07/14/2011 1:46PM

Hollywood Park: Bizzy Caroline a filly on the rise

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Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography
Bizzy Caroline, with Manoel Cruz riding, wins the Regret.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. – Month by month through the spring, Bizzy Caroline’s stature rose in trainer Kenneth McPeek’s Kentucky stable. A filly who began the year as a maiden is now worthy of a cross-country trip for her first Grade 1 race in Saturday’s $250,000 American Oaks at Hollywood Park.

Bizzy Caroline’s maiden win at Keeneland in April was followed by a seven-length win in an allowance race at Churchill Downs in May and finally a convincing win by 2 1/4 lengths in the Grade 3 Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 18. All of the races were on turf, the same surface as the American Oaks.

The win in the Regret made the trip to California possible, McPeek said. A win in the American Oaks would put Bizzy Caroline on an even greater career path in late summer and fall, specifically more starts in Grade 1 races.

“She had to win the Regret to justify coming out there,” McPeek said by phone from Kentucky on Thursday.

“She’s always acted like a good filly. She had a shortened 2-year-old campaign when she got injured. We’re really excited about her.”

Bizzy Caroline is part of a field of six in the American Oaks, which is run over 1 1/4 miles and will be the first attempt at that distance for all starters. The field includes the stakes winners Cambina and Star Billing, the stakes-placed runners Entrustment and Love Theway Youare, and Nereid, who is making her first start in a stakes.

The distance should not be an issue for Bizzy Caroline, whose April win at Keeneland was over 1 3/16 miles. A greater concern is the absence of company for expected front-runner Star Billing, which could hamper Bizzy Caroline’s late rally.

Bizzy Caroline led throughout a slow pace to beat maidens, and won from well off the pace with sharp rallies in her last two starts.

“She went to the lead to break her maiden at Keeneland, so she can do that,” McPeek said. “There’s no question that she’s quick. She gallops a long way. Stamina is not an issue.”

Owned by breeder Catesby Clay, Bizzy Caroline has won half of her six starts and $149,497. She will have ample company in the stretch if the American Oaks develops into a half-mile or three-furlong sprint to the wire.

Cambina, who won three turf stakes at Santa Anita earlier this year, is a major threat from off the pace. She won Grade 2 Providencia Stakes over 1 1/8 miles at Santa Anita in April, but was third in two starts in the spring at Hollywood Park – the Grade 3 Senorita Stakes over a mile and a half-length loss in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on June 11.

Cambina is a true closer, leaving trainer Jeff Bonde concerned about a slow pace. “We just have to get a good trip,” he said. “When they go [slow], it’s tough to close on horses. She’s trained excellent. We feel confident where we are with her.”

Star Billing will lead. Trained by John Shirreffs for breeder George Krikorian, Star Billing won the Senorita in her second start. In the Honeymoon, she disputed a slow pace with eventual winner Sarah’s Secret and lost by a half-length as the 9-5 favorite.

Nereid, also trained by Shirreffs, has won a maiden race and an allowance race on turf in her last two starts to earn a spot in the American Oaks.

“She has a nice way of going and gets over the ground really well,” Shirreffs said of Nereid. “Star Billing has a bit of an edge because she’s competed at that level.”

Star Billing will be the filly to catch in the American Oaks, but the presence of Bizzy Caroline and Cambina may prevent a runaway win.