HOT SPRINGS – Oaklawn’s road to the Kentucky Oaks begins Saturday with the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 mile.
Probable post time for the Martha Washington, which drew a field of six, is 3:06 p.m. (Central). It goes as the fifth of nine races on the program. First post Saturday, Day 5 of the scheduled 57-day meeting, is 1 p.m.
The Martha Washington will offer 17 points (10-4-2-1, respectively) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) April 30 at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Oaks is the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies. Oaklawn’s Kentucky Oaks points series continues with the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 6 and the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 3. The Honeybee will offer 85 points (50-20-10-5) to the top four finishers, with 170 points (100-40-20-10) up for grabs in the Fantasy.
Oaklawn-raced horses flourished on last year’s revamped road to the Kentucky Oaks. Honeybee winner Shedaresthedevil captured the Kentucky Oaks, which was moved from early May to early September because of COVID-19. Fantasy winner Swiss Skydiver finished second in the Kentucky Oaks before toppling males in the Preakness, the traditional second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, in her next start.
Trainer Brad Cox, who also trained Shedaresthedevil, has the 7-5 program favorite Saturday in Coach, who won her first three career starts before concluding her 2-year-old campaign with a third-place finish behind stablemate Travel Column in the $200,000 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs.
“There’s some speed in there and it’s a small field,” Cox said. “Hopefully, the speed doesn’t get too far away from her. It’s a 1-mile race, it’s a great purse, and, hopefully, she can start her march toward, what we hope, is the Kentucky Oaks. That would be the ultimate goal with her.”
After starting her career with two blowout victories at Indiana Grand, Coach won the $98,000 Rags to Riches Overnight Stakes Oct. 25 at Churchill Downs in her two-turn debut. She was beaten 3 ½ lengths in the Golden Rod, also at 1 1/16 miles.
“She does like Churchill,” Cox said. “She’s a good filly. She stepped up and had a great 2-year-old season and, hopefully, she’ll improve as a 3-year-old. She’s definitely been training like she’s improved. We like the way she’s been training at Oaklawn. I feel like she’s moved forward with her training. Hopefully, she can transfer that to the afternoons.”
The projected Martha Washington field from the rail out: Joy’s Rocket, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 122 pounds, 5-2 on the morning line; Novel Squall, Ramon Vazquez, 115, 15-1; Coach, Florent Geroux, 122, 7-5; Will’s Secret, Jon Court, 115, 6-1; Lady Lilly, David Cabrera, 119, 9-2; and Sylvia Q, Martin Garcia, 115, 5-1.
Joy’s Rocket will be making her two-turn debut for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen after winning the $75,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes Dec. 19 at Fair Grounds in her last start. Asmussen, a two-time Martha Washington winner, also will send out Golden Rod seventh Lady Lilly.
Will’s Secret exits a 1 1/16-mile off-the-turf maiden special weights victory Dec. 20 at Fair Grounds for trainer Dallas Stewart and breeder/owner Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark.
Horton won the 2015 Martha Washington with champion Take Charge Brandi.