01/04/2011 3:49PM

Equipment change led to Lilacs and Lace's improved effort in Oaks

Vassar Photography
Lilacs and Lace draws off to win the California Oaks under jockey Russell Baze.

ALBANY, Calif. – Trainer Duane Offield was confident about two things going into last Saturday’s California Oaks.

He was sure Lilacs and Lace would appreciate the 1 1/16-mile distance and that by taking her blinkers off she’d conserve a little energy early.

He was right on both counts.

There was one thing he wasn’t quite as confident about: beating the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Cathy’s Crunches, who had won all three of her starts at Golden Gate Fields, each in a stakes.

“Jerry’s filly is going to be tough,” Offield said before entering Lilacs and Lace in the Oaks. “I’m hoping one day we’ll get a little racing luck and beat her. You can’t beat her sitting in the barn.”

Cathy’s Crunches took the lead and slowed things down, relaxing nicely under Chad Schvaneveldt. In second position early under jockey Russell Baze, Lilacs and Lace also relaxed, unlike in previous starts when she pressed a bit early.

“She relaxed much better today,” Baze said after the race. “She pulled too hard last time. Duane and I talked, and he took the blinkers off. It worked.”

Offield admitted he wasn’t looking at the fractions during the running of the race but was concentrating on his filly.

“At the top of the lane, I thought she’d be second,” Offield said. “At the eighth pole, Russell got her out and went to work on her, and I thought, ‘This is going to be closer than I thought.’ ”

Baze confessed after the race, “I thought I was riding for second money. I didn’t think there was any way we could run her down.”

Cathy’s Crunches wasn’t stopping, but as Baze let Lilacs and Lace drift out into the clear, she kicked into a new gear, surged past the leader and was 1 1/2 lengths in front at the finish.

Schvaneveldt was as surprised by the outcome as Baze and Offield.

“I had everything my own way and she laid her body down when I asked her in the stretch,” Schvaneveldt said. “I couldn’t believe the other filly ran us down, and she went by us pretty easy. I have no excuses.”

Offield said after watching the finish that he’s confident the Judy Hicks and Kathryn Nikkel homebred filly by Flower Alley out of the Seattle Slew mare Refinement can “go a mile-and-eighth or whatever.”

Lilacs and Lace’s victory was the first step in qualifying for the $2.2  million Black-Eyed Susan bonus and will likely lead her to the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, a $250,000 race at 1 1/16 miles on March 5 since there are no other opportunities for her to run in Northern California.

Offield says it’s “very important” to have a specific race to train to and says he will calculate a work and travel schedule for the filly.

“She’s fit,” he said. “She’s easy to do things with. She’ll go as fast as we want her to go. It’s always been a plus with her that she relaxes in her works and finishes strong.”

Game to Run euthanized

Game to Run was sitting in third, cruising down the backstretch of the Oaks, when she apparently took a bad step and had to be pulled up. She sustained a condylar fracture of her right front cannon bone, according to California Horse Racing Board veterinarian Dr. Forrest Franklin, and was euthanized.

“I don’t even know how it happened,” said her trainer, Bill Delia. “I never dreamed something like that might happen. It’s a devastating loss.”

Game to Run, owned and bred by Patricia Ford, had dead-heated for second with Lilacs and Lace behind Cathy’s Crunches in the Dec. 4 Corte Madera. Prior to the Oaks, she had one win and three seconds in five career starts and had graduated on the turf. Before the race Delia said he thought the filly would eventually excel on the grass.

“I liked her from day one and told Patricia that she was the best runner so far from her mare,” said Delia.

All-sources handle drops 13 percent

All-sources handle for the 42-day Golden Gate Fields 2010 fall meet fell 13.8 percent compared with the 42-day 2009 meet.

All-sources handle, including account wagering, out-of-state, and satellite wagers, fell from $136,633,393 in 2009 to $117,688,519 in 2010, a daily average of $2,802,107.

Ontrack handle on Golden Gate’s live races declined 21.5 percent, with $5,977,415 being wagered compared with $7,620,862 in 2009. The average daily ontrack handle on live races was $142,319.

The all-sources ontrack handle, including incoming simulcasts, fell 16 percent from $17,259,602 to $14,489,746, dropping to an average of $344,994 per day.

Ontrack attendance declined 8.7  percent from 90,856 to 82,919, an average of 1,974 per day.