Technically a Road to the Kentucky Oaks series race, Saturday’s $150,000 Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park could in fact launch the exciting Taraz into the Kentucky Derby (G1) discussion if the Juddmonte Farms homebred dazzles against four rivals as she’s widely expected to.
“Everything has to line up, everything has to go right. The way she trains, she gives you that amount of confidence to think about things like that, bottom line,” said trainer Brad Cox at Fair Grounds in mid-January. “It’s one step at a time, obviously. The Martha Washington and then go from there.”
The daughter of Into Mischief will stretch out around two turns for the first time in the one-mile Martha Washington after breaking her maiden by 7 1/2 lengths at Churchill Downs going 6 1/2 furlongs, and then taking the Letellier Memorial at Fair Grounds by 11 1/4 lengths over 6 furlongs.
The most notable Martha Washington winner, Rachel Alexandra, did not race in the Kentucky Derby, but won the 2009 Kentucky Oaks (G1) by more than 20 lengths and later won the Preakness (G1) en route to Horse of the Year honors.
Taraz will be joined in the Martha Washington starting gate by multiple stakes winner by stablemate Shedaresthedevil, who placed in the Sorrento (G2) and Anoakia S. last season when trained by Simon Callaghan. Also in the lineup are stakes winners High On Gin and Princesinha Julia, and last-out Fair Grounds graduate O Seraphina.
Another small field will go postward in the $150,000 Forward Gal (G2) at Gulfstream Park, a 7-furlong dash which, like the Martha Washington offers Oaks qualifying points of 10-4-2-1 to the top four finishers.
Tonalist’s Shape, who’s won all three of her starts, including a nine-length score in the Nov. 30 Hut Hut S. over a mile, figures to be a strong favorite for trainer Saffie Joseph Jr.
“She’s improved each race as the distances have gotten longer and she’s going to get better as she goes longer. I know we’re cutting back in distance a little bit, but she got a little break after her last race,” Joseph said. “The timing just worked out to give her a little break to set her back up for the series here, hopefully the Davona Dale (G2) and the Gulfstream Oaks (G2) and then the Kentucky Oaks (G1).”
The second choice figures to be Churchill Downs graduate Street of Dreams, who won over a mile in the slop on the same day as the Hut Hut. The Street Sense filly is trained by Ian Wilkes.
“It’s not do-or-die and you have to win, but I expect her to run good,” Wilkes said. “She’s talented, and that helps. She’s a very nice filly and I think she’ll just get better from each race.”