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Fair Grounds: Unlimited Budget looks dominant in Oaks
By Jay Privman
NEW ORLEANS -- When Unlimited Budget came here to Fair Grounds last month and won the Rachel Alexandra Stakes, the dominoes started to fall into place for her trainer, Todd Pletcher. He was seeking to keep his elite 3-year-old fillies, including Dreaming of Julia and Princess of Sylmar, separated, and Unlimited Budget made that task easier.
She has returned for the Grade 2, $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, in which she will be strongly favored against six rivals.
"When she went to Fair Grounds and ran well, it just made a lot of sense to take her back," Pletcher said Thursday morning from Florida. "We can keep Dreaming of Julia here, and run Princess of Sylmar in New York."
The Fair Grounds Oaks mirrors the Rachel Alexandra in that both are at 1 1/16 miles. But Unlimited Budget was such a dominating winner of the Rachel Alexandra that only two of her nine rivals in that race are back to try again. The four newcomers include Flashy Gray, who was the 6-1 favorite in the lone Kentucky Oaks future wager pool four weeks ago.
In addition to a first prize of $300,000, the fillies will be after lucrative points toward the Kentucky Oaks on May 3 at Churchill Downs. The Fair Grounds Oaks is worth 170 points overall, and the 100 points to the winner guarantees a spot in the field.
Unlimited Budget already is a two-time stakes winner, having captured the Demoiselle last fall only 15 days after a debut maiden win. Being as she is so lightly raced, Pletcher believes she has plenty of upside.
"I think from the way she's trained she's improved since the Rachel Alexandra," Pletcher said. "She's always acted like she's going to get better the older she gets. She's had a couple of very good breezes since the race."
John Velazquez and Rosie Napravnik rode Unlimited Budget in her prior races, but with both at Gulfstream for the Florida Derby, Javier Castellano has the mount.
Flashy Gray was all the rage in the Kentucky Oaks future wager following a seven-furlong allowance win at Gulfstream on Feb. 10. But in her stakes debut, and first start around two turns, on March 9 in the Honeybee at Oaklawn, she finished second to Rose to Gold as the 2-5 favorite.
So Many Ways, last year's Spinaway winner, suffered the first loss of her career in an overnight stakes race at Gulfstream earlier this month. It was her first start in nearly six months, and she broke poorly. This will be her first try around two turns.
Seaneen Girl makes her first start since a 31-1 upset in the Grade 2 Golden Rod in November at Churchill Downs. She won her debut last June, so she obviously can fire fresh.
Promise Me More and Blue Violet were second and third in the Rachel Alexandra. Both prefer to sit back and make one run.
Blue Violet, a homebred who races for Susan Knoll, is making her fifth start of the meet. She beat maidens before the Rachel Alexandra.
"She's made steady progress," said her trainer, Larry Jones. "She had the best work of her career the other morning. She worked with another horse and kept him at bay whenever he came to her."
Ante Up Annie, a Louisiana-bred, was also entered in the Crescent City Oaks, the preceding race, but will run in the Fair Grounds Oaks, trainer Dallas Stewart said Thursday.
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