After sustaining her first loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), Pocahontas (G3) romper Hidden Connection bids to regain top form in Saturday’s $300,000 Rachel Alexandra (G2) at Fair Grounds. Among her rivals are four other notable players on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks – Dream Lith, Awake at Midnyte, North County, and La Crete – as well as an intriguing stakes debutante in Divine Huntress. The strength in depth makes the 1 1/16-mile affair worthy of its 50-20-10-5 points structure.
Rachel Alexandra (G2) – Race 12 (6:27 p.m. ET)
Hidden Connection not only ran off by 9 1/4 lengths in the Pocahontas, but she sped 1 1/16 miles in stakes-record time – more than a second faster than the colts in the ensuing Iroquois (G3) (1:43.78 versus the 1:44.88 clocked by Major General) at Churchill Downs). The Bret Calhoun filly never had a chance to deliver a comparable effort in the Breeders’ Cup, where a bobbling start on the inside put her out of position. Hidden Connection wound up a lackluster fourth to champion Echo Zulu, retreating 13 lengths behind in a too-bad-to-be-true result. The daughter of Connect could be back in her comfort zone from post 11 in the Rachel Alexandra, since she was also drawn wide in her first two starts.
Dream Lith comes off a career high in Churchill’s other scoring race toward the Oaks, the Nov. 27 Golden Rod (G2). The Saratoga debut winner had underachieved in her initial stakes attempts, checking in fifth in the Spinaway (G1) and Alcibiades (G1) (in a dead-heat). Once trainer Robertino Diodoro added blinkers to her equipment, the Medaglia d‘Oro blueblood responded with a closing rush in the Golden Rod.
Royally bred La Crete, a Medaglia d’Oro half-sister to 2021 Rachel Alexandra heroine Clairiere, will try to emulate her poignant victory. Both are homebreds for Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables, the home of race honoree and Hall of Famer Rachel Alexandra, and trainer Steve Asmussen is another common bond. La Crete was a gutsy winner on the front end in the Jan. 22 Silverbulletday S. here, battling back when apparently in the grasp to stay unbeaten from two starts.
North County extended her record to 3-for-3 in the Fair Grounds’ first points race, the Dec. 26 Untapable S. Although the Brendan Walsh filly passed on the Silverbulletday, her form was ably represented when Untapable runner-up Fannie and Freddie placed second again.
Santa Anita shipper Awake at Midnyte nearly scored in a Road to the Kentucky Oaks race herself last out. Rallying in the seven-furlong Santa Ynez (G2) on Jan. 8, the Doug O’Neill pupil couldn’t pass a sharper Under the Stars. But the stretch back out to two turns should help Awake at Midnyte, who earlier missed by a nose in the Jimmy Durante (G3) over a grassy mile. A stablemate of Risen Star (G2) threat Slow Down Andy, she is likewise a Reddam Racing homebred by Nyquist.
Divine Huntress takes her first serious test of class as she ventures outside of the Mid-Atlantic. Transferred to Graham Motion after Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners acquired a share, the Maryland-bred aired by 12 lengths in a Jan. 19 Parx allowance for her new connections. Divine Huntress is from the first crop of Divining Rod, the son of Tapit and Precious Kitten who was third in American Pharoah’s Preakness (G1).
Jessamine (G2) winner California Angel and near-miss third Turnerloose were both well beaten in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). California Angel reverted to dirt in the interim, disappointing when last of six in the Untapable. Now the blinkers go back on, and DeShawn Parker picks up the mount for trainer George Leonard. The Brad Cox-trained Turnerloose has yet to try the main track, but the Nyquist filly deserves a chance after showing real potential last summer.
Todd Pletcher dispatches Goddess of Fire following a strong-finishing second in the Jan. 15 Gasparilla S. at Tampa Bay Downs. No match for Hidden Connection when third in the Pocahontas, and a distant fifth in the Tempted S., the half-sister to multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Mind Control is so far more of an understudy. Santa Ynez third Miss Mattie B could appreciate going back up in trip, while Silverbulletday fourth Candy Raid would like some pace help.