Saturday’s $400,000 TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) furnished the latest chapter in the rivalry between Travel Column and Clairiere, but it turned out to be the most one-sided result so far. The 2.10-1 favorite Travel Column always had the upper hand, pressing the pace and kicking away decisively before late-running Clairiere could get organized for second. Now the duo will take their road show back where it started, to Churchill Downs, for the April 30 Kentucky Oaks (G1).
Trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Florent Geroux, Travel Column had nailed Clairiere in the Nov. 28 Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill, only to have Clairiere repay the favor in their mutual reappearance in the Feb. 13 Rachel Alexandra (G2) at this track and trip. The first half-mile of the Fair Grounds Oaks was slower than the Rachel Alexandra, and both fillies’ connections cited that as the key factor in Travel Column’s going up 2-1 in their head-to-head score.
As Souper Sensational opted to lead through fractions of :24.35 and :48.64, Travel Column was perched ominously on her flank. The daughter of Frosted upped the ante at the six-furlong mark in 1:12.25, and the race was over as she delivered the coup de grace swinging into the stretch.
Meanwhile, Clairiere wasn’t having as smooth a trip as last time. Finally clawing her way into contention, the 3.40-1 chance had to work to overhaul Souper Sensational, then raced a bit erratically when shifting to her left lead in the waning yards.
But Travel Column had long ago flown, and the OXO Equine runner crossed the wire handily in front by 2 3/4 lengths. By finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.75, the gray earned 100 Oaks points to top the leaderboard with 132 overall.
“We knew she was a very nice filly from day one,” Geroux told Fair Grounds publicity. “Everything went great. She put me in the race, and I wanted to stay as quiet as I could. She showed a very nice kick and put them away pretty easy.”
“She got a good, clean trip,” Cox recapped. “We knew it wouldn’t be that quick up front. I think it was ideal. She responded well. When you’re trying to win races like the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Kentucky Oaks you have to keep moving forward. She’s a talented filly.”
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Clairiere added 40 points for her clear second, and her 94-point tally puts her second on the Oaks leaderboard as well.
“We knew we would be up against it just looking at the Form,” Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said of Clairiere. “You couldn’t find a horse who wanted the lead.”
“The pace didn’t suit us today – it kind of hurt us,” Clairiere’s jockey, Joe Talamo, said. “The winner was right off of it. Nonetheless, around the turn I was smiling because she was making up some ground pretty good. Pace makes the race, and obviously Travel Column had a perfect trip.”
Neither has lost a whit of confidence in Clairiere’s ability to rebound in the 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks.
“I’ll tell you what, I think any added distance will definitely be a help,” Talamo said. “She doesn’t do a thing wrong and I don’t think you’ve seen the best of this filly.”
“We are going to stay the course,” Asmussen noted. “We love her at a mile and an eighth, and she’s run well at Churchill. If she stays healthy, we expect her to be in Kentucky for the Oaks.”
Souper Sensational held third, another two lengths back, and pocketed 20 points (24 overall). Obligatory reported home fourth, good for 10 points in her stakes debut. Li’l Tootsie, a rank Zaajel, and Il Malocchio rounded out the order of finish. Moon Swag was scratched.
Travel Column’s resume reads 5-3-1-1, $517,184. A smashing debut winner on the 2020 Kentucky Oaks undercard, she was third in the Alcibiades (G1) before shrugging off trouble in the Golden Rod.
“As a two-year-old, she was a little hot-blooded,” Geroux revealed. “She got a little bit excited. Over the winter from two to three, she showed improvement in all areas, which is what you want to see. Physically too. We are excited. We know she likes Churchill and her versatility is her greatest asset. She can stay close, but in the Golden Rod she was trapped and overcame adversity.”
Bred by Mr. and Mrs. Bayne Welker Jr. and Denali Stud in Kentucky, Travel Column is a half-sister to Neolithic who placed in such events as the 2017 Pegasus World Cup (G1), Woodward (G1), and Dubai World Cup (G1). Their dam, the Victory Gallop mare Swingit, is a multiple stakes winner on turf.
“She was an expensive yearling,” Cox said of the $850,000 purchase at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga, “and it paid off.
“We can go to the last Friday in April. She puts a lot in her works, so I think six weeks (between races) will be a good thing for her.”