HALLANDALE BEACH, FL - Michael Dubb and partners’ 3-year-old filly Grace Hall made her season debut in the Davona Dale Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 25 as the 4-to-5 favorite. Despite losing a neck decision to longshot Yara, Grace Hall will very likely be favored again to avenge that defeat in Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2).
Leading Gulfstream jockey Javier Castellano gets the call on Grace Hall for trainer Anthony Dutrow. She will face seven rival 3-year-old fillies in the 1 1/8 miles test expected to yield one or more contenders for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs on May 4.
A daughter of Empire Maker, Grace Hall was making her first start in the Davona Dale since finishing second to My Miss Aurelia in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4, the undefeated winner later voted Eclipse champion.
A $95,000 Keeneland September yearling purchase, Grace Hall won all three of her starts before the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies beginning with a debut victory at Delaware Park in late July, the Spinaway Stakes (G1) at Saratoga in early September and the Blue Hen Stakes back at Delaware on Oct. 1.
“She has trained really well since the Davona Dale,” said Dutrow. “We have her right where we want her to be for the Oaks. The only disappointment (losing Davona Dale) was she was a big favorite and she lost to a longshot. In the big picture, winning was the only thing she didn’t do, but that race was not the main objective. I think she ran great.”
Peras International’s Yara was making her first start around two turns as a 65-to-1 longshot in the Davona Dale and was prominent from the start. She came again when headed in the stretch by Grace Hall to score under jockey Jesus Castanon, who will be back aboard Saturday for Calder-based trainer Jose Garoffalo.
A daughter of Put It Back purchased for a modest $21,000 at the OBS April 2-year-old sale, Yara won two of four starts sprinting at Calder last year and finished a well-beaten fourth in the seven-furlong Forward Gal Stakes (G2) on Jan. 29 before the Davona Dale.
“She worked good last Saturday (five furlongs in 1:02 at Calder) and will be much better for this race than she was for the last one,” said Venezuelan-born Garofallo, who was scoring his first graded stakes victory in the U.S. with Yara. “She will like the extra half-furlong and the likely slower pace this time going a mile-and-an-eighth.”
Godolphin Racing’s Captivating Lass and Live Oak Plantation’s Zo Impressive will each attract some support after good races at the meet with jockeys John Velazquez and Rajiv Maragh to ride, respectively,
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Captivating Lass finished an even third last out in the Davona Dale behind Yara and Grace Hall. The Kentucky homebred daughter of A.P. Indy won the Busanda Stakes on the inner track at Aqueduct in her previous start on Jan. 7 after winning her debut at Parx Racing and finishing seventh in the Demoiselle Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct in two starts as a 2-year-old.
Zo Impressive takes a big step up to make her stakes debut in the race for trainer Tom Albertrani, but has built up a following in her two career starts at the meet. The roan/gray homebred by Hard Spun won her debut going six furlongs on Jan. 22 by 6 ¼ lengths and came back to score by 4 ½ lengths going a mile in an ‘a other than’ allowance on Feb. 25.
Trainer Michael Matz has a solid contender in the Gulfstream Oaks in Helen Groves’ And Why Not with Julien Leparoux aboard. The Kentucky homebred daughter of Street Cry finished third to Grace Hall in the Spinaway last year and finished up the season with a very good runner-up effort behind On Fire Baby in the Pocahontas Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs on Oct. 30.
Completing the field for the Gulfstream Oaks are James Spence’s Hearts of Red, Edgar Prado; James Connors and partners’ The Cat’s All That, Elvis Trujillo; and Brenda Mercer’s Emma’s Encore, Joe Bravo.