By Joe Bianca
For racing fans missing the familiarity of the GI Kentucky Oaks this Friday, a loaded 14-horse field of talented sophomore fillies are ready to step in and take their star turn in the $400,000 GIII Fantasy S., which kicks off a sorely-needed blockbuster stakes weekend at Oaklawn.
Favored at 2-1 on the morning line is Venetian Harbor (Munnings), making her first start in nearly three months. A debut second at even-money sprinting over the Del Mar turf Nov. 15, the $110,000 Keeneland September graduate moved to the main track Dec. 29 at Santa Anita and responded with a dominant 10 3/4-length graduation. Stretched out to two turns in the one-mile GII Las VIrgenes S. Feb. 8 in Arcadia, the bay opened up a huge early lead, throttled it back through the middle two quarters and drew off again to a 9 1/4-length rout. Unseen since then, the Richard Baltas trainee has drilled sharply in the past six weeks, including a pair of local breezes capped by a half-mile in :48 flat (14/83) Apr. 24.
There will be a champion in her midst though, as narrow second choice British Idiom (Flashback) looks to bounce back from her first defeat. Victorious first out in restricted company last August at Saratoga, the $40,000 Fasig-Tipton October buy gained national attention with a 6 1/2-length destruction of the GI Darley Alcibiades S. Oct. 4 at Keeneland. Grinding out a neck victory in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to earn her Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Eclipse statuette, the chestnut made her sophomore bow in the GII Rachel Alexandra S. Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds, but was no match for Finite (Munnings) when finishing a well-beaten second.
That race was flattered by third finisher Swiss Skydiver (Daredevil), who re-opposes for Peter Callahan and trainer Ken McPeek. Rallying to a powerful score when unveiled Nov. 16 at Churchill, the $35,000 KEESEP pickup was a tough-luck second two weeks later in the Louisville slop before running fifth in a blanket finish in the Gasparilla S. in her 3-year-old debut Jan. 18 at Tampa. After completing the trifecta in New Orleans, she was put on the front end for the first time in her career in the GII Gulfstream Park Oaks Mar. 28 and responded with a fast-finishing 3 1/4-length score.
Lightly-raced Harvey’s Lil Goil (American Pharaoh) will get the acid test for Bill Mott. Showing late interest to be fourth when opening her account on the Aqueduct turf Nov. 9, the gray ran off to a six-length, geared-down maiden victory when switched to dirt there Dec. 12. Backed down to 75 cents on the dollar making her stakes debut in the nine-furlong Busanda S. Feb. 2 at the Big A, the Harvey Clarke homebred overcome a slow start and drew off to a dominant 7 1/2-length triumph.
Brad Cox, trainer of British Idiom, brings backup in Shedaresthedevil (Daredevil). Graduating first up last June at Churchill, the bay went winless in her next three starts for trainer Simon Callaghan while earning stakes placings in the GII Sorrento S. and Anoakia S. Changing hands for $290,000 at Keeneland November, she was second in her initial outing for Cox in a track-and-trip optional claimer Feb. 15 and surged when finding room late to capture the GIII Honeybee S. here lat out Mar. 7.