07/03/2017 3:00PM

Ever So Clever, Chanel's Legacy renew rivalry in Iowa Oaks

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Ever So Clever hopes to improve on his ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks.

Ever So Clever and Chanel’s Legacy traded decisions this year at Oaklawn Park, and they are now two of the main players Thursday night in the Grade 3, $200,000 Iowa Oaks as Prairie Meadows kicks off the 2017 Iowa Festival of Racing.

The festival continues Friday with a card featuring the Iowa Derby and on Saturday with the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap. There are supporting stakes on each program, and Thursday’s is the $100,000 Saylorville for older female sprinters. First post Thursday is 6 p.m. Central, with the Oaks scheduled to go at 9:50.

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Ever So Clever, trained by Steve Asmussen and to be ridden Thursday by Mike Smith, was last seen finishing ninth over a sloppy Churchill Downs strip in the Kentucky Oaks.

“It just wasn’t our day,” Asmussen said, offering no excuses.

Until the Oaks, Ever So Clever had progressed nicely this season, peaking with a late-running score over Chanel’s Legacy in the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes on April 14 at Oaklawn.

“She’s training nice, and I hope it’s the right spot,” Asmussen said. “She’s a closer, and hopefully there’s enough pace in the race. I know Prairie Meadows can be speed-favoring at times.”

The Iowa Oaks pace should at least be fair. Tapa Tapa Tapa, the winner of the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, has set or pressed a fast pace in all three of her dirt starts and is drawn on the rail. The stretch-out sprinter Swing and Sway almost has to leave the gate running for position from post 10, and Shane’s Girlfriend has done her best work on the front end.

The potential exists for a taxing early pace, and trainer Lynn Chleborad hopes Chanel’s Legacy isn’t part of it.

Chanel’s Legacy, an Iowa-bred with open-stakes talent, won the Martha Washington Stakes, in which Ever So Clever finished fifth, but it was Chanel’s Legacy whom Ever So Clever clipped past in deep stretch in the Fantasy. Chanel’s Legacy, after a busy winter, got a break following that race and returned with a narrow victory June 8 as the 1-5 favorite in the Panthers Stakes at Prairie Meadows.

“I didn’t train her hard for the Panthers; she had only three works,” Chleborad said. “She came out of that race real well. I think she’s ready for a good effort. Her best races have been when she’ll sit right back of the speed, and that’s what I’m hoping will happen.”

Shane’s Girlfriend shipped from California to Prairie Meadows over the weekend and makes her first start since finishing fifth Feb. 25 as the 7-5 favorite in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds. That race came after a distant third behind Unique Bella in the Santa Ynez, but Shane’s Girlfriend ran as well as any of her Thursday rivals when she romped in the Delta Princess last December.

“We just needed to back off and freshen her up,” trainer Doug O’Neill said. “She’s training really well, so we’re optimistic.”

Chanteline could wire Saylorville

Chanteline had been making good progress this year as a 5-year-old until she ran into a wall of water in Baltimore. Racing over a sloppy track in the May 19 Skipat Stakes, Chanteline dueled and faded to fourth.

“That was a deluge,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “Those were circumstances you can’t recreate.”

Bouncing back to the form she showed at Oaklawn Park, Chanteline has a good chance to lead all the way in the $100,000 Saylorville, a six-furlong sprint for older fillies. Smith has the mount on a mare who had paired up career-best 88 Beyer Speed Figures in her two races before the Skipat.

“She’s a good sprinter who has matured very nicely,” Asmussen said.

I’m a Looker, purchased privately last fall, makes her first start for trainer Brad Cox, who said she’s fit enough for a representative effort. Thoughtless comfortably won the Prairie Rose Stakes in the local Saylorville prep and also rates a chance.