Highland Falls Should Sit The Right Trip In Oaklawn 'Cap

Highland Falls | Coady

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Proxy (Tapit) provided Godolphin with its first winner of the GII Oaklawn H. just 12 months ago and the progressive Highland Falls (Curlin) has legitimate claims to double that tally when he squares off with 10 others in the nine-furlong contest.

Trained by Brad Cox–who somewhat surprisingly has never saddled an Oaklawn H. winner–the homebred son of GI Breeders' Cup Distaff upsetter Round Pond (Awesome Again) won three of his first four trips to the post in maiden and allowance company back east and was scarcely disgraced last time in the 10-furlong GI Santa Anita H., making some late ground to just miss third behind Reincarnate (Good Magic) and less than three lengths adrift of the victorious Newgate (Into Mischief). He is slightly down in trip for Saturday's test and gets the shortest way around from gate one.

“I think he can handle it,” Cox said. “Listen, I think most of…these Grade Is in this division, are run at a mile and an eighth. Obviously, the Breeders' Cup [Classic] is a mile and a quarter. We're hoping he can establish himself as one of the better handicap horses in the country. He's obviously light on seasoning, but hopefully he can have a big year and see where he takes us.”

With a victory Reincarnate–third in last year's GII Rebel S. and GI Arkansas Derby–would remarkably be a first Oaklawn H. winner for Bob Baffert.

Steve Asmussen landed a first Oaklawn H. in 2021 with Silver State (Hard Spun) and bids for a second with Red Route One (Gun Runner), campaigned by the former's owner Winchell Thoroughbreds. Winner of the Battle House Row S. on this program last year and the GIII West Virginia Derby later in the season, the homebred is exiting a career-best victory in the GII New Orleans Classic at the Fair Grounds Mar. 23.

“Obviously, very nice win in New Orleans last time out,” Asmussen said. “This is a very good opportunity for him. Keeps moving forward.”

Florida-based Saffie Joseph, Jr. saddles two in the race, topped by the consistent Skippylongstocking (Exaggerator). The 5-year-old is in search of a sixth win at the graded level, having successfully defended his title in the GIII Challenger S. at Tampa Mar. 9.

Two other graded stakes in the handicap division are scheduled for Saturday. Judge Miller (Curlin–Cavorting), an 11-length allowance winner at Santa Anita Feb. 24, is the odds-on favorite for the GIII Californian S. at Santa Anita, while Keeneland's GIII Ben Ali S. has attracted a field of nine topped by Kingsbarns (Uncle Mo), an impressive winner of a seven-furlong Gulfstream allowance first off a June layoff Mar. 2.

Sophomore grass fillies get their first chance at graded-stakes glory for 2024 in the GIII Providencia S. at Santa Anita. The most accomplished of the field's eight entrants is C R K Stable's Medoro (Honor Code), and barring something unforeseen, she should be able to run her record to a perfect four-from-four. She previously scooped this track's Blue Norther S. back in December and more recently, the Mar. 10 China Doll S. Shiloh's Mistress (Vino Rosso) won her maiden two back over the Turfway Tapeta before finishing fifth in the Mar. 9 GIII Santa Ysabel S. when going out for Resolute Racing for the first time. A half-sister to dirt MGSW Ahh Chocolate (Candy Ride {Arg}), the bay is also kin to Andraste (The Factor), twice graded-placed on the grass and her dam is a half-sister to Rahystrada (Rahy), a three-time winner of the grassy GIII Arlington H.

The fifth and final of the days graded stakes is the GII Visitlex Elkhorn S. at Keeneland. Godolphin's Bold Act (Ire) (New Approach {Ire}), winner of the GIII Sycamore S. over the track and trip last fall, looks to build on a two-length victory in the G2 Dubai City of Gold at Meydan Mar. 2. The homebred, to be ridden by Frankie Dettori, meets 2022 Sycamore hero Highland Chief (Ire) (Gleneagles {Ire}) and an interesting new shooter in the form of Winning Spirit (Ger) (Soldier Hollow {GB}), a three-time listed winner in Italy and runner-up in last year's G2 Derby Italiano for trainer Peter Schiergen.

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