Fair Grounds Preps a Tale of Two Sexes

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Off two straight easy stakes victories at Fair Grounds, Fletcher and Carolyn Gray's 3-year-old filly I'm a Chatterbox certainly is generating plenty of Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) chatter.

Sophomore colt International Star also has posted back-to-back clear stakes victories at Fair Grounds, but despite being campaigned by multiple Eclipse Award-winning owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey and being the son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, fans making their Derby choices are taking more of a wait-and-see approach with the three-time graded stakes winner.

In the lone Kentucky Oaks Future Wager that concluded March 1, I'm a Chatterbox is the favored individual choice at 6-1 odds off her eight-length victory in the Silverbulletday Stakes and 2 1/2-length score in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr. III) for trainer Larry Jones. In the Pool 3 Kentucky Derby Future Wager that also concluded March 1, International Star checked in at 22-1, making the Mike Maker-trained colt just the eighth individual choice.

One reason for the different levels of excitement about these two horses may be the vastly differing track records of fillies prepping in Fair Grounds stakes for the Kentucky Oaks compared with males preparing in New Orleans for the Kentucky Derby. For the past decade the most productive path to Oaks success has been through Louisiana but during that same 10-year stretch, not a single Derby winner has prepped in the Pelican State.

Since 2005, five Kentucky Oaks winners won at least one stakes race at Fair Grounds before their star turn under the Twin Spires. Those winners include a pair of Winchell Thoroughbreds homebreds in last year's Oaks victor Untapable, who won the Rachel Alexandra and Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II), and Summerly, who won the Silverbulletday and Fair Grounds Oaks.

I'm a Chatterbox is the favored individual choice in the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager - Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges; Photography

Brereton Jones also used the Louisiana path to Kentucky Oaks success with homebreds Believe You Can, who won the Silverbulletday and Fair Grounds Oaks; and Proud Spell, who won the Fair Grounds Oaks.

Rachel Alexandra, who raced for Michael Lauffer and breeder Dolphus Morrison when winning the Fair Grounds Oaks before being sold after her 20 1/4-length Kentucky Oaks win, made such an impression that she has a Fair Grounds stakes on the Oaks trail named after her.

In fact, two of the current Fair Grounds stakes races for 3-year-old fillies on the Oaks path are named after Oaks winners who prepped in New Orleans as 1999 Oaks winner Silverbulletday also carries that distinction. Yes, the Fair Grounds path to the Oaks winner's circle is well-established.

That has not been the case for the Derby. While plenty of talented horses have prepped at Fair Grounds for the Kentucky Derby in the past 10 years, none of them have reached the wire first in the Louisville classic.

Top Derby finishes off Fair Grounds prep races include longshots Commanding Curve last year and Golden Soul in 2013, both finishing second in the Louisville classic after finishing third and fourth, respectfully, in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II). Also in 2013, Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary finished third in the Kentucky Derby. Nehro finished second in both the Louisiana Derby and Kentucky Derby in 2011 and Mucho Macho Man placed third in both races that same year. Hard Spun, winner of the 2007 LeComte, would go on to place second in the Derby.

Before the 2009 Kentucky Derby, Vinery Stables and Fox Hill Farm's Friesan Fire registered four straight clear victories at Fair Grounds including wins in the LeComte Stakes (gr. III), Risen Star, and Louisiana Derby. Sent off as the 7-2 favorite in the Kentucky Derby, Friesan Fire didn't light during a rough trip, finishing 18th.

The most recent Louisiana Derby runner to win the Kentucky Derby was Funny Cide in 2003, who finished second in Fair Grounds' biggest Derby prep. The most recent Louisiana Derby winner to win the Louisville classic is Grindstone in 1996. War Emblem, who finished off the board in the 2002 LeComte and Risen Star, would pull the Derby upset.

With Fair Grounds horses knocking on the Derby door the past two years, perhaps International Star will be the one who breaks through and fulfills the Ramseys' Derby dream.

International Star has posted back-to-back clear stakes victories at Fair Grounds - Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges; Photography

Taking Charge: Speaking of fillies, I think if the connections of Take Charge Brandi opt to face males with the goal of a possible Derby start, it makes more sense to enter the March 14 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) rather than the April 11 Arkansas Derby (gr. I).

I'll let the connections decide if facing males in the Kentucky Derby ultimately is the choice over facing fillies in the Kentucky Oaks, but in order to be in position to have the option of the two races, a horse needs Road to the Kentucky Derby points. There are no Derby-point races exclusively for fillies, so they must face males in one of the designated races to pick up those points.

While the Arkansas Derby offers more points, awarding 100-40-20-10 to the top four finishers, it has the disadvantage of being just three weeks to the Kentucky Derby and a day less than three weeks to the Oaks. The Rebel is a 50-20-10-5 race, but it adds the luxury of more time to allow the connections to plan.

For instance, a win in the Rebel would give Willis Horton's Take Charge Brandi enough points to make the Derby field and the connections could make their final race before Oaks-Derby weekend against fillies or males. They could then make their final decision on the Oaks or Derby.

A runner-up Rebel finish would put Take Charge Brandi on the Derby bubble, as 20 points could be enough to make the field. Again, they would have options on planning for either the Derby or the Oaks for last year's champion 2-year-old filly and could adjust based on both their opinions and where the 20 points put the filly in terms of Derby standing.

Perhaps most importantly in terms of the luxury of added time would be a scenario where Take Charge Brandi doesn't run well against males in the Rebel. By starting in that March 14 race, she would figure to have one more race against fillies to regain her confidence and prepare for the Oaks.

Take Charge Brandi
Take Charge Brandi - Coady Photography

This Week: Three 50-20-10-5 Road to the Kentucky Derby races are scheduled for March 7 with the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct Racetrack, the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. II) at Tampa Bay Downs, and the San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park.

Kaleem Shah's Dortmund, a grade I winner who finished as the second-favorite among individual choices at 9-1 in the most recent Kentucky Derby Future Wager, is preparing for a San Felipe start. Zayat Stables' recent Withers Stakes (gr. III) runner-up El Kabeir, a grade II winner, is preparing for a start in the Gotham; and last year's Claiborne Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) winner and Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) runner-up Carpe Diem is expected to be the probable Tampa Bay Derby favorite in his 3-year-old debut.

Last year's San Felipe winner California Chrome, of course, went on to win the Derby. The most recent Tampa Bay Derby runner to win the Kentucky Derby is Super Saver, who finished third in the 2010 Tampa Bay Derby. WinStar Farm's Super Saver was trained by Todd Pletcher and Pletcher trains Carpe Diem for WinStar and Stonestreet Stables. Since 1980 no Gotham winner has won the Derby; Aptitude finished second in both races in 2000.

On a side note, every time I listen to Travis Stone call races at Aqueduct this winter, it strikes me how similar his voice is to Dave Johnson. I keep waiting for "... and down the stretch they come."

Stone seems to be doing a good job. He got a chuckle out of me when he talked about a Chiclet losing position on a recent foggy day at Aqueduct where the horses were not visible for long stretches. For those who don't know, Stone was referencing the TRAKUS graphic that he and everyone else with access to those graphics was watching on that foggy day.

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