Ashland (G1) – Race 9 (5:16 p.m. ET)
A smashing six-length winner of the Feb. 12 Suncoast S. at Tampa Bay Downs, Nest will look to strengthen her Kentucky Oaks (G1) credentials when she lines up for Friday’s $600,000 Ashland S. (G1). The Todd Pletcher-trained filly will square off against seven fillies in the 1 1/16-mile event on Keeneland’s opening-day program.
The Ashland will award 170 points to the top four (100-40-20-10 scale) as a major qualifier in the Road to the Kentucky Oaks series, and Nest projects to be among the top betting choices for the May 6 race at Churchill Downs with an Ashland victory.
The bay daughter of Curlin has won two straight stakes, concluding her juvenile season with a neck score over well-regarded Venti Valentine in the Demoiselle (G2) at Aqueduct in early December, and Nest owns a 3-for-4 career record. Regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. will be up on the stalker.
Interstatedaydream will return to stakes competition for Brad Cox following an 8 1/4-length allowance romp at Oaklawn Park in her seasonal debut. A debut winner at Belmont Park last summer, the Classic Empire filly went on the sidelines following a second in the Adirondack (G2) at Saratoga in mid-August and returned from a seven-month layoff last time. The intriguing miss will have Florent Geroux.
Happy Soul will stretch to two turns for the first time after rolling to a three-length win in the six-furlong Dixie Belle S. at Oaklawn on Feb. 19. The daughter of Runhappy has won three straight for Wesley Ward, including a pair of sprint stakes, and Happy Soul promises to show speed with John Velazquez.
Awake at Midnyte merits respect following a third in the Rachel Alexandra (G2) at Fair Grounds. A close second in the Santa Ynez (G2) two back, the chesnut Nyquist filly will invade from Southern California for Doug O’Neill, and Mario Gutierrez has the call.
Completing the field are Davona Dale (G2) third Cocktail Moments, Rachel Alexandra fifth Miss Mattie B, New York-bred stakes winner Sterling Silver, and maiden scorer Heavenly Hellos.
Transylvania (G3) – Race 8 (4:44 p.m. ET)
Last seen winning the Cecil B. DeMille (G3) at Del Mar in late November, Verbal will open his 2022 against five sophomore rivals in $400,000 Transylvania (G3) at 1 1/16 miles on turf. The Chad Brown-trained colt has captured both career outings, romping by four lengths over Belmont maiden foes in October before scoring by a half-length as the even-money choice in his stakes debut, and Jose Ortiz retains the assignment.
Brown will also send out Napoleonic War, who rolled to a 3 1/4-length score as an odds-on favorite when making his first career start in a Jan. 21 maiden special weight on the Tampa Bay Downs turf. Flavien Prat takes over aboard the War Front colt.
The well-matched field includes Grand Sonata, who is eligible to compete for favoritism following wins in the Kitten’s Joy (G3) and Dania Beach S. at Gulfstream. Tyler Gaffalione rides for Pletcher. Sy Dog, last seen capturing the Central Park S. at Aqueduct in late November, brings a 2-for-2 record to his three-year-old opener. Irad Ortiz guides the Graham Motion trainee.
Coinage, winner of the March 5 Palm Beach S. at Gulfstream, is a contender for Mark Casse, who has also entered Grade 2-placed Credibility.