Packed house for stellar Oaks undercard

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Story originally written for Thisishorseracing.comby John Cox:

Molly Morgan seems to be getting better with age. The Dale Romans trainee captured her first career Grade 1 victory in Friday’s $300,000 La Troienne in front of a loud, lively and record Kentucky Oaks crowd on a near-perfect afternoon at Churchill Downs.

“The race went well,” Romans said. “(Owner) Bill (Cubbedge) let me sit on her this winter as we didn’t turn her out. We just let her stay in training and get her feet back under her. I told Bill this is what helps winning big races down the road. She came with a good performance last time and the race at Gulfstream set her up perfectly for today.”

Ridden by Corey Lanerie, the daughter of Ghostzapper found a hole at the top of the lane and shot through to the wire, marking her third graded stakes victory at her home track.

“I was able to worm my way right over to the inside,” Lanerie said. “I was following Javier (Castellano) on My Miss Sophia, because I thought he had the horse to beat. It looked like about the 5/16ths pole he wasn’t going anywhere, so I kind of dove inside him. I got some momentum going. I was lucky the rail never shut down on me and I was able to keep the momentum until I got through there.”

Six of Molly Morgan’s eight wins have come beneath the Twin Spires, including the Grade 2 Chilukki Handicap and Grade 2 Fleur de Lis Handicap in 2014. The La Troienne win boosted her bankroll to $872,859.

Trio for Todd

IMG_5607Trainer Todd Pletcher, calm and cool in his blue suit and dark shades, was no stranger to the newly renovated G.H. Mumm Winners Circle during Friday’s Oaks card.

Pletcher captured a trio of wins on the card – a narrow victory by Protonico in the Alysheba and a pair of wins for Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners with Feathered in the Grade 3 Edgewood Stakes and Curalina in an allowance-optional.

Protonico took turns playing the favorite with recent Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap winner Honor Code, who had never finished worse than second prior to the Alysheba. Protonico garnered the most support when the gates opened, and a game John Velazquez was able to keep hold off a late surge from longshot Noble Bird and won by a head, as second choice Honor Code finished fifth.

“He’s a horse that has won on the lead and from last,” Pletcher said. “But the one thing that he always seems to do is idle when he makes the lead. Johnny said he tried to wait and he let the other horse (Noble Bird) put a head in front before he decided to fight back. It was a courageous effort. My only concern was the 22 days between races was too short but we knew he liked this track and since we are thinking about the Stephen Foster (June 13), we decided to take a chance.”

After campaigning last year’s third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby in Danza, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners went 2-for-2 with their pair of Oaks Day starters in Curalina and Feathered. Feathered’s debut turf start resulted in the second career win for the 3-year-old Indian Charlie filly, who won by 2 lengths under Castellano in the $150,000 Edgewood.

“She has the size and the shape of a filly that might get over the turf well,” Pletcher said. “I know it was her first time on the turf but I knew usually her best race is when she breaks well out of the gate.”

Don’t mess with Texas

Trainer Bret Calhoun continued his trend of putting Texas-bred fillies on the Churchill map as Promise Me Silver gave him his second consecutive victory in the Grade 3 Eight Belles Stakes. Fiftyshadesofgold started the trend by capturing the 2013 Debutante Stakes, and followed it up with a win in last year’s Eight Belles. Promise Me Silver also won the Debutante as a 2-year-old.

“She’s a special filly,” Calhoun said. “I can see why she was overlooked (at odds of 5-1). She had never beaten this caliber of fillies before, but we always knew she could. We will start making plans for that race (the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes a 1 mile) on Belmont Day (June 6).”

Ridden by Robbie Albarado, Promise Me Silver has earned $432,195 to go along with her perfect 8-for-8 record.

“I knew I had horse (around the far turn) and I knew I had a nice quality bunch behind me but when I called on her she showed me why she’s seven for seven,” Albarado said. “She’s an exceptional filly, she’s kind to be around and she’s very nice. I think she’s won at like six or seven different racetracks and that’s special in and of itself. Today was a big test for her and now she’ll go on to some bigger things, I’m sure.”

Power in Turf Sprint

Australian invader Power Alert registered his third win in four U.S. starts in the Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint for trainer Brian Lynch. Ridden by Julien Leparoux, Power Alert bested Undrafted by three-quarters of a length in the 5-furlong turf battle, moving his career record to 17-7-2-1 with earnings of $268,374.

“He was on his game today,” Lynch said. “He got the track he likes today. I thought it would be easier on him in the Shakertown (fourth-place finish) on the soft turf at Keeneland last time, but he turned it around today.

“He was sharp this week. We trained him (at Keeneland) this week and he was very sharp. The way the track was playing today, I thought he’d have to be close (to the lead). We have the race at Evangeline ($300,000 Evangeline Downs Turf Sprint May 30) or wait until the Belmont race (Grade 3 Jaipur Invitational) on Belmont Day at 6 furlongs on the turf.”

Notes: The announced crowd of 123,763 was the largest in the 141-year history of the Oaks, shattering the previous mark of 116,046 set in 2010.

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