01/21/2017 8:36PM

Farrell takes step toward Kentucky Oaks goal

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Lou Hodges Jr.
Channing Hill rides Farrell to a win in the Silverbulletday Stakes.

NEW ORLEANS – Wayne Catalano started winning races at Fair Grounds decades ago when he was teenager working in his native New Orleans for trainer Jack Van Berg, but until Saturday Catalano had been shut out during the 2016 – 2017 racing season here. That changed in the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes and, even more important than getting off the duck, Catalano sent the 3-year-old filly Farrell out to win what her connections hope was a first step toward the Kentucky Oaks.

“The Kentucky Oaks is our primary race, our goal,” Catalano said.

Farrell, the odds-on favorite, took the lead in upper stretch after tracking pace-setting Gris Gris for most of the trip. She pushed clear under moderate urging from jockey Channing Hill and crossed the line 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Wicked Lick, who got her nose down just ahead of Gris Gris. Summertime Sky finished fourth, while strong second choice Untapped, champion Untapable’s full sister, faded after making a bid past the quarter pole and beat only Seeking Bull. Harkness was an early scratch.

Racing over a muddy, sealed track, Farrell ran one mile, 70 yards in 1:44.01. She paid $3.60 to win.

Catalano trains Farrell for the Coffeepot Stables of Bob Cummings and Annette Bacola, who bred the filly, a daughter of Malibu Moon out of Rebridled Dreams, making her a sister to two Grade 1 winners, Carpe Diem and J.B.’s Thunder. Farrell won two of four starts at age 3, scoring a front-running, six-length win in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 26 to cap her season.

Connections at first targeted the Rachel Alexandra Stakes here next month for Farrell’s 3-year-old debut, but changed course a couple weeks ago. Expecting a fairly limited field, and not wanting to wait another five weeks for the Rachel Alexandra, Catalano decided to point Farrell to the Silverbulletday.

“I was going light on her, and then I had to step it a little bit up, but I thought she would handle it,” Catalano said.

Hill thought he might find himself on the lead with Untapped pressing to his outside, but instead it was Gris Gris who came out running, going her first quarter-mile in 23.80 seconds and her half in 47.67 as Farrell sat a length or so off the pace in second. Farrell edged closer around the turn and caught the leader at the quarter-pole, and, after briefly being caught between horses as Summertime Sky ranged up three wide, she pushed forward, made the front, and proved comfortably best.

“I thought I might be on the lead,” Hill said. “She just settled today even better than the last time. With a horse in front of her I was surprised how well she settled down the backside. I even had to pick her up a little bit around the turn. And then once we turned in for home it was over. She’s all class. I only had to get after her to kind of keep her paying attention.”

If all goes well, Farrell will make her next start Feb. 25 in the Rachel Alexandra, and since she was not pushed on for this start, Catalano expects Farrell to keep coming forward.

“I think she’ll move forward. I really do expect to see more,” Catalano said. “I thought she was my best filly from the beginning.”

Wicked Lick, who had been well beaten by Untapable in a Dec. 23 allowance race here, stayed on decently for second and still seems to be improving. She also is likely to run back in the Rachel Alexandra, and is another horse that could improve through the winter.

“Physically she’s still not quite there yet,” trainer Brendan Walsh said.