An underwhelming fourth in her lone previous trip to Lexington for the First Lady (G1) last October, Dona Bruja will need to be at her best to defeat a stellar field of fillies and mares assembled for Saturday’s $350,000 Jenny Wiley (G1).
The good news for Dona Bruja is that her best can be devastatingly good. Having shown an impressive late kick to win the Mint Julep H. (G3) and Modesty H. (G3) last summer, the native Argentinean showed a new dimension in her season debut two months ago in the Endeavour (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, taking the lead from the start and pouring it on late to win by four lengths over La Coronel.
The latter is a perfect three-for-three over the Keeneland lawn, including a wire-to-wire triumph in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (G1) last fall. The Mark Casse-trained filly followed up her Endeavour beat with a narrowly beaten third in the Hillsborough (G2) at Tampa, a prep that accounts four other starters in the Jenny Wiley field.
Two of them hail from the Chad Brown stable, which started the Keeneland meet out hot with three stakes wins last weekend. While favored stablemate Off Limits was unable to get rolling late, New York-bred Fourstar Crook turned in a terrific surge to deny Proctor’s Ledge by a head to reach the Hillsborough winner’s circle. It was the second graded win for the six-year-old, who has won 10 of 15 lifetime.
An Eclipse Award finalist for champion turf mare last season following three graded scores, including the Matriarch (G1) over Cambodia, Off Limits is certainly capable of rebounding to her best. A filly like Lovely Bernadette, who won the Valley View (G3) and Mrs. Revere (G2) last fall, will have to do a lot better after a dull eighth in the Hillsborough.
A third from Team Brown is Sistercharlie, whose one and only U.S. appearance to date was a photo-finish second to stablemate New Money Honey in last summer’s Belmont Oaks (G1).
Kitten’s Roar, Bletchley, and Ultra Brat are accomplished graded performers, but arguably a cut below in a fascinating feature.
Lady Aurelia is the standout in the $100,000 Giant’s Causeway at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf, a race she won last year as a three-year-old facing older fillies and mares. She used the race as a springboard to an internationally-acclaimed victory in the King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot, which she’s targeting again in June.
The Scat Daddy filly is attempting to snap an unexpected two-race losing skid. Surprisingly nipped at the wire by Marsha in the Nunthorpe (G1) at York last August, Lady Aurelia was an odds-on disappointment again in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) at Del Mar in November, weakening to 10th but only losing by three lengths.
Morticia, Triple Chelsea, and Girls Know Best are all logical threats to be in the frame, with Morticia a known quantity on this course.
Chip Leader could be the controlling speed in the $200,000 Ben Ali (G3) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles. He will look to fend off the likes of Rafting, Hollywood Handsome, Giuseppe the Great, and Guest Suite.