06/23/2013 8:46AM

The Wide Open 3-Year-Old Filly Division


Not content to take firm charge of a strong 3-year-old filly division when presented with the opportunity in Saturday’s Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park, Dreaming of Julia instead delivered a dud performance, a soundly beaten, no excuse second at 1-5. And now, the 3-year-old filly championship will rely as much on what happens the second half of this year as the 3-year-old male championship will, which is to say, a lot.

But before talking about what might happen, we should first give full credit to Close Hatches, who produced the best performance of her career in the Mother Goose. Close Hatches, who won the first three starts of her career, including a perfect trip win in the Gazelle, was outrun when seventh in the Kentucky Oaks, and was a soundly beaten second herself last time out in the Acorn Stakes. On Saturday, however, Close Hatches left Dreaming of Julia and three others reeling with an outside move to take control on the far turn, and she poured it on through the stretch, leaving the distinct impression that there is more where this came from.

As for Dreaming of Julia, she just didn’t want to seem to participate when the running got serious on the far turn, and that she managed to get second was mainly a matter of winning a war of attrition with the overmatched Marathon Lady. That said, I don’t think Dreaming of Julia is really 7 1-4 lengths (the distance between them Saturday)  worse than Close Hatches, just like I didn’t think she was 21 3-4 lengths better than the late Live Lively, the distance Dreaming of Julia beat that one in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. The real Dreaming of Julia is somewhere in between those extremes. But the real Dreaming of Julia also has a propensity to take an afternoon off here and there, and that’s a big reason why the 3-year-old filly division is up for grabs.

Princess of Sylmar, who finished second to Close Hatches in the Gazelle, won the Kentucky Oaks, the division’s defining race to this point, but in a 38-1 upset. Princess of Sylmar didn’t have a published workout for a month after that, although she has worked steadily this month, and the burden remains on her to prove her Kentucky Oaks win wasn’t a fluke.

Beholder, last year’s champion 2-year-old filly, was very game finishing a narrowly beaten second in the Kentucky Oaks after contesting a fast pace. But she just had her first work since on Friday, so she is at least a little ways off from racing.

My inclination is to tab Midnight Lucky as the current leader of the division. Midnight Lucky, whose only loss was a disappointing fifth in the Kentucky Oaks, was certainly flattered by the Mother Goose result. In Midnight Lucky’s last start, she won the Acorn by 6 1-4 lengths over Close Hatches. The thing is, Midnight Lucky is targeting the Prioress and Test Stakes. Those are sprint stakes, and do not fit the classic profile of a 3-year-old filly champion that often includes success in distance races like the Kentucky Oaks, Mother Goose, CCA Oaks, and Alabama. But this classic profile might not apply this year. It is easy to envision a scenario where Midnight Lucky keeps sprinting, and maybe even wins the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, which could be easy pickings depending on what happens with Groupie Doll. And that could be enough for a title, especially if none of her contemporaries goes on a run in the more traditional stakes, or if the distance 3-year-old fillies are found wanting against older mares in the fall.

A few other quick thoughts on Saturday: Doinghardtimeagain, decisive winner of Saturday’s Hollywood Oaks, is very solid, but does seem a notch below the best 3-year-old fillies … Add Atigun to the list of horses I can sense I’m going to lose money on this year. He had a traffic-filled trip in the Colonial Turf Cup, and is a lot better than his seventh place finish looks on paper … I don’t know what her ceiling is (who does?) but Fiftyshadesofgold is a running fool. To draw off and win the Debutante at Churchill by eight lengths, with another five lengths separating the second and third finishers, after contesting an opening quarter in 21.37, is fine work.