Updated on 07/08/2011 1:47PM

Delaware: Surface a key factor in Oaks

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Will the affinity All for Thee and Snow Fall have shown for Delaware Park’s main track be enough to overcome the classy company St. John’s River has kept in Kentucky and Louisiana?

The answer will come when the trio of 3-year-old fillies meet for the first time in Saturday’s Grade 2, $300,000 Delaware Oaks. The Oaks, at 1 1/16 miles, caps a stakes tripleheader that features the Grade 3 Robert Dick Memorial Handicap for fillies and mares on turf and the $100,000 Barbaro for 3-year-olds on dirt.

St. John’s River has been made the 7-5 favorite in the seven-horse field for the Oaks, based on runner-up finishes in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks and in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, in which she was beaten a neck. Two of the fillies who finished behind her, Zazu (third) and Summer Soiree (10th), came back to win their next starts, in the Grade 2 Hollywood Oaks and Grade 3 Boiling Springs at Monmouth Park.

Louisiana-based trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. said he is confident St. John’s River, who has been getting acclimated at Delaware since June 16, will adapt to the surface.

“The track is a little bit looser and cuppier than I like, but I think she will adjust to it fine,” Leggio said. “We really like this filly, and she is training real well, so I think she we will run a big race.”

Her full sister, Panty Raid, won the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at 1 1/8 miles on dirt, the Grade 1 American Oaks at 1 1/4 miles on turf, and the Grade 1 Spinster at 1 1/8 miles on Polytrack, all in 2007.

“The further she went, the better she got, and this girl is sort of following the same path as Panty Raid,” Leggio said.

Jose Lezcano will replace the injured Rosie Napravnik as the rider for St. John’s River.

A good performance in the Delaware Oaks could send St. John’s River to the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, a 1 1/4-mile race at Saratoga on Aug. 20.

 

“We want to get through this race, but I do have my eye on the Alabama," Leggo said. "If she comes out of this race good and runs well, we will probably go to the Alabama.”

 

Since the Delaware Oaks was reinstituted as part of the Delaware Park stakes schedule in 1996, five fillies, including the last three, have won the Delaware Oaks and followed with a victory in the Alabama Stakes. They are Blind Luck (2010), Careless Jewel (2009), Proud Spell (2008), Island Fashion (2003), and Runup the Colors (1997). Both Blind Luck and Proud Spell won the year-end Eclipse Award for 3-year-old fillies.

All for Thee comes into the Oaks on a three-race winning streak, including her second straight win at Delaware in last month’s Go for Wand. Her trainer, 53-year-old Maryland native Tony Dutrow, has won more than a dozen Delaware Park stakes and  numerous notable stakes on the national level, but has never won the Delaware Oaks or the Delaware Handicap. Last year, Dutrow looked like a winner in the Delaware Oaks when Havre de Grace took the lead in deep stretch, but she was beaten in the final jump at the wire by Blind Luck. The Delaware Oaks has always been a race that Dutrow has wanted to win.

 

“You bet,” he said. “The best 3-year-olds in the country came for the Delaware Oaks. It is a special race and even more so to me because I grew up with this race. We were just beaten a small nose by Blind Luck last year and I hope All for Thee can put us on the list of really really nice fillies that have won the Oaks.”

Dutrow is optimistic All for Thee is sitting on a big race.

"She has been progressing very well and she is in great shape," Dutrow said. "She has to prove she is this kind of filly, but she is absolutely worthy of the opportunity to prove herself and we think she is going to run good."

Snow Fall, trained by Mike Stidham, scored by 3 3/4 lengths in the off-the-turf Pine Creek overnight stakes in her Delaware debut in May. She regressed racing over a muddy track in the Grade 1 Acorn last time out.