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JULY 31, 2009

by Kellie Reilly

In this issue, we'll recap the American Oaks Invitational (G1) at Hollywood Park, analyze the preps for the Beverly D. S. (G1) at Arlington Park, and look ahead to Saturday's Diana S. (G1) at Saratoga.

Talk of the town: The Tom Albertrani-trained GOZZIP GIRL (Dynaformer) spread-eagled a strong field in the July 5 American Oaks Invitational, racking up her fourth straight score on the turf. The dark bay had hinted of her class in her past victories, when handling different course conditions and employing varying tactics, but she proved that she had it in spades at Hollywood. Unhurried early, Gozzip Girl displayed nifty athleticism to maneuver through the thicket of 13 rivals for Kent Desormeaux, and turning for home, she was ideally placed on the heels of leaders. At the top of the stretch, Gozzip Girl charged through a gap between rivals and uncorked a devastating turn of foot to bolt 3 1/4 lengths clear. After blitzing 1 1/4 miles in 2:00 1/5, she galloped out with ears pricked, and left no reasonable doubt that she is the best of her division on the turf.

As professional as Gozzip Girl had looked going into the American Oaks, this performance was of a different order of magnitude altogether. Indeed, in that two-minute span, she leapt from the category of "talented" to "outstanding." Albertrani is surely right to believe that she is still improving, for she dismantled this high-caliber group more thoroughly than she had beaten lesser fields in her previous starts.

Furthermore, Gozzip Girl became the fourth straight American Oaks winner with prior main-track form. In her case, however, it came not on dirt but on Polytrack, by way of her terrific runner-up effort in the Ashland S. (G1) at Keeneland.

Albertrani is now considering a switch to the dirt for the August 22 Alabama S. (G1) at Saratoga, but only if three-year-old filly tsarina Rachel Alexandra (Medaglia d'Oro) goes elsewhere. Assuming that Rachel has bigger fish to fry, this is a very clever piece of spotting on Albertrani's part. The division does not appear terribly deep, Gozzip Girl loves the 1 1/4-mile trip, and unless she wanted to ship back to the West Coast for the August 22 Del Mar Oaks (G1), she wouldn't have another logical turf target until the September 12 Garden City S. (G1) at Belmont. And, by the way, the Alabama's worth $600,000.

Sob stories: Without detracting from Gozzip Girl's career-best effort, it must be pointed out that a few of her opponents ran into several types of trouble. American Oaks runner-up WELL MONIED (Maria's Mon) probably covered closer to 1 3/8 miles. The Howard Zucker filly made an eye-catching move out wide on the turn, when she was steadily circling the field, and found herself in the center of the course once in the stretch. Well Monied was entitled to flatten out by now, but instead, she stayed on willingly to pass six rivals and grab second by a half-length from LEXLENOS (Ire) (Intikhab), whom she had beaten easily in the Honeymoon H. (G2).

Fourth-place finisher MAGICAL AFFAIR (Giant's Causeway) was traveling beautifully entering the lane, just as well as Gozzip Girl and roughly on even terms with the winner, until she was stopped cold along the rail. Julien Leparoux had no choice but to wrap up on her, and Magical Affair literally did not have a chance. She would have finished much closer had she gotten a seam.

MRS KIPLING (Ire) (Exceed and Excel), who was uncharacteristically close through the opening quarter-mile, steadily retreated and wound up 12th. David Flores dismounted quickly, sensing that something was amiss. Mrs Kipling was able to walk off on her own power, and she has worked twice since for Neil Drysdale. She was gearing up for a rebound in Saturday's San Clemente H. (G2), but was not entered after all, and Daily Racing Form reports that she is sidelined until the fall.

The New Zealand filly PUTTANESCA (NZ) (Bertolini) was eased by jockey Glen Boss, who reported that she was experiencing a breathing problem, according to several Australian websites. Considering that she had secured a great spot and had been moving well before stopping abruptly, a physical explanation makes sense. Her former connections, trainer Wayne Hillis and his son Kurt, reportedly opined that the administration of first-time Lasix may have been an issue. In any event, the real Puttanesca was eliminated by the far turn. I had expected her to give a good account of herself, and hopefully she will regroup in the future for new trainer Julio Canani. As outlined in my last diary, Puttanesca's Kiwi form was superior to that of BLACK MAMBA (NZ) (Black Minnaloushe), a Grade 1 winner who is probably headed to the Beverly D.

Lady in waiting: Although it doesn't boast the star power of the American Oaks, Friday's Lake George S. (G2) at Saratoga will feature several up-and-coming three-year-old fillies. I was looking forward to seeing DAME ELLEN (Elusive Quality), but according to the DRF, she sustained a foot bruise that has ruled her out of her engagement. A daughter of One Thousand Guineas (Eng-G1) heroine Sleepytime (Ire) (Royal Academy) from a black type-rich family, Dame Ellen overcame a world of trouble to win her stakes debut in the June 26 Perfect Sting S. at Belmont. Full of run when buried on the hedge in midstretch, she was forced to take up and was mired in an unpromising position. When a seam at last appeared, the Chad Brown trainee plowed straight through and made up more than two lengths inside the final furlong -- on yielding turf -- to collar STRIKE THE BELL (Mizzen Mast) in the shadow of the wire. The third-place finisher has since come back to just miss in the July 18 Virginia Oaks (G3), beaten a head by BLIND DATE (Not for Love). Hopefully Dame Ellen will be in fine fettle for the August 21 Lake Placid S. (G2).

Shameless exhibition: Nothing was demure, or reserved, or self-effacing about the way that last year's American Oaks winner PURE CLAN (Pure Prize) made a spectacle of herself in the July 11 Modesty H. (G3) at Arlington, a course-and-distance prep for the August 8 Beverly D. After striding along last in the five-horse field, Leparoux barely nudged her to take slightly closer order after a half-mile, then let her drop back to fifth again entering the far turn. Pure Clan was apparently responsive to every cue from her rider, displaying a tractable disposition as well as multiple moves. The Bob Holthus filly commenced her rally turning for home, and once she got her mammoth stride in gear, she blew by the front-running TIZAQUEENA (Tiznow) and DYNAFORCE (Dynaformer) and spurted away by 2 1/2 dominating lengths.

Tizaqueena had gotten away with dawdling splits, with Dynaforce in close pursuit, but the favorable pace scenario was no help to them. Nor was it any hindrance to Pure Clan, who thereby marked herself as the horse to beat in the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D.

As if Pure Clan needed a form boost, she got it in the July 5 Locust Grove H. (G3) at Churchill, when CLOSEOUT (Repriced) outclassed the field and sluiced home by three lengths. Closeout had previously finished fifth in the Mint Julep H. (G3) in her seasonal reappearance, well adrift of runner-up Pure Clan and third-place Tizaqueena. The Tom Proctor-trained Closeout sabotaged herself that day by being overaggressive early, but relaxed more kindly in the Locust Grove.

Tizaqueena and Dynaforce are both expected to try their luck against Pure Clan again in the Beverly D. It's difficult to imagine how Tizaqueena can reverse the form, since she has now been crushed by Pure Clan twice in a row. 

Dynaforce, last year's Flower Bowl Invitational (G1) victress, was a bit disappointing in not being able to overtake Tizaqueena in the Modesty. On the other hand, Dynaforce did improve off her disappointing 2009 debut, and she is eligible to do better still when making her third start off the layoff for Bill Mott. Rain-softened ground would also be a boon for Dynaforce's chances in the Beverly D.

Gentle introduction: French Group 2 winner TREAT GENTLY (GB) (Cape Cross [Ire]), for whom I had issued a be-on-the-lookout alert in the nick of time, has now entered the Beverly D. picture after an easy American debut. Meeting a useful group in Belmont's 8TH race on July 9, the Juddmonte Farms homebred was given an ultra-confident ride by Ramon Dominguez. Treat Gently was anchored at the rear through slow fractions, cruised into contention in the stretch, and got up in time by a cozy half-length. The Bobby Frankel trainee finished deceptively fast while reeling off 1 1/16 miles in 1:41 3/5, in what was essentially a paid workout in company.

Treat Gently's European form from 2008 is as solid as it gets, having finished within hailing distance of Zarkava, and having beaten Dar Re Mi (Singspiel [Ire]). She is also a blue-blood whose dam is a half-sister to the outstanding broodmare Hasili (Ire) (Kahyasi), the dam of Banks Hill (GB), Intercontinental (GB), Dansili (GB), Cacique (Ire), Heat Haze (GB) et al. The burning question is, can Treat Gently be ready to win a super-tough race like the Beverly D. off just one bloodless prep?

Grace notes: The late bloomer POINTS OF GRACE (Point Given) may have booked her ticket to the Beverly D. with a driving victory in the July 11 Dance Smartly S. (Can-G2) at Woodbine. Trained by Malcolm Pierce for Live Oak Plantation, the four-year-old showed a high cruising speed to take the lead, repelled an early challenge from Canadian champion GINGER BREW (Milwaukee Brew), and kept up her relentless gallop to score by 2 1/4 lengths. Points of Grace completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:45 2/5, especially snappy on a course listed as good, and not far off Rahy's Attorney's (Crown Attorney) firm-turf mark of 1:44 3/5.

Points of Grace did not begin her career until last November, when romping in a Polytrack maiden, and she has gone on to compile a respectable 8-5-2-0 mark. She made her stakes debut in the Nassau S. (Can-G2) two starts ago, where she was taken back off the pace and ran evenly in fourth. Pierce told the DRF that was a tactical error in hindsight, for she would have been more comfortable on or near the lead.

Points of Grace moved forward considerably with the change of tactics, as evidenced by the fact that she turned the tables on Canadian champion CALLWOOD DANCER (Ire) (Danehill Dancer). Second in the Nassau, Callwood Dancer could manage no better than fourth in the Dance Smartly, beaten 3 3/4 lengths by Points of Grace. To be fair, the weight spread had also shifted in Points of Grace's favor, with Callwood Dancer spotting her eight pounds (121 to 113) in the Dance Smartly.

Both the Nassau and Dance Smartly represent solid form. Nassau winner RUTHERIENNE (Pulpit), a Grade 1 veteran, is entered in the Diana. Nassau third MEADOW SAFFRON (Military) went on to post a course record-setting victory in the Casino S. at Indiana Downs. The Casino has turned out to be a surprisingly productive race, with third-place finisher HAPPINESS IS (Dynaformer) coming back to win a deep renewal of Saturday's Lady Canterbury S., and Casino fifth FINAL REFRAIN (Lion Cavern) returning to capture Saturday's Ellis Park Turf S. While none of those is graded, the overall pattern compliments Meadow Saffron, and in turn suggests that the Nassau was a strong event.

In the Dance Smartly, Ginger Brew performed well in her first start off a 3 1/2-month holiday. Not only was the Frankel pupil flashing speed throughout and conceding five pounds to Points of Grace, but she also finished 1 1/2 lengths clear of a rallying MUSHKA (Empire Maker) in third. The formline through Mushka is particularly important, with Mushka having finished second to CRITICISM (GB) (Machiavellian) in the Sheepshead Bay S. (G2) in her prior outing. Sheepshead Bay third CAPRICE (Ger) (Monsun) promptly flattered the form by winning the July 18 Robert G. Dick Memorial H. (G3) at Delaware Park.

Taken together, these strands of form bode well for Points of Grace. Moreover, Criticism would have been a top contender in the Beverly D., but Albertrani has opted for the Diana instead. Now Points of Grace figures to step into Criticism's pacesetting or pace-prompting role. She has some way to go before she can match Criticism's divisional standing, but Points of Grace is an upwardly-mobile type who merits respect. Ginger Brew is also eyeing a tilt at the Beverly D., and she has a license to improve.

Invasion force: The Beverly D. historically attracts a potent raiding party from Europe, and this year promises to be no different. The Aga Khan's ALNADANA (Danehill Dancer) is the most attractive of the likely invaders. She was supposed to run in Dubai earlier this year, according to trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre, but met with a setback that altered her campaign. The royally-bred four-year-old is razor-sharp at present, however.

The gray comes off a front-running score versus males in the July 18 Prix Messidor (Fr-G3), and two starts back, she nearly captured the Princess Elizabeth S. (Eng-G3) at Epsom. Finishing like a freight train, Alnadana looked as though she were going to win readily, only to lug in dramatically on the Epsom camber, was forced to steady, and checked in second. The third-placer, Spacious (Nayef), has gone on to land the Windsor Forest S. (Eng-G2) at Royal Ascot and was most recently third to Goldikova (Ire) (Anabaa) in the Falmouth S. (Eng-G1). Spacious was obviously much better in her past two than she was in her 2009 bow in the Princess Elizabeth, so the form can't be taken too literally, but it still reflects creditably upon Alnadana.

Irish maestro Dermot Weld is planning to dispatch MAD ABOUT YOU (Indian Ridge), who would be a prime threat if she runs up to her 2008 form. Last season, she was among the best of her division, just missing in the Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-G1) and finishing second in the Pretty Polly S. (Ire-G1), but her four-year-old campaign has been rather disappointing. Mad About You's lone victory this year came in the Gladness S. (Ire-G3) in April, and she has been beaten in her last three attempts, all in Group 3 company. If she were not trained by Weld, I'd be tempted to dismiss her, but he is capable of conjuring up a massive effort from her.

The other possibles are all sophomores who would need to step up their game quite a bit. DENOMINATION (Smart Strike) garnered the nine-furlong Prix Vanteaux (Fr-G3) before being trounced in the 10 1/2-furlong Prix de Diane (French Oaks) (Fr-G1), and she is exiting a close third, beaten a head and a neck, in the Prix Chloe (Fr-G3) back at nine furlongs. The Criquette Head-Maarek trainee has tactical speed, but she doesn't look good enough to pull the upset. PROVIDANZA (Okawango) was a troubled fourth in the Chloe. It may be telling that her trainer, Mikael Delzangles, also saddled the Chloe winner, yet prefers to send Providanza to Arlington. Two starts back, she defeated an iffy field in the Prix de Lilas, and three starts back, she was a non-threatening seventh in the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French One Thousand Guineas) (Fr-G1). Perhaps her strongest calling card is that Delzangles sent out Toque de Queda (GB) (Dansili [GB]) to finish a shocking third in last year's Beverly D.

Aidan O'Brien's HEART SHAPED (Storm Cat) is familiar to Americans as the filly who fell a nose short in the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf last fall. Her 2009 began promisingly enough, with a second in the Leopardstown One Thousand Guineas Trial (Ire-G3) and a fourth in the One Thousand Guineas to the impressive Ghanaati (Giant's Causeway). Heart Shaped has lost her way in her past two, crossing the wire a well-beaten sixth to Ghanaati in the Coronation S. (Eng-G1) and fifth in the Brownstown S. (Ire-G3) in her latest. O'Brien is also considering a trip for ROMAN EMPRESS (Sadler's Wells), who has been drubbed in both the Pretty Polly and Irish Oaks (Ire-G1).

Tricky Dick: Caprice may have upheld the Sheepshead Bay form in the Dick Memorial at Delaware, but the form of a couple of other races took a battering in that event, and I'm not sure that it's unimpeachable. For starters, I was nonplussed when ASTROLOGIE (Fr) (Polish Precedent) went to the lead, for she looks a lot happier as a closer. Predictably, she wilted, despite crawling for the first 1 1/4 miles of the 1 3/8-mile affair, and wound up fourth.

Even worse was DRESS REHEARSAL (Ire) (Galileo [Ire]), who had been stalking on the outside, but gave way alarmingly on the far turn. She was not the only horse on the outside to struggle, for WINTER VIEW (Thunder Gulch) looked one-paced for the first time in months. Winter View's three-race winning streak was snapped as she trudged home sixth. In contrast, Caprice showed a smart burst of speed on the inside to win by a neck from TRENSA (Giant's Causeway), another to fly home on the fence.

Caprice, who had finished fourth to Winter View in the Bewitch S. (G3) earlier in the year, will probably be put to the test in the Glens Falls H. (G3) on Labor Day at Saratoga. There we'll get a better idea of whether she's really in the ascendant, or whether she had the good fortune to be a Graham Motion runner in the Dick. He's only won it six times now.

Breaking open the bubbly: Another who shapes up as a Glens Falls type is multiple Brazilian Group 1 queen BUBBLY JANE (Brz) (Yagli), who captured her North American debut for Paulo Lobo in the July 22 Donor S. at Belmont. The dark bay, who is just about one month shy of celebrating her actual fourth birthday, rated near the back of the field off slow fractions. Rajiv Maragh had to push her along for quite a while before she began to make headway in the stretch. Bubbly Jane kept plugging on purposefully between rivals, and she stayed on well to score by a nose in the last jump. The DRF noted that she appeared to be struck in the face by a rival's whip, so I went back to look at the video more closely, and her head did in fact reflexively shoot up at one point in deep stretch.

That was a game and professional effort from a lightly-raced filly who was making her first start since October. While the 1 1/4-mile Donor was just an overnight stakes, note that third-place finisher BELLE ALLURE (Ire) (Numerous), a French Group 3 heroine last season, is a late addition to the Beverly D. for Christophe Clement.

Bubbly Jane has a lot going for her. She sports a sterling 7-5-1-0 career mark, she distinguished herself at the highest level in Brazil, and she can handle all types of ground. Runner-up in a Group 1 event in her homeland as a juvenile, she won both of her outings at three -- the nine-furlong Grande Premio Henrique de Toledo Lara (Brz-G1) on firm turf and the 10-furlong Gran Premio Diana (Brz-G1) on heavy going. Bubbly Jane appeals as the type who can progress further.

Battle royal: The July 11 Royal Heroine Mile (G2) served up a riveting stretch duel between TUSCAN EVENING (Ire) (Oasis Dream [GB]) and stakes debutante PATRICIA'S GEM (Mineshaft). While Patricia's Gem went straight to the early lead, Tuscan Evening proved to be rateable and settled into a stalking second. No one else got involved. Tuscan Evening threw down a stiff challenge in the lane, but Patricia's Gem showed a great deal of poise in her sixth lifetime start to fight back. Every time one appeared to get the upper hand, the other upped the ante, and the two were nip-and-tuck to the wire. Tuscan Evening just thrust her nose down to claim the spoils from a gallant Patricia's Gem.

While the Royal Heroine was great theater at Hollywood, I wonder whether these speedy fillies can re-enact the scene in the August 16 John C. Mabee H. (G1) at Del Mar, where multiple Grade 1 queen MAGICAL FANTASY (Diesis [GB]) will presumably be lying in wait. Also, MEYDAN PRINCESS (Ire) (Choisir), who couldn't get near Tuscan Evening or Patricia's Gem at Hollywood, looked like a different horse when rolling to an emphatic score in this past Sunday's Osunitas H. at Del Mar. Even allowing for the class drop into a restricted stakes, the Jim Cassidy filly was impressive in squeezing through along the fence and barreling home as much the best, in a swift 1:40 3/5 for 1 1/16 miles. Del Mar appears to suit her far better than Hollywood. Might one even hope that the frustrating VISIT (GB) (Oasis Dream [GB]), a belated fourth in the Royal Heroine, could get her act together at Del Mar?

Alternatively, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer has suggested that Tuscan Evening could try the Beverly D. instead of the Mabee. Considering that she has yet to race beyond 1 1/16 miles, I would be surprised if Tuscan Evening ships halfway across the country to face the likes of Pure Clan, Treat Gently, probably Black Mamba et al. She won't have the luxury of being the controlling speed there, either.

Hunting the Diana: Champion FOREVER TOGETHER (Belong to Me) had her game face on Wednesday, scorching five furlongs in :57 3/5 over the Oklahoma training turf as she looks to defend her crown in the Diana. This 1 1/8-mile test at the Spa served as her coming out party last season, and the Jonathan Sheppard mare will likely have to produce another stellar effort to retain her title. Forever Together is drawn out wide in post 10, but she's going to drop back early anyway, so that's not as big a concern as is the presence of Criticism. The 123-pound co-highweight along with Forever Together, Criticism is going to get the jump on her and doesn't figure to slow down to make it easy on the deep closer. Forever Together's other potential adversary is the weather; if it rains enough, the course could be softer than ideal, as it was when she was second in the Just a Game S. (G1) last time out.

Two other Just a Game alumnae are lining up against Forever Together in the Diana. MY PRINCESS JESS (Stormy Atlantic) has been freshened since her third-place effort, while Just a Game fourth CARRIBEAN SUNSET (Ire) (Danehill Dancer) rebounded with a smart score in the July 6 Dr. James Penny Memorial H. at Philadelphia Park. Clement will be double-handed in the Diana, since in addition to Carribean Sunset, he has Rutherienne.

Interestingly, Rutherienne was cross-entered to Sunday's Matchmaker S. (G3) at Monmouth, perhaps as a back-up plan in case the Saratoga turf is too soft. If she winds up being re-routed to the Jersey Shore, she would face a solid group including ARIEGE (Doneraile Court), Closeout, Meadow Saffron and South African champion CAPTAIN'S LOVER (SAf) (Captain Al), a closing third in the July 3 Miss Liberty S. over the course. Captain's Lover was fifth in the Just a Game in her American debut, and I keep expecting her to break through one of these days for Todd Pletcher. The Matchmaker will be her third start off the layoff.

On the horizon: Our next installment will review the Diana, Beverly D. and Mabee and take stock of the three-year-olds approaching the Lake Placid and the Del Mar Oaks.


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