11/26/2011 5:33PM

Churchill Downs: On Fire Baby romps in Golden Rod

Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs
On Fire Baby, with Joe Johnson aboard, wins the Golden Rod.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Amid the delirium that swirled all around him, Gary "Red Dog" Hartlage calmly pointed to his stable star, On Fire Baby, as she galloped out from her easy triumph Saturday in the Grade 2, $169,350 Golden Rod Stakes.

The winning margin was 6 1/4 lengths, but another furlong past the wire, On Fire Baby was probably twice that ahead of the next filly galloping out from the 1 1/16-mile race.

"Go fill it up!" Hartlage finally exclaimed to the horde of family and friends as they momentarily halted their shrieking and hugging to head from the stands down to the winner's circle.

On Fire Baby, with Joe Johnson aboard for owner-breeder Anita Cauley, surely stamped herself as one of the early favorites for the 138th Kentucky Oaks next May with a resounding score to validate her previous win in the Oct. 30 Pocahontas at Churchill. Always in front, the gray filly scooted away from her closest pursuers after turning for home to quickly put the issue at rest. She returned $7.40 as a slight favorite in a field of 10 2-year-old fillies after finishing in 1:45.98 over a fast track.

Goldrush Girl, a 29-1 shot, rallied from well back to be second, another three-quarters of a length before Back Spin (25-1). Golden History, the 5-2 second choice, was another 2 1/4 lengths back in fourth.

"The plan was to break and go on with her," said Johnson. "When we broke, no one was really gunning for it, so I took advantage of it, and when I called on her to run, she responded. She was very professional today."

Hartlage had said before the Golden Rod that distance would be no problem for On Fire Baby even though her sire is Smoke Glacken, widely known as a progenitor of sprinters and milers. On Fire Baby was produced by Ornate, whom Hartlage also trained, and he insisted that all the offspring of Ornate "can run a long way."

"You saw today how good she is, and I think she's got plenty left in her," said Hartlage, 63. "I've trained a couple of Grade 2 winners, but she's the best one I've ever had."

Hartlage, a perennial favorite among local horseplayers, said On Fire Baby will prepare for the Oaks at his longtime winter base, Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.

On Fire Baby earned $99,747 in becoming the seventh filly to sweep the Pocahontas and Golden Rod, the most recent being Sassy Image in 2009 and Pure Clan in 2007. She now has won 3 of 4 career starts, with her only defeat being a fifth-place finish in her second race, the Grade 1 Alcibiades on the Keeneland Polytrack.

On Fire Baby led a $2 exacta (6-4) that paid $132.80, a $1 trifecta (6-4-1) of $789.40, and a dime superfecta (6-4-1-9) that came back $717.58.