07/03/2014 10:10AM

Joint Return heads difficult field in Delaware Oaks

Joint Return, the winner of the Our Mims Stakes, may prove to have the most upside in the field Saturday in the Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park.

There are a lot of contradictions within the past performances of Saturday’s Grade 2 Delaware Oaks. The horses that have run the best are lacking in other areas. The fastest horse in the field has only faced Pennsylvania-bred sprinters. And then there is the ThistleDown shipper likely to lead the field on a merry chase for as long as she can.

The most proven horse in the $300,000 Oaks is Joint Return, trained by John Servis. She has won 5 of 8 starts, including three modest stakes, and had an excuse when fourth in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan, a race that has produced half of the eight-horse Delaware Oaks field.

In the Susan, Joint Return’s rider, Kendrick Carmouche, briefly lost his right stirrup leaving the gate. Consequently, Joint Return was last by three or four lengths by the time the 11-horse field reached the first turn of the 1 1/8-mile race. She ran well thereafter but had too much to do and was beaten 4 3/4 lengths. She tuned up for this by winning the one-mile Our Mims Stakes at Delaware in a sharp effort.

The knock on Joint Return, a daughter of the route runner Include, is that her lifetime-high Beyer Speed Figure is a 77, and that just won’t get the job done here.

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“She’s improved a little bit in every race,” Servis said. “And going by her pedigree, that’s what she should be doing. As long as she keeps winning, I don’t care what the numbers are. I’m very happy with her. She’s getting bigger and bigger. She’s growing like a weed.”

Vero Amore ran what may be the best race of anyone in the field of the 1 1/16-mile Oaks when second by a neck to Stopchargingmaria in the Susan. She stalked the front-running Image of Anna that day, took the lead, then battled the length of the stretch with the winner before coming up a neck short. The negative for the Butch Reid-trained daughter of Mineshaft is that she is 0 for 6 this year with three seconds.

Fortune Pearl finished third in the Susan, 2 3/4 lengths behind Vero Amore. She held her position that day but couldn’t close on the top pair. Trainer Graham Motion has her based at Delaware Park and has put four works into her since.

Many people are going to discount Pixie Dust because her four career starts have come at Parx and Penn National, all have been against Pennsylvania-breds, and she never has raced beyond 6 1/2 furlongs. She has the high Beyer in the field, an 88 – a number she has run in her last two starts.

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The thing about Pixie Dust is she has been sprinting like a horse who wants to go longer. She settles early and finishes late.

“She has exhibited that she wants to go two turns,” said her trainer, Chuck Lawrence. “We’ve worked her five furlongs a couple of times over the synthetic at Fair Hill. That track is seven furlongs, so you gallop out around a second turn when you do that. She has that experience.”

The pace in the Oaks should be quick. Image of Anna is fast, as is ThistleDown shipper Honey’s Ryan, who will be stretching out from six furlongs. If Honey’s Ryan runs off, it could stretch the field out into a parade. It could also compromise the chances of Image of Anna. Trainer Rick Violette said he thinks she’ll relax if there’s somebody faster, and he likely will find out Saturday.

The other entrants are Lady Paradime, a two-time allowance winner this season for Kelly Breen, and Aibhilin, who has made only one sprint start this year for trainer Cathal Lynch.

Having said all this, the Oaks could be a coming-out party for Joint Return. The sustained runs she has made in her last two starts point her out as a nice prospect on the upswing.

Because Pixie Dust is so tractable, she should be able to work out a nice trip for herself regardless of the pace. Vero Amore also will play a big part here if she can repeat her Black-Eyed Susan effort.