04/07/2011 2:28PM

Keeneland: Kathmanblu gets rider switch to Alan Garcia for Ashland


LEXINGTON, Ky. – When trainer Ken McPeek decided to bypass the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks with the star filly Kathmanblu, the direct beneficiary was Keeneland – and, quite possibly, jockey Alan Garcia.

Kathmanblu, with Garcia taking over for regular rider Julien Leparoux, will try to extend her winning streak to four Saturday when she takes on eight other 3-year-old fillies as the 9-5 morning-line favorite in a very interesting 74th running of the Grade 1, $400,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland.

LIVE KEENELAND VIDEO: Watch opening-day card and Ashland Stakes on DRF.com

Garcia got the mount only after Leparoux and his agent, Steve Bass, already had committed to ride Dancinginherdreams in the Ashland after thinking that Kathmanblu would run instead at Fair Grounds, as had been the plan. But McPeek switched things up, necessitating a change of riders.

“We’d kind of waffled between running in New Orleans, staying to run in Florida, or waiting for the Ashland,” said McPeek, who was based at Gulfstream Park through the winter. “The Grade 1 for the Ashland is the main reason we’re here. We feel like she deserves a chance to win one. I’m pretty well optimistic because the filly’s doing super.”

Leparoux, fresh from a victory in the $1 million Florida Derby last weekend with Dialed In, might well have landed in the right spot anyway. Dancinginherdreams looked sensational in going 2 for 2 last fall in Kentucky, and after two decent races in Florida, trainer John T. Ward Jr. is looking for the gray filly to thrive at the distance of the Ashland, which goes at 1 1/16 miles on Polytrack. She is the close 2-1 second choice on the Keeneland program.

“The two turns is what we’ve been working toward all along with her,” said Ward.

Dancinginherdreams will start from post 5, with Kathmanblu right alongside in post 6.

The Ashland winner, and often some of the fillies in closest chase, typically advances to the Kentucky Oaks. Kathmanblu closed as the 7-2 favorite in the only Oaks futures pool (March 18-20) offered this year by Churchill Downs, while Dancinginherdreams and three other Ashland runners – Dancing Mary, Bouquet Booth, and Wyomia – also were deemed good enough to be listed as separate wagering interests. That overall depth strongly suggests the Ashland could be a key producer for the 137th Oaks on May 6 at Churchill.

Mark Casse, trainer of Dancing Mary, said a good effort Saturday would validate his Oaks hopes. Dancing Mary ended 2010 by finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, then won a March 14 exhibition race in Ocala in her only start since. She will start from post 4 with Shaun Bridgmohan riding.

“Shaun said the filly struggled a lot with the track in Ocala,” said Casse. “I thought about going straight to the Oaks, but she moved real well over the surface at Keeneland in her work last weekend, so we’re going to give this a shot. If our filly brings her ‘A’ game, I actually think they could have her to beat.”

The others in the Ashland lineup are Lilacs and Lace, Grand Style, Draw It, and Excited.

The Ashland, which dates to 1936, has been won by such greats as Bewitch (1948), Princess Rooney (1983), Go for Wand (1990), and Silverbulletday (1999). The 2010 winner was Evening Jewel, ridden by Kent Desormeaux. Evening Jewel is expected back here Thursday for the Grade 1, $300,000 Vinery Madison.

The Ashland goes as the ninth of 10 races, with post time set for 5:23 p.m. Eastern. First post is 1:15. TVG will provide extensive onsite coverage throughout the day, with live streaming of the entire card available on DRF.com.

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