Undefeated filly Taraz successfully carried her speed over a mile in Saturday’s $142,500 Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park, but speculation about the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail remained just that. Trainer Brad Cox would not be drawn into naming future targets.
“It was a big effort in her first race around two turns,” Cox told Oaklawn publicity. “We knew she would be tough to catch, but she has a lot of improving to do. Her talent is there but she needs to settle down mentally.”
Taraz was entitled to get the job done as the 1-10 favorite from just three rivals, following the scratch of stablemate Shedaresthedevil. Indeed, her effort came across more as an educational experience, leaving signs of both encouragement and uncertainty depending upon how you read it.
The Juddmonte Farms homebred had no need to flash the brilliance of her two sprint romps, her Nov. 14 debut at Churchill Downs and the Dec. 21 Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds. On the contrary, regular rider Florent Geroux was careful to ration out her speed in her first try in a Kentucky Oaks (G1) points race.
After a stutter-step when breaking last of the quartet, Taraz soon found her stride and cleared them by two lengths through an opening quarter in :23.94. The imposing bay took a strong, but kind, hold as she reeled off a half in :47.50, and appeared to be in her comfort zone passing the six-furlong mark in 1:12.44.
Taraz spurted away from the chasing O Seraphina into the stretch, changing leads on cue and extending her advantage to three lengths. So far, her two-turn spin was going splendidly.
Then the further Taraz went, the less gusto she seemed to have while still being well in front. Geroux was only hand-riding her, not asking her for anything other than to stay on task, and it’s possible that her mind was just wandering at that point. With a final quarter in :26.20, she clocked the mile in 1:38.64 to boost her bankroll to $192,412 and earn 10 Oaks points.
O Seraphina kept the winner’s margin to 3 3/4 lengths and took home 4 points in a respectable stakes debut. High on Gin (2 points) and Princesinha Julia (1 point) raced in third and fourth, respectively, at every call, but the gaps increased and the field became strung out. Third-placer High on Gin checked in 6 1/4 lengths astern of O Seraphina. The trailing Princesinha Julia began to drop back on the far turn and crossed the wire another 13 lengths behind. There was no show wagering with only four left in the field.
Since the Martha Washington was a stepping stone, Taraz could well take a substantial step forward in her next two-turn attempt. That could be against males in a Derby points race. Or off this evidence, Cox and the Juddmonte brain trust might opt for another Oaks points race in the interim.
Geroux gave her high marks.
“I love her,” the Frenchman said. “She ended up good today. I think she’s definitely super talented.”
Update: Cox offered additional comments in the Oaklawn barn notes on Sunday.
“I’ve thought about it last night and haven’t really come up with a decision on what we’re going to do yet. And race-wise? Same thing.
“I thought she kind of got lost a little bit down the lane yesterday. I really do think she got lost. She’s like, ‘OK, I’m going around the second turn. What do you want me to do here?’
“She got something out of it, but it would have probably been better if there was somebody there kind of pushing her along a little bit. So, we’ll see. Obviously, we got the result that we wanted and she did it well enough. We’ll see.”
If Taraz inherits speed from sire Into Mischief, she can point to her dam, Silk Route, as a transmitter of stamina. Silk Route won twice at 1 1/8 miles and placed over as far as 1 1/2 miles. She is in turn the daughter of Empire Maker and Jibe, a Group 1-placed full sister to Yashmak – queen of the 1997 Flower Bowl (G1) and Royal Ascot’s Ribblesdale (G2) and second in the Irish Oaks (G1).
Third dam Slightly Dangerous, the 1982 Oaks (G1) runner-up, famously produced 1993 Epsom/Irish Derby (G1) star Commander in Chief; multiple Group 2 winner Dushyantor, second in both the 1996 Derby and St Leger (G1); and champion miler Warning.
Saturday’s other Oaks points race, the $150,000 Forward Gal (G3) at Gulfstream Park, also witnessed an odds-on favorite extend her perfect record in Slam Dunk Racing, Doug Branham, and Legacy Ranch’s Tonalist’s Shape.
Trained by Saffie Joseph and ridden by Irad Ortiz, the 3-10 chance picked up the baton at the top of the stretch and won geared down by 3 3/4 lengths. Tonalist’s Shape, who was cutting back slightly in trip from her romp in the Hut Hut at a mile, finished 7 furlongs in 1:24.77. From the first crop of Tonalist, as her name implies, she is also the first registered foal from the stakes-winning Harlan’s Holiday mare Hitechnoweenie. The chestnut is now 4-for-4 with $190,350 in earnings and 10 Oaks points.
Street of Dreams, who pressed the pace, held second and its 4 points. Nikki and Papa, ambitiously spotted in her career debut, overcame a bad start and checkered stretch run to take 2 points in third. Fourth Fujairah gained 1 point. Early leader Compensate faded to fifth, followed by the long-way last New Day Dawning.