In a thrilling finish to last month’s New Orleans H. (G2), Honorable Duty just edged long-time leader Breaking Lucky by a neck with a furious late surge. The pair will square off again Friday in the $400,000 Alysheba (G2), one of five stakes on the Kentucky Oaks Day undercard at Churchill Downs.
Breaking Lucky perhaps might have an edge in this rematch which, at 1 1/16 miles, is a sixteenth shorter than the New Orleans. However, Honorable Duty has become a different horse since being gelded late last year, rattling off three straight for trainer Brendan Walsh.
Marking his return to action in the Alysheba is American Freedom, who was last seen running a distant second to Arrogate in that stablemate’s historic Travers (G1). The Pulpit colt had previously captured the Iowa Derby (G3) and ran second to Exaggerator in the Haskell Invitational (G1).
Other notables in the lineup are the speedy Noble Bird, past winner of the Stephen Foster H. (G1) and Lukas Classic over the Churchill strip, and Bird Song, hero of the Fred W. Hooper (G3) two back and last-out third in the Ben Ali (G3).
Reigning champion female sprinter Finest City, a sharp second when stretching out to nine furlongs in the Santa Margarita (G1) last out, cuts back slightly for the $300,000 La Troienne (G1) over 1 1/16 miles.
Clinching her championship at the Breeders’ Cup last November, Finest City kicked off her 2017 campaign with a score in the Santa Monica (G2) at seven furlongs, then ran well in the Santa Margarita against Val Dori, who dominated the traditional routes for older fillies and mares over the winter with the absence of Songbird and Stellar Wind.
Paid Up Subscriber, who captured the Fleur de Lis H. (G2) here last summer and later placed in the Delaware H. (G1) and Spinster (G1), figures to improve off a recent third in the seven-furlong Madison (G1) at Keeneland. Also in the mix are Streamline and Eskenformoney, one-two in the March 18 Azeri (G2) when they last met.
A pair of Grade 1 winners will face off in the $200,000 Eight Belles, a seven-furlong dash for three-year-old fillies. Pretty City Dancer, dead-heat winner of the Spinaway (G1) last summer but unplaced in her last two, meets Del Mar Debutante (G1) heroine Union Strike, who returned to action April 9 with a 9-1 upset of the $75,000 Santa Paula at Santa Anita.
Also among the field of 13 are undefeated Sunland Park Oaks winner Ghalia and the David Fawkes-trained Florida Fabulous, a dominating winner in both starts at Gulfstream this term.
Another large field of sophomore fillies were entered for the $150,000 Edgewood (G3) at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Rising star La Coronel drew post 12, but she is widely expected to face the boys in Saturday’s American Turf (G2) instead.
Grade 3-winning entrymate Dream Dancing, fourth to La Coronel in the Appalachian (G3) following a slow start, should stay and will have to fend off the likes of Proctor’s Ledge, third in the Appalachian; West Coast shippers You Missed It and Emphatically, both of whom placed in the Providencia (G2) last month; and Stallion Heiress, a blowout winner of all three starts at Fair Grounds, two of which were stakes.
The $150,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G3) over five furlongs features the return of Pure Sensation, who captured the Jaipur (G3), Parx Dash (G3), and Belmont Turf Sprint prior to finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1).
Subsequently shipped to Hong Kong, the gray was a late withdrawal from the Hong Kong Sprint (G1) at Sha Tin in December due to foot issues.
Also lining up are Why Two, last seen taking the $75,000 Green Flash at Del Mar last August, and recent Shakertown (G3) one-two Holding Gold and Green Mask.