Kentucky Downs hosts it’s most important 3-year-old features on Thursday, and the $500,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks has come up slightly deeper than its counterpart for males, the $750,000 Dueling Grounds Derby. Both races will be contested over nearly one lap of the all-turf track at 1 5/16 miles.
Harvey’s Lil Goil looms as a solid favorite in the Oaks. Hailing from the hot Bill Mott barn, the gray flirted with Kentucky Oaks (G1) aspirations throughout the spring and summer. However, a distant third-place finish behind Swiss Skydiver in the Alabama (G1) last out led connections to find more suitable options.
This appears one as the daughter of American Pharoah, like many by that Triple Crown-winning sire, has shown a fondness for turf. Although a non-threatening fourth in her debut over the surface, Harvey’s Lil Goil pulled off an 11-1 odds surprise of the Regret (G3) at Churchill Downs in late June in her second attempt on the green.
Though only eighth in the Regret, Stunning Sky showed significant improvement at Saratoga when missing by a half-length or less in both the Lake Placid (G2) and Saratoga Oaks. The Mike Maker trainee was much more involved from the outset when steered by Irad Ortiz Jr., who’s ridden the filly to her two career wins and will be back aboard Thursday.
Multiple stakes winner Micheline ran sixth in the Regret and a rallying fourth last out in the one-mile Lake George (G3) and should appreciate the added distance. Lucky Polly exits a photo-finish victory in the Martha Washington S. at Gulfstream last time for Mark Casse, while the class of the field could get an additional boost if the Ashland (G1) third Envoutante draws in from deep on the also-eligible list for Ken McPeek.
Dueling Grounds Derby
The Dueling Grounds Derby, in contrast, lacks a standout. In the main body of the field, Kinenos could attract a decent amount of support after running third in the Caesars S. at Indiana Grand two starts back. That race was won by Fancy Liquor, winner last weekend of the American Turf (G2).
The stakes-placed Bama Breeze wasn’t beaten too far in either the Transylvania (G3) or Saratoga Derby when recording sixth-place finishes in both. Peace Achieved was fourth in the Caesars in his first start since the Breeders’ Cup, and the Grade 3-winning juvenile should strip fitter second off the bench. Another graded stakes winner from last season, Fighting Seabee, makes his first run here since a fifth-place in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) last November.
Shamrocket, despite losing his last two tries in allowance company, appears quick enough to contend for Christophe Clement. A pair of interesting also-eligibles are Moon Over Miami, for Mott, and Sunsation, who set the pace before tiring in a course-record renewal of the Kent (G3) at Delaware Park, a race won by budding star Gofu over eventual Del Mar Derby (G2) winner Pixelate.