February 24, 2024

Clairiere, Travel Column set for round three in TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks

Clairiere wins the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (Hodges Photography)

After trading decisions in their first two match-ups on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks, Clairiere and Travel Column will line up a third time – for even higher stakes – in Saturday’s $400,000 TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks (G2). Aside from the higher purse, the 1 1/16-mile event offers a bonanza of Kentucky Oaks (G1) points on the 100-40-20-10 scale.

Fair Grounds Oaks – Race 13 (6:14 p.m. ET)

Their past results could be interpreted as tales of their respective trips. Travel Column nabbed Clairiere in the Nov. 28 Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill Downs, while Clairiere was the one pouncing late in the Feb. 13 Rachel Alexandra (G2) at this track and trip. On that reading, playing the final hand was more of an advantage than striking earlier.

Yet the other key factor was a different level of experience. OXO Equine’s Travel Column, an $850,000 daughter of Frosted, was a smart debut winner on the pandemic-delayed Kentucky Oaks card Sept. 4. The Brad Cox trainee made a rookie mistake next time when third in the Alcibiades (G1), getting off to an awkward start that put her in a tactically tougher position. Although not having the best break in the Golden Rod either, Travel Column appeared savvier when overhauling Clairiere by a length.

The Steve Asmussen-trained Clairiere, on the other hand, was a relative novice at that first meeting. By Curlin and out of multiple Grade 1 queen Cavorting, Clairiere didn’t race until Oct. 25, when impressing in a last-to-first rally beneath the Twin Spires. The Stonestreet Stables homebred found herself in front sooner in the Golden Rod, and she might have thought it was job done only to have Travel Column run her down. Under Joe Talamo in her Rachel Alexandra reappearance, Clairiere saved her best for last and gained revenge by a neck.

If the learning curve hypothesis is correct, Clairiere might have improved beyond Travel Column. Clairiere has been installed as the 2-1 favorite on the morning line, with Travel Column pegged at 5-2. They’re drawn toward the outside of the octet in posts 6 and 8, respectively.

Todd Pletcher shipper Zaajel has the look of an 8-1 overlay given her unbeaten record from Gulfstream Park, where she impressed on debut and prevailed in the Forward Gal (G3). The Shadwell homebred received a form boost when the Forward Gal third, Wholebodemeister, came back to stun the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2). Zaajel, who stretches out to two turns here, hopes to be as successful as another Street Sense sophomore in a similar position this past Saturday – Rebel (G2) conqueror Concert Tour. Irad Ortiz Jr. picks up the mount on the rail.

Also invading from Florida are Obligatory and Il Malocchio. Obligatory, a Juddmonte homebred from family of last year’s Fair Grounds Oaks winner Bonny South, steps up from a Gulfstream maiden score for Bill Mott. Il Malocchio exits a third in the Suncoast at Tampa Bay Downs in her first start for Ken McPeek. In her prior stakes at Woodbine last fall, the Ontartio-bred captured the Victorian Queen on turf and placed second in the Princess Elizabeth on Tapeta.

Souper Sensational was an exciting prospect at Woodbine, where she stayed unbeaten in a Glorious Song romp. But the Mark Casse filly has been out of luck in the two Fair Grounds points races so far. Second in the Jan. 16 Silverbulletday, her first route attempt off the bench, Souper Sensational clipped heels en route to a subpar sixth in the Rachel Alexandra. Note that the $725,000 Curlin filly gets a rider switch to Hall of Famer John Velazquez. Moon Swag, a troubled third in the Silverbulletday, was beaten further when settling for the show spot in the Rachel Alexandra.

Li’l Tootsie has won two straight over the track for the connections of 2019 Kentucky Oaks heroine Serengeti Empress – owner Joel Politi and trainer Tom Amoss. A convincing sprint maiden winner on the Silverbulletday undercard, the Tapiture filly rolled from off the pace in a Feb. 12 two-turn allowance. Luis Saez, who had guided Zaajel to both of her wins, now takes over on Li’l Tootsie.