge, who defeated his 2010 two year old champion filly Esprit de Bleu in the Frances Genter. Grace of Greatness gamely proved her ability at a distance in her first try, taking a $25,000 NW2L Claimer on the grass. The daughter of Greatness seems to do her best work on the front end, which could prove a challenge to anyone looking to duel with Polar Plunge.

5. Academy’s Win – Despite being the co-experienced member of the field, Academy’s Win has not hit the local winner’s circle in over a year. That win produced her lifetime best Beyer figure (28) but came at five furlongs. She does have a win this year in North Dakota, but has not registered a Beyer figure in 2011. Leaning elsewhere for the winner.

6. Sajani – Here is the wild card of this bunch – Sajani is one of only two contenders in this field with a win on our local course around two turns. The other lies just to her outside, both under the same conditioner’s care. Bernell Rhone sent Kissoon Thoroughbreds’ homebred out for her first win in start number two, and the daughter of Demidoff improved over fourteen lengths on the stretchout. The numbers are a little light for this filly, but when you can stretch out off one sound defeat into a runaway win, you must be respected.

7. Sam’s Grindstone – The Sampsons bring two fillies to the fight in this year’s Minnesota Oaks, and this daughter of Grindstone appears to be the longer winded of the two. Sam’s Grindstone has done all of her running around two turns this year, and should be more than prepared for some speedy opponents to duel up front. One possibility for this proposed duel is the other Sampson runner Bertslittlesister, but with so many stretching out pace should not be an issue. The blood is there – Kentucky Derby winner on top, former champion Samdanya on bottom. They’ve waited a long time for this filly to live up to her potential…..maybe Saturday is the day.

8. Martha’s Yankee – Van Winkle appears to be looking for a turnaround in form from this filly. She started off her Canterbury career with a bang, taking a field of quick fillies (including Smarty Prance) wire to wire in the mud May 22nd. However, past that point Martha’s Yankee has not been the same animal. Each of her past four efforts have resulted in double-digit defeats, including her initial try going long on July 29th. The barn is not giving up on her quite yet, but it’d take quite the reversal of form to end up on top.

9. Smarty Prance – ‘Smarty has taken an interesting route to end up in this spot. Making her debut this spring at Oaklawn Park, she has been a different animal on her home turf. Chris Richard has managed to compile a record of one win and two runner-up finishes in this filly’s limited career in Shakopee. Her two efforts to the south? Sixth. Taking a distance hike against stakes caliber boys in Iowa proved a bit too much, but she held gamely for second behind Sam’s Grindstone when returning to Canterbury. Very much mixed signals from this daughter of Added Edge, but (As mentioned in an earlier post on this blog) she does have the blood to run all day if all the stars align on Saturday. I will be using this filly as a live longshot in my wagers!

10. Bert’slittlesister – One cannot doubt her speed and heart, but this handicapper questions the amount of desire to travel further than six furlongs. The far outside post does not help matters for a filly that’s never seen a second turn, and with pace-reliant Sam’s Grindstone to her inside you’d think this is a pacesetter. Dean Butler does get aboard though, and if anyone’s going to nurse her speed along it is our leading jockey. It appears too many want the lead in here, and as a result I must pass on this game little horse.

That’s the field! A win would almost certainly sew up Three Year Old Champion Filly honors for Polar Plunge, as well as avenge mother Shakopee’s loss in this very race in 2003. Is she up to it? Will she know defeat for the very first time? Comment with opinions & picks – This is a renewal of the Minnesota Oaks worth talking about.