04/02/2011 6:23PM

Gulfstream Oaks romp solidifies R Heat Lightning's Kentucky Oaks credentials

Adam Coglianese
John Velazquez caps off a five-win day for trainer Todd Pletcher by riding R Heat Lightning to an easy victory in the Gulfstream Oaks.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -  R Heat Lightning may have established herself as the favorite for next month’s Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs with a dominant 8 1/4-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 2, $300,000 Gulfstream Oaks at Gulfstream Park.

 Island School finished second, by four lengths over Salary Drive. It was another 10 lengths back to Its Tricky, the 8-5 second choice, who was followed in the order of finish by Kindersley, Triune, and Beso Grande.

 The victory came one race after R Heat Lightning’s stablemate, the 4-year-old Awesome Maria, won the Grade 2, $150,000 Rampart Stakes by eight lengths. Both horses are owned by Joyce Robsham and trained by Todd Pletcher.

 The Gulfstream Oaks victory capped a five-win day at Gulfstream for Pletcher, equaling his personal best at this track. On March 31, 2007, Pletcher won five races here, including the Florida Derby, Orchid Handicap, and Skip Away Stakes. John Velazquez won four races on Saturday’s card, all for Pletcher, who ran 10 horses in eight races.

 R Heat Lightning’s Gulfstream Oaks victory came five weeks after she won the Grade 2 Davona Dale by 7 1/4 lengths. Because R Heat Lightning finished fourth in the Forward Gal earlier in the meet, she is not eligible for a $2.2 million bonus tied into winning the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico on May 20. She is, however, eligible for a $225,000 bonus if she wins that race.

 But, Pletcher said “assuming she comes out of this well’’ it is more likely R Heat Lightning will make her next start in the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks on May 6.

 The Gulfstream Oaks was the first start at 1 1/8 miles for R Heat Lightning, a daughter of Trippi out of the Gold Fever mare Yellow Heat. Both Pletcher and Velazquez felt that R Heat Lightning could get the distance provided she was able to relax early, something that was problematic during her 2-year-old season when she won the Grade 1 Spinaway but finished second in the Frizette and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.

 “The main thing Johnny and I talked about was if we could get her to relax a little bit,’’ Pletcher said. “She wants to pull, but she settled really nicely. The fractions were fast, obviously, but she settled beautifully.’’

 R Heat Lightning was forced four-wide entering the first turn and continued to race wide down the backstretch about two lengths off the pace while Triune set fractions of 23.26 seconds, 46.32, and 1:10.97.

 R Heat Lightning, on her own, moved toward the leaders and took command just outside the quarter pole. Velazquez just needed a mild hand ride to guide R Heat Lightning to the wire. She covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.27 and returned $3.20 as the 3-5 favorite.

“She settled right way, when she leaves she wants to go right away and I had my hands down and she settled and I said `this is a good sign,’ ” Velazquez said.