04/12/2006 12:00AM

Fantasy a step to Oaks for Ex Caelis


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Ex Caelis, who closed out her 2-year-old season in the Breeders' Cup, is one of several promising fillies expected to use Friday's Grade 2, $250,000 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park as a springboard to the Kentucky Oaks.

The 1 1/16-mile race drew eight 3-year-old fillies, among them Quiet Kim, the runner-up in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks; Brownie Points, a multiple stakes winner; Sweet Idea, who has won her last three starts by more than 30 lengths combined; and the promising Ready to Please, Sweet Fervor, and Miss Norman.

The Oaks is the goal for the comebacking Ex Caelis, said her trainer, D. Wayne Lukas. Since running in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies in October, she has had a small bone chip removed from an ankle. For her return, Ex Caelis shows a series of strong works, among them a six-furlong move in 1:13.20 at Churchill Downs on March 29.

"We realize this is a tough coming-out party for her, but on the other hand, I think she's pretty talented and special," said Lukas.

Lukas said he likes the transition Ex Caelis has made from 2 to 3. Last year, she won her maiden at Saratoga and then ran second in two graded stakes, including the Grade 2 Alcibiades at Keeneland.

"She's stronger, bigger, and better mentally, too," he said. "She's doing very, very well."

Ex Caelis will break from post 7 under John Jacinto.

"She'll lay midpack," said Lukas.

Brownie Points captured the $50,000 Martha Washington here Feb. 24. One start later, she finished second by three lengths to Ermine in the $75,000 Honeybee on March 25.

"I think we ran into a filly who ran a big race that day, and our filly, she ran her race," said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Brownie Points.

Ermine is scheduled to make her next start in the Kentucky Oaks.

Von Hemel said he believes there is adequate pace to fuel Brownie Points's late run Friday.

Ready to Please is looking for her third straight win as she moves into stakes company off a maiden score and an entry-level allowance win, both at Gulfstream Park.

"This will be the first time long for her, so we think she'll be forwardly placed," said her trainer, Todd Pletcher, "But she is pretty adaptable. At least sprinting, she's been on the lead and just off the pace as well. So, she's pretty versatile."

Stewart Elliott will ride Ready to Please.

The Fantasy is part of the Racing Festival of the South, during which at least one stakes a day is run over the final week of racing at Oaklawn.