February 3, 2023

Ocean Breeze makes stakes debut in Iowa Oaks

Ocean Breeze romped in a Churchill Downs maiden (Coady Photography)

Sunday’s $100,000 Iowa Oaks (G3) does not offer points toward the Kentucky Oaks (G1), but the Prairie Meadows co-feature could still play a role on the trail. Ocean Breeze, one of the most captivating winners at the Churchill Downs spring meet, makes her stakes and two-turn debut in the 1 1/16-mile event.

Trained by Wayne Catalano, the Gary and Mary West homebred was a better-than-appears fourth behind Merneith in her Oaklawn Park unveiling Apr. 19. Ocean Breeze stepped up markedly next out in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden at Churchill May 25, rolling to an 8 1/4-length victory. The well-bred daughter of Curlin and multiple Grade 3-placed Oceanwave, who finished midpack in the 2015 Kentucky Oaks, is entitled to keep progressing. She keeps Martin Garcia aboard in post 6.

Although Aurelia Garland has yet to follow up on her brilliant debut for Wesley Ward as a juvenile, she has placed third in both starts for Rodolphe Brisset. The Constitution filly returned from a year-long layoff with a fine rally behind Four Graces, the next-out Dogwood (G3) winner, and filled the same spot when stretching out last time at Churchill. Aurelia Garland adds blinkers for this third start back, and that could move her up.

Jonathan Wong’s shipper Dynasty of Her Own brings stakes form as the winner of the May 31 California Oaks over the Golden Gate Fields Tapeta, but she’d also won on dirt in Sunland’s 6 1/2-furlong Borderplex earlier this year. Her lone loss came after a speed duel in the Island Fashion, but regular pilot Ricardo Gonzalez was not aboard that day. He makes the trek for Sunday.

Queen Bridget, fourth in the Honeybee (G3), was a distant third to Gamine and Speech in a key Oaklawn allowance two back. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen sends Oaklawn maiden winner Strong Flag, sixth in the Gardenia and most recently fourth in a Churchill allowance to Envoutante.

Iowa-bred heroine Flat Out Speed sports a 4-for-4 local mark but was well beaten when venturing to Oaklawn, and now faces a class test in her first try beyond 6 furlongs. Juddmonte castoff Lagoon Falls, who crushed her first two in claiming company for Karl Broberg, was a tailed-off last here in an allowance. She might appreciate reuniting with original rider David Cabrera, but not so much the fast pace scenario. In any event, it’s worth a roll of the dice for connections to see if the Uncle Mo filly out of a full sister to Emollient can sneak a Grade 3 placing for broodmare value.

The companion $100,000 Iowa Derby likewise has no Kentucky Derby points, but Prodigious Bay has some upside from Oaklawn. The Ron Moquett runner beat next-out winners Hunt the Front and Dean Martini (the future Ohio Derby [G3] hero) in a maiden and finished fourth in an allowance to Rushie (later third in the Santa Anita Derby [G1]) and Candy Tycoon. Also with potential is Acre, a Blame half-brother to Lea who represents Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

Several others are veteran stakes performers. Asmussen’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) runner-up Billy Batts, seventh in his lone dirt attempt in the Saudi Derby, retreated to 11th back on grass in the War Chant at Churchill. Letmeno, whose best stakes result was a second in last summer’s Ellis Park Juvenile, reverts to the main track after failing to succeed on turf. Now trainer Ian Wilkes reaches for the blinkers. Shashashakemeup, unable to hit the board on the Fair Grounds Road to the Derby, may have been rejuvenated by his recent sprints.

Later in the $100,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker (G3), defending champion Sir Anthony bids to beat back such challengers as Essex H. victor Night Ops from the Brad Cox barn; Sheriff Brown, hitherto a New Mexico mainstay making his debut for Asmussen; Dunph, who upset Fearless in his first start for Robertino Diodoro; multiple Grade 3 veteran Rated R Superstar; Downtowner, runner-up in the Zia Park Championship H. in his only opportunity at this 1 1/8-mile trip; and My Sixth Sense, another who’s thrived at the distance.

The Sunday stakes action kicks off with the $50,000 Iowa Sprint, with Cox’s first-time gelding Whereshetoldmetogo hoping to wield his back class against Chief Cicatriz, Oklahoma star Welder, Asmussen’s Awesome Saturday, and reigning titleholder D’ Rapper.