Saturday’s $150,000 Dixie Belle S. at Oaklawn Park is the comeback spot not only for Happy Soul, one of Wesley Ward’s smashing speedsters, but also Wicked Halo, who was last seen surviving a brutal pace war in the Adirondack (G2) at Saratoga.
Dixie Belle S. – Race 9 (6:10 p.m. ET)
Happy Soul has won her past two by a combined margin of more than 23 lengths, but she comes off an even longer layoff than Wicked Halo. An 11 3/4-length maiden romper at Belmont Park on May 13, the daughter of champion Runhappy crushed the Astoria S. by 11 1/2 lengths in her only ensuing start June 3. Happy Soul was expected to feature in the Schuylerville (G3) on Saratoga’s opening day, only to scratch. In her absence, Pretty Birdie went on to score in the Schuylerville.
It could be significant that Happy Soul’s lone loss came on debut at Keeneland, where she was run down by stablemate Nakatomi. That was a sloppy track, however, and the forecast for Hot Springs suggests a fast surface on Saturday. Other questions could prove more salient. Happy Soul’s yet to race past 5 1/2 furlongs, and as gaudy as her margins are, her 88 Brisnet Speed ratings aren’t overwhelming. On the other hand, she adds Lasix, drops the blinkers, and breaks from post 5, outside Wicked Halo in post 3.
Wicked Halo, among Gun Runner’s record-breaking first crop of juveniles, wired her Lone Star debut for Steve Asmussen. Tackling stakes company in the Debutante S. at Churchill Downs, the Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred bobbled a bit from her rail post, recovered to set a fast pace, and tired to third. Wicked Halo rebounded at the Spa, emulating her dam, Just Wicked, by capturing the Aug. 8 Adirondack in gritty frontrunning fashion.
Asmussen freshened Wicked Halo by design afterward, with the benefit of hindsight about how her dam was managed following her 2015 Adirondack. Wicked Halo’s ability to see out a demanding 6 1/2 furlongs offers hope for her chances in the six-furlong Dixie Belle, if she’s ready to handle the heat off the bench.
Drawn just to Wicked Halo’s inside is the speedy Verylittlecents, the Ellis Park Debutante S. winner who was third in the Myrtlewood S. at Keeneland two back. Verylittlecents faded in blinkers last out in Churchill’s Fern Creek S., and accordingly removes them here while adding Lasix.
Schuylerville scorer Pretty Birdie has not raced since Saratoga herself, when eased in the Sept. 5 Spinaway (G1). The Norm Casse filly, another who gets first-time Lasix on Saturday, is drawn on the outside in post 7.
Brad Cox is double-handed with Icy Stare Down and Com’ on Sweet Luv. Icy Stare Down, a recent course-and-distance maiden winner, is on the rail, while Com’ on Sweet Luv was runner-up in the Dec. 27 Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds.
Hypersport showed high speed in her maiden romp at this track and trip, making her a rebound candidate after two unsuccessful attempts routing. The Ingrid Mason pupil exits a fourth in the Martha Washington S. on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.
Concluding the eight-filly field is Ding Ding, unraced since breaking her maiden at Timonium in her sixth try Aug. 27.