Updated on 09/15/2011 12:37PM

Caressing choice in Oaks for Vance; Flute withdrawn


When Dave Vance was the second-leading trainer at Delaware Park in 1981, trailing only Bud Delp, he never imagined that he would return 20 years later on a private jet to saddle a heavy favorite for one of the track's most prestigious races.

But when Vance returns Saturday to Stanton, Del., to run Caressing in the $250,000 Delaware Oaks, that's just what he'll be doing. He and Carl Pollard, owner of Caressing, will be flown in on Pollard's jet from Louisville, where both men live.

"Spoiling me," Vance said Wednesday at Churchill Downs, where Caressing has been sharp in her preparations for the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks.

Since he began training in 1967, Vance, 60, has been successful primarily with claiming and allowance horses. He has raced horses on virtually every circuit east of the Rocky Mountains, from Oaklawn, Louisiana Downs, and Ellis Park to Laurel, Monmouth, and Delaware. While he and his wife, Lynn, now spend most of their time in Louisville, Vance has fond memories of the summers he spent at Delaware Park.

"I've always told the boss," as he refers to Pollard, "that if it weren't for Churchill Downs, I'd go early to the East Coast every summer. The backside at Delaware is nice and quiet and spread out. It's a great place to train horses."

Caressing, the 2000 Eclipse Award champion as top 2-year-old filly, will make her third start of the year in the Delaware Oaks, which on Wednesday lost Flute, its other major name horse. Flute, winner of the May 4 Kentucky Oaks, had been assigned post 13 and co-highweight of 122 pounds.

"She's got to give the horses to beat seven pounds," said Flute's trainer Bobby Frankel, referring to Caressing and several others. "The post position is a disadvantage, it's a big field; there's no sense in running her. She'd have to run too hard to win. I don't want her running that hard. I want to win the Alabama," the Grade 1 race at Saratoga on Aug. 18.

Frankel said Flute will use the July 28 Monmouth Oaks as her prep for the Alabama.

Caressing, who drew post four with Pat Day, won the seven-furlong La Troienne Stakes in May before finishing a distant fifth in the Grade 1, one-mile Acorn at Belmont in June. Vance and his daughter, Trisha, groom of Caressing, said the filly was in heat in the days leading up to the Acorn.

"She cycled into heat," Trisha Vance said as she wrapped red polo bandages around Caressing's hind legs. "We were stabled in Billy Mott's barn, and he had all these big, good-looking stud horses."

"We knew going into the race what was going on," said Dave Vance. "But there was nothing else to do except run her. I had to have that race for her."

Vance notes that, as Kentucky residents, he and Pollard made the Ashland Stakes and Kentucky Oaks their primary targets for 2001 after Caressing was voted a champion after her victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in November. But when Caressing came down with a fever this winter, they had to revise their goals.

"The winners of those two races are by far the best 3-year-old fillies out there now," he said, alluding to Fleet Renee, winner of the Ashland, and Flute. "We sure would've run in those races if we could've. Now we're looking at the Alabama and some of the later races."

The Delaware Oaks, he said, "is only the second time our filly has gone two turns, and we know what she did the other time," noting the Breeders' Cup win.

With Flute out, probably the top challengers to Caressing in the 1 1/16-mile Delaware Oaks are Two Item Limit, a multiple stakes winner for Steve DiMauro; Mystic Lady, winner of the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes in April; and Kain's Prize, a romping winner of all three career starts.

Beautiful Pleasure draws post 3 for Delaware Cap

A field of eight fillies and mares was drawn Wednesday for Sunday's $600,000, Grade 3 Delaware Handicap, the showcase event of easily the biggest weekend of racing at the 140-day meet at Delaware Park.

Beautiful Pleasure, the 1999 Eclipse champion mare who faded to eighth in her 6-year-old debut, the June 23 Hempstead Handicap, drew post 3 for trainer John T. Ward Jr. The other top filly in the Ward barn, Darling My Darling, will run July 29 in the Grade 1 Go for Wand Stakes at Saratoga.

Lazy Slusan, the California invader assigned highweight of 121 pounds, drew post seven.

- additional reporting by David Grening