03/26/2015 12:26PM

Gulfstream Oaks sets the bar higher

Michael Amoruso
Ekati's Phaeton (right) hangs on to beat Birdatthewire and Eskenformoney in the Davona Dale. The three are rematched in the Gulfstream Oaks.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. – A game Ekati’s Phaeton held off Birdatthewire and Eskenformoney in last month’s Grade 2 Davona Dale, with only two necks separating the trio of 3-year-old fillies.

The dynamics change significantly when a second turn and an additional sixteenth of a mile are factored into the rematch among the three in Saturday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Gulfstream Oaks at Gulfstream Park. The field goes even deeper than those three, with Devine Aida, a winner of four straight, supplemented to the race and the return of the graded stakes winner Cristina’s Journey.

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Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won four of the last five runnings of this race, believes the two turns and 1 1/16 miles of the Oaks should benefit his filly Eskenformoney, who stalked Ekati’s Phaeton all the way around the one-turn mile of the Davona Dale. She was unable to pass her while succumbing late to Birdatthewire.

“The way the track was playing in the one-turn races, you needed to be involved, so I thought she put herself in a good tactical position,” Pletcher said. “It was just hard to run by anybody that day in the one-turn races. I feel like, and I’ve always felt like, she’ll appreciate [longer distances]. She’s put forth three very good efforts here.”

Beginning in 2010, Pletcher has won this race with Devil May Care, R Heat Lightning (2011), Dreaming of Julia (2013) and In Tune (2014). Pletcher did not have a starter in this race in 2012.

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Eskenformoney (Last 3 Beyers: 87-82-75)

◗ After beginning her career with four losses on turf, she now has two wins and two narrow defeats on dirt, with ascending Beyer Speed Figures in each start.

◗ She has shown an affinity for this track, with two dominant victories in one-turn, one-mile races before her half-length loss in the Davona Dale.

◗ She was beaten a nose in a Keeneland maiden race in her only dirt start around two turns.

Birdatthewire (Last 3 Beyers: 88-87-78)

◗ Weaved her way through traffic, then tipped widest of all when falling a neck short to Ekati’s Phaeton in the Davona Dale.

◗ She owns a win, a second, and a fourth in three tries around two turns.

“She’s a unique filly that you can do just about anything with,” trainer Dale Romans said.

Devine Aida (Last 3 Beyers: 82-77-71)

◗ She has won four consecutive races, her last two since getting Lasix.

◗ She has won two stakes at this meet, one on turf and one in the off-the-turf Herecomesthebride Stakes, run over a sloppy track.

“We are very respectful of the competition,” said David Merida, assistant to trainer Ramon Morales. “But she’s doing awesome, especially based on her last two workouts. We were very impressed.”

Ekati’s Phaeton (Last 3 Beyers: 88-79-86)

◗ She has won graded stakes at six furlongs and a one-turn mile at this meet. Now, she must prove herself around two turns.

“She’s a very game horse,” trainer Bill Kaplan said. “Combine that with fantastic speed, and they’re very dangerous. Now, the whole thing is if she can relax the first part so she can get two turns.”

◗ She may have to deal with some early pressure from Cristina’s Journey, the front-running winner of the Grade 2 Pocahontas who makes first start in four months.