03/28/2015 6:58PM

Birdatthewire overcomes early trouble to take Gulfstream Oaks

Barbara D. Livingston
Birdatthewire, one of three fillies saddled by Dale Romans, captures the Gulfstream Park Oaks under Irad Ortiz Jr..

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - When trainer Dale Romans saw Irad Ortiz Jr. fighting with Birdatthewire around the first turn of Saturday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks, he turned his focus to his other two fillies in the race.

“I started watching the other two and hoped they would keep going,” Romans said.

His other two fillies - Sweet Swingin and Cristina’s Journey - didn’t keep running, but Birdatthewire overcame her early adversity to run by Eskenformoney in the stretch to win the Oaks by 1 1/4 lengths. Eskenformoney, who made the lead midway around the far turn, finished second by three-quarters of a length over Danessa Deluxe. It was six lengths back to Devine Aida, who was followed, in order by Sweet Swingin, Cristina’s Journey, Ekati’s Phaeton, and Holywell, who was eased.

The win was the third in the last four starts for Birdatthewire and establishes her as a major player for the $1 million Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 1.

Ortiz said that Birdatthewire was simply too sharp in the early stages and entering the first turn he stood up in the irons to try and get her to relax.

“She got strong in the first turn to the backside … so I try to get her to relax because she comes from behind. That’s her race,” Ortiz said.

Birdatthewire settled down the backside and was in fifth position while the speedy Ekati’s Phaeton set the pace, hounded by Cristina’s Journey.

Eskenformoney, ridden by Javier Castellano, was three-to-four wide down the backstretch and made an early move toward a fading Ekati’s Phaeton entering the turn.

Ortiz had Birdatthewire three wide around the turn and she was in contention turning for home. Eskenformoney, guided to the rail by Castellano, fought on, but could not hold off Birdatthewire, who persevered past her in the final 100 yards.

Birdatthewire, a daughter of Summer Bird owned by Forum Racing, covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:47.40 and returned $5.40 as the favorite.

“That was so impressive. These were good fillies. I think they’re the best we have right now,” Romans said. “She was stopped down the backside. Just to overcome adversity like that takes a special horse.”

Ortiz said he worried whether fighting with Birdatthewire early would take away her late kick.

“I think maybe I fight too much with her. I don’t think she was going to have the same kick at the end,” Ortiz said. “But she was ready. When I asked her she took off again. Not too many horses do that. She was much the best today.”

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Eskenformoney, said his filly was simply second best. He did not question Castellano’s decision to guide the filly toward the rail, which did not seem like the best part of the track.

“The stretch is tiring all over,” Pletcher said. “It looks like maybe the rail’s a little deeper. I don’t know; obviously a very demanding surface today.”