03/10/2016 10:36AM

Ava's Kitten has right connections to win Florida Oaks

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Chelsea Durand/NYRA
Ava's Kitten wins the Chelsey Flower Stakes at Belmont Park in her final start at 2.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – If there’s a graded turf stakes anywhere on the East Coast, then it’s a good bet that trainer Chad Brown has a top-tier contender for it. Such is the case in the Grade 3, $200,000 Florida Oaks, in which Ava’s Kitten will make her 3-year-old debut Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs.

Has Ava’s Kitten grown up into a big cat over the winter? If she has, then the 13 3-year-old fillies set to face her in the 33rd running of the Florida Oaks face a stern test. In her final start as a juvenile, Ava’s Kitten overcame the far-outside No. 11 post to win the $100,000 Chelsey Flower Stakes by half a length at Belmont Park on Oct. 31. She prompted the pace three and four wide in that one-mile turf race before surging to the lead and holding off a determined bid from Llanita.

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Irad Ortiz Jr., visiting from Aqueduct, will be aboard Ava’s Kitten for the first time when she breaks from the No. 4 post. The filly shows five works over the last two months at Palm Meadows in preparation for her return and will try to give Brown his second Florida Oaks winner, following Testa Rossi in 2014.

Ava’s Kitten is 2 for 4 in her career but is winless in two starts at the 1 1/16-mile distance of the Florida Oaks. Those losses did come in the filly’s first two starts, however. Brown said he’s expecting a solid effort Saturday.

“We freshened her up since we last saw her win a little stakes at Belmont,” he said. “She’s training quite well. She has a good amount of early speed. I’m sure she’ll place herself close.”

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KEY CONTENDERS

Ava’s Kitten, by Kitten’s Joy

Last 3 Beyers: 81-74-72

◗ This homebred for Eclipse Award-winning owners and breeders Ken and Sarah Ramsey is by North America’s top turf sire and has every right to be a star. Her Beyer Speed Figures have gone up with each start.

Family Meeting, by Sky Mesa

Last 3 Beyers: 75-79-60

◗ Trained by Tom Proctor, she won her maiden on the Laurel Park turf at this distance before winning the Grade 3 Jimmy Durante Stakes at a mile on Del Mar’s turf course Nov. 28.

Spinamiss, by Lilbourne Lad

Beyers: 75-73

◗ This Irish-bred filly won her U.S. debut for trainer Todd Pletcher in an optional claimer here Dec. 20 before getting a troubled trip and finishing a close second in the Grade 3 Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 30.

Gamble’s Ghost, by Ghostzapper

Last 3 Beyers: 73-75-81

◗ The winner of the Grade 3 Mazarine Stakes last October, she has yet to be out of the exacta in four starts and finished second to Catch a Flight, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, in the Grade 2 Natalma in September.

Princess Princess, by Discreet Cat

Last 3 Beyers: 65-78-84

◗ She owns the field’s highest Beyer for her maiden win and will be making her stakes debut.

Conquest Bebop, by Scat Daddy

Last 3 Beyers: 70-81-77

◗ She was fractious while loading into the gate for the Sweetest Chant and ran seventh but was beaten only 3 1/4 lengths and could be formidable if she saves her energy for the race.