After an upset loss in the Feb. 11 Suncoast S. in her season debut, juvenile filly champion Wonder Wheel will look to right the ship Friday in the $600,000 Ashland (G1), the feature on opening day of the 2023 spring meet at Keeneland. The 1 1/16-mile Ashland, the only Grade 1 prep this year for the May 5 Kentucky Oaks (G1), will offer Oaks qualifying points of 100-40-30-20-10 to the respective top five finishers in the field of seven.
Wonder Wheel thrived at Keeneland last fall, winning the Alcibiades (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) over the Ashland distance. However, her sophomore bow didn’t turn out as well as she missed by a neck to longshot Dreaming of Snow as a 1-2 favorite.
Also taking it on the chin in the Suncoast at Tampa was Julia Shining, who finished 1 1/2 lengths behind in third as the second choice. Victorious last December in the nine-furlong Demoiselle (G2), Julia Shining will look to emulate her full sister, Malathaat, who used a win in the 2021 Ashland as a stepping stone to victory in the Kentucky Oaks and two division titles.
The Brad Cox-trained Punchbowl, who only made her debut on Feb. 11, enters off two overnight wins at Oaklawn. A come-from-behind winner after a troubled start in her six-furlong debut, she next beat allowance foes by more than four lengths after dueling for the lead going 1 1/16 miles.
Pride of the Nile invades from Southern California, where she was narrowly beaten by that circuit’s leading filly, Faiza, in the Starlet (G1) and Las Virgenes (G3). However, the Doug O’Neill trainee didn’t fire in her third meeting with that rival in last month’s Santa Ysabel (G3), trailing the field of five by 12 lengths.
Guns n’ Graces was most recently second in the Davona Dale (G2) to Dorth Vader, who returned to finish fourth in last weekend’s Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2). Longer shots in the Ashland include Defining Purpose and Effortlesslyelgant, both of whom were unplaced in the Honeybee (G3) in their most recent stakes appearance.
A competitive renewal of the $400,000 Transylvania (G3) for three-year-olds is one of two supporting stakes features on Friday’s card. The 1 1/16-mile grass fixture includes Andthewinneris, who captured the Bourbon (G2) over the course and distance last October, but who enters off an upset loss to Wonderful Justice in the Black Gold S. at Fair Grounds.
Nagirroc and Mo Stash both ran well earning minor awards in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), while pace players Candidate and Dude N Colorado showed effective form throughout the winter in Florida. Also invading from that circuit is the Chad Brown-trained Carl Spackler, who graduated by 8 3/4 lengths in his second career start on Feb. 25.
The $400,000 Lafayette S., a seven-furlong dash for three-year-olds, has also come up with a strong field of seven. Stakes winner Corona Bolt is undefeated from three starts sprinting, but will have to fend off challengers from several turning back in distance. That group includes the Grade 1-placed Gulfport and Hejazi, Jerome S. winner Lugan Knight, and the Mark Casse-trained Determinedly.