The Acorn and The Beast

Thorpedo Anna | Sarah Andrew

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY — It sounds a little like a fairy tale. A fire-breathing creature descending on several unsuspecting ladies in search of a prized acorn. In this story, however, the role of the fearsome creature is played by GI Kentucky Oaks heroine Thorpedo Anna (Fast Anna), who while not grotesque, gives eight other GI Acorn S. rivals cause for concern nonetheless.

“The boys are lucky she is not running,” said trainer Kenny McPeek with a chuckle. “I mean she's good.”

After an emphatic win at Keeneland last October, she returned to win impressively and was named a 'TDN Rising Star' at Churchill Downs Nov. 10 before finishing second in that oval's GII Golden Rod S. Nov. 25. That was the last time she would taste defeat. A four-length winner in her 2024 debut in the Mar. 30 Fantasy S. at Oaklawn Park, the filly easily dismantled her rivals on a sloppy first Friday in May.

Since that victory, McPeek vacillated whether he wanted to run her back against her own gender in the Acorn or take on the colts in the GI Belmont S., which will be contested this year over 10 furlongs. However, cooler heads prevailed and in a desire to keep Kentucky Derby winner Mystik Dan (Goldencents)–also trained by McPeek–and Thorpedo Anna apart, the decision was made to give the nine-furlong Acorn a go. The filly has registered three works since her Oaks victory, including a four-furlong move in a bullet :46 1/5 at Churchill May 22 followed by an easy maintenance move of 1:02 4/5 for five panels over the Oklahoma training track June 1.

And given the twinkle in his eye and the wide grin on his face, he knows she's locked and loaded.

Leslie's Rose | Sarah Andrew

“As a matter of fact I think she's on the improve,” he said. “Those two wins were her only races all year. She was very impressive. But she hasn't even felt the whip. She's a beast.”

Last season's champion juvenile filly Just F Y I (Justify) dominated her division in 2023, winning all three starts, including the GI Frizette S. and GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. This term, she has yet to find the winner's circle having finished runner up in both the GI Ashland S. at Keeneland and the Oaks.

The George Krikorian homebred has posted bullet works in her two latest outings, including a five-furlong move in 1:01 1/5 over the Oklahoma training track May 31.

“I thought we went into the Kentucky Oaks as good as you can go into a race,” Bill Mott said Thursday. “We were second best on that day.”

He continued, “It was on an off racetrack. I don't know if running on a fast race track can even things out a little bit. But I am equally happy with how she is coming into this race. I don't think I am any better or worse than I was going into the Kentucky Oaks. It seems she is doing much the same and her works have been good and she seems to be very good with herself.”

One of three Grade I winners in this race, GI Ashland S. winner Leslie's Rose (Into Mischief) will try to rebound off a forgettable 13th in the Oaks. The $1.15 million Keeneland September purchase also earned 'TDN Rising Stardom' in her sole start of 2023, a 9 1/4-length score at Aqueduct in November.

“I think she absolutely hated the slop [in the Kentucky Oaks], and I had concerns about it because she had been training absolutely great every day we were [at Churchill], except the Tuesday before the Oaks when we had a sloppy track,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “She was noticeably less aggressive and didn't seem to care for it. She never really had any experience on a sloppy track, so I was hoping maybe in a race scenario she could overcome it, but Irad [Ortiz Jr.] said she hated it the whole way.”

“She's a filly that has always trained well and she ran great in her first two starts,” Pletcher said of her first two efforts, including a length win in a Gulfstream optional claimer in January. She subsequently finished third in the GII Davona Dale S. at Gulfstream in March.

Gun Song | Sarah Andrew

“She had a little bit of a tricky trip in the Davona Dale and then she got a great trip in the Ashland. I'm thinking if she can regain that form–and the way she's training, she acts like she's going to–she should be very competitive.”

Coming off a confident victory in the GII Black-Eyed Susan S. on the Preakness Day undercard, Gun Song (Gun Runner) gets another crack at a distance that she has shown an affinity for. Prior to her sojourn to Baltimore, she finished fourth behind GII Gulfstream Park Oaks winner Power Squeeze (Union Rags), who subsequently finished sixth in the Kentucky Oaks.

 

Grass Is the Word

Friday's other graded action is highlighted by an additional three graded stakes, two at the Grade I level, and all on the turf. The Just a Game S. offers up seven runners, only two of them not trained by Chad Brown. Listed at 3-1 on the morning line, Gina Romantica (Into Mischief) and Coppice (GB) (Kingman {GB}) both stand to improve off a single prior start this season. The former, winner of last season's GI QEII Cup and GI First Lady S., finished seventh last time in Keeneland's GI Jenny Wiley S., while her stablemate was just a neck shy of another Brown runner, Chili Flag (Fr) (Cityscape {GB}), in the May 4 GII Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs. Brown also saddles Jenny Wiley victress Beaute Chachee (Fr) (Literato {Fr}) and last out GIII Beaugay S. runner-up Whitebeam (GB) (Caravaggio).

In the 1 3/16-mile GI New York S., Brown saddles Grade I winner McKulick (GB) (Frankel {GB}) and GSW Royalty Interest (Fr) (Le Havre {Ire}) but he'll have a much tougher time of it with several seasoned competitors facing his duo. Godolphin is represented by G2 Balanchine S. winner English Rose (Ire) (Frankel {GB}), who was runner-up as the favorite in the aforementioned Jenny Wiley. Charlie Appleby trains the homebred while William Buick comes in for the mount.

English Rose | Sarah Andrew

Chris Connett, Appleby's assistant and head traveling lad, said, “She's a versatile filly who can go a mile or stretch out. The race down at Keeneland, she was a little bit keen, but I think that's down to being at a new place, new track and new style of racing. Hopefully, now she is settled into the American ways and we'll see her relaxing into the race and really be able to finish.”

Also likely to garner support, George Krikorian's 7-year-old War Like Goddess (English Channel) makes her seasonal debut for trainer Bill Mott. Last season's winner of the GI Turf Classic over the soggy turf at Aqueduct in October, she concluded the year with a seventh, beaten 4 1/4 lengths, by Auguste Rodin (Ire) (Deep Impact {Jpn}) in the GI Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita.

“We had a little mishap in Kentucky, she was supposed to run the end of April at Keeneland, and she wound up kicking herself above the hock and had a laceration on the inside of her leg that was causing her some grief so we had to scratch,” he explained. “But since then, she's been fine and training well. We are probably up against it a little bit at 9 1/2 furlongs since she'd probably prefer to go 11 or 12 furlongs. If there is some cut in the ground and a hot pace, that might play into her running style. Maybe it'll even things out and she can compete.”

Also explaining the decision to run her at a distance that might not be ideal for War Like Goddess, he said, “There aren't many other races that we would be interested in running in at this time of the year and she's ready to go. I figured we should just go ahead and run.”

When asked about her longevity, he explained, “With the older horses, there is no pressure to run. It's not like the Kentucky Derby when you only have one chance to run. Bobby Frankel once told me 'there is only one race that comes around once and that's the Derby.' The others you can rotate and come back the next year. So we have the luxury of running when we're ready.”

Also lining up are dual Grade I winner Fev Rover (Ire) (Gutaifan {Ire}), also making her 2024 debut, in addition to last year's GI Belmont Oaks scorer Aspen Grove (Ire) (Justify), last seen finishing a closing third in the GIII Modesty S. at Churchill May 3.

“Her wins in the GI Beverly D. and GI E. P. Taylor were big races,” said Mark Casse of Fev Rover. “Her race at Saratoga in the GI Diana [third, last July], she just got a little unlucky. I was disappointed with her effort in the Breeders' Cup [11th in the Filly & Mare Turf at Santa Anita], she just didn't show up. I don't know why; she had trained really well into it. She's training very well. She loves to train on the [Woodbine Racetrack] synthetic.”

Rounding out Friday's graded action is the GII Intercontinental S., led by 6-5 morning line favorite Roses for Debra (Liam's Map). The 5-year-old was last seen taking the GIII Giant's Causeway S. at Keeneland Apr. 13.

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