03/31/2012 6:00PM

Fair Grounds: Believe You Can hangs on to win Oaks

Lou Hodges Jr.
Believe You Can (right), with Rosie Napravnik riding, leads the field into the stretch on her way to victory in the Fair Grounds Oaks.

NEW ORLEANS - Believe You Can bounced back from a disappointing performance last month in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes, holding up through a taxing pace to win the Grade 2, $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks by a head late Saturday afternoon.

Summer Applause, the 4-5 favorite, rallied determinedly in the final furlong and just missed running down the winner. But Believe You Can had a right to be tired after dueling through extremely fast early fractions of 22.88 seconds for the first quarter-mile and 46.47 for the opening half.

"It was definitely a very hard first half of the race for the filly," said winning rider Rosie Napravnik. "It shows what kind of horse she is."

Believe You Can ($9) impressively won the Silverbulletday Stakes here Jan. 21 while racing on the lead, but when put inside and in tight quarters in the Rachel Alexandra last month, Believe You Can failed to deliver her peak race. So, her connections came into the Fair Grounds Oaks determined to let Believe You Can show her speed after breaking from post 1.

"We wanted to hold our position," said Larry Jones, who trains Believe You Can, a Proud Citizen filly, for owner-breeder Brereton Jones. "We didn't want to be in behind them."

But when longshot maiden Colonial Empress charged forward to challenge for the top spot, the pace turned hot, and on a track that was not carrying speed Saturday the way it had the first two days this racing week, Believe You Can figured to be in some trouble. Instead, she shrugged off Colonial Empress around the far turn, darted away to a clear advantage turning for home, and carried a 3 1/2- length lead to the stretch call. But by then, the early pace had begun to take its toll.

Summer Applause, fourth down the backstretch, appeared to be running for second money in midstretch, but as Believe You Can tired, Summer Applause closed in steadily. The finish line came just before she passed the front-runner.

"It showed the persistence of my filly," said jockey Robby Albarado. "She kept coming and coming and coming, and she almost got there."

Believe You Can, however, was slowing down more than Summer Applause was speeding up: The final half-furlong of the Oaks went in a slow seven seconds. Winning time for 1 1/16 miles on a fast surface producing generally moderate clockings Saturday was 1:43.94.

Disposablepleasure rallied mildly for third, nine lengths behind Summer Applause. She was followed home by Small Kitchen and Colonial Empress.

The top two finishers, their connections said, are likely to make their next start in the Kentucky Oaks.