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Ashland will feature Stars and Pears

Stardom Bound will seek to continue her winning ways Saturday (Charles Pravata/Horsephotos.com)

Champion STARDOM BOUND (Tapit) will go for her sixth straight Grade 1 victory on Saturday while taking on eight rivals in Keeneland's $400,000 Ashland S. (G1). The gray lass endured her toughest win to date when capturing the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) on March 7, and will again face off against the three fillies who were featured in the photo finish with her that day.

Stardom Bound was originally being pointed for the May 2 Kentucky Derby (G1), but her close nose win in the Santa Anita Oaks encouraged her connections to ship the sophomore lass to Kentucky for the Ashland instead of sending her to face the boys in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) on Saturday. The Kentucky Oaks (G1) became the champion two-year-old filly's main goal, and a decent run in the Ashland could see her go off favored in that event.

Making her first start for Richard Dutrow on Saturday, Stardom Bound began her career with trainer Christopher Paasch, breaking her maiden in the Del Mar Debutante S. (G1), winning the Oak Leaf S. (G1) and wrapping up her juvenile season with a win in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1). She was sent to Bobby Frankel's barn after being purchased at auction in November and continued her winning ways, adding the Las Virgenes S. (G1) and Santa Anita Oaks to her line. The late-running lass encountered a bit of trouble in her last one, but still managed to get her nose down on the line in front of THIRD DAWN (Sky Mesa), who in turn had her nose in front of HOOH WHY (Cloud Hopping), who had her neck in front of NAN (High Yield). Jockey Mike Smith will be flying in from California to ride Stardom Bound in the Ashland.

While many are anticipating Stardom Bound's run in the Ashland, trainer Joseph Parker will only have eyes for WHAT A PEAR (E Dubai), who will put her undefeated mark on the line in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Polytrack test. The chestnut lass has increased her margin of victory with each of her four races, culminating last out with a 10 1/4-length score in the Busher S. at Aqueduct on February 22.

Parker, his wife, Betsy, and What a Pear left Aqueduct on a van about 2 p.m. (EDT) on Tuesday and arrived at Keeneland around 5 a.m. Wednesday morning. Several hours later, the New York-bred seemed quite content in her stall, and the Parkers were eager to talk about her.

"This filly keeps amazing us," Joe Parker said. "Every race that she has run, it's a different dimension. I'm looking forward to seeing what she's going to do next. We want to know how great she is; that's why we're here."

What a Pear will become the first Keeneland starter for Parker, who trains the filly for Ira and Bernice Cohen's Tri-Bone Stables. Parker met the Cohens through their son, New York track veterinarian Russell Cohen, who bred What a Pear. Russell Cohen advises Parker on What a Pear's career.

"He suggested the Ashland, and here we are," explained Parker, who had made one previous trip to Keeneland to visit and is excited to be back with a starter. "What I love about Keeneland is that it's all horse country. To be here is a thrill. I love this place. I love the smell of this place. I love the people here, too. They treat horse people with a lot of respect. I met the racing secretary (Ben Huffman) and the guys in the (racing) office, and they welcomed me. I'm so happy to be here."

The Ashland will be What a Pear's first start on Polytrack, but Parker said the filly will not set foot on the track before the race. He said she would walk the shedrow each morning.

"She's fit enough just to enter into the race, to walk right into the race and possibly win it."

Channing Hill, who has ridden What a Pear in each of her previous races, will fly in from California for the Ashland.

While What a Pear will be seeking to keep her record perfect, DREAM EMPRESS (Bernstein) is looking to return to the winner's circle. Queen of the Alcibiades S. (G1) during Keeneland's fall meet, the Kenny McPeek-trained bay was second to Stardom Bound in the Breeders' Cup. She could do no better than fourth against Kentucky Oaks contender Rachel Alexandra (Medaglia d'Oro) when trying Churchill Downs' dirt in the Golden Rod S. (G2), and has made just one start since, that coming as an unplaced run in the Herecomesthebride S. (G3). Dream Empress will keep Kent Desormeaux aboard for her second start of the year.

Grass filly GOZZIP GIRL (Dynaformer), winner of the Herecomesthebride, could challenge in the Ashland if she takes to the Polytrack, and other contenders include Third Dawn, who shocked at 35-1 in the Santa Anita Oaks after having just broken her 21 days earlier in her fourth try, as well as BE FAIR (Exchange Rate), who suffered her first career loss when fourth in the Honeybee S. (G3) at Oaklawn Park.


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