Updated on 09/15/2011 1:38PM

Catch-up time for Caressing

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STANTON, Del. - The champ had better hurry if she wants to win another Eclipse Award.

Caressing, the 2-year-old filly champion of last year, begins a late-season campaign Saturday as a solid favorite in the $250,000 Delaware Oaks. With Fleet Renee and Flute having clearly established themselves as the top 3-year-old fillies this year, trainer Dave Vance is hoping Caressing will resurface among the division's elite in the second half of 2001.

Vance, based at Churchill Downs, believes the return to two-turn races for Caressing could lead to a return to prominence. In her last start, the one-mile Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park, Caressing finished fifth, beaten 13 lengths. After that race, Vance said the filly was hindered by being in heat.

"No doubt in my mind that that's what made her run so bad," he said.

Caressing has been training sharply at Churchill since the Acorn.

The Delaware Oaks will serve as a springboard for Caressing to the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 18, with other major events to follow.

"She doesn't have to win Saturday, but I sure want to see her run the way I know she can," said Vance.

Although 14 were entered in the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Delaware Oaks, no more than 12 are expected to start. Bobby Frankel scratched Flute in favor of the Monmouth Oaks next Saturday, while trainer Dale Capuano said Thursday that his unbeaten filly Kain's Prize will stay in Maryland. Both trainers said that the outside post positions their fillies drew played a large role in their decisions.

With Flute out, probably the top challengers to Caressing are a pair of Grade 2 stakes winners, Mystic Lady and Two Item Limit. Both were beaten in the Mother Goose Stakes.

Mystic Lady, winner of the Fantasy Stakes in April, drew the far outside post, but her superior speed should allow her to somewhat offset that disadvantage. Trainer Mark Hennig has given the call to New York-based Filiberto Leon.

Two Item Limit, winner of the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes in May, could benefit from an abundance of early speed in the race. Richard Migliore also will be in from New York to ride.

One longshot possibility is Strike It Up, winner of the Susan's Girl Stakes here June 9.

The Delaware Oaks, which dates to 1938, goes as the eighth of 10 Saturday races. The last filly to win the Delaware Oaks and the Alabama was Runup the Colors in 1997.

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