07/09/2015 10:56AM

Lovely Maria seeks third straight graded stakes win in Oaks

Barbara D. Livingston
Lovely Maria, winner of the Kentucky Oaks, will be seeking a third straight graded stakes win Saturday in the Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park.

Lovely Maria has blossomed since finishing second to stablemate I’m a Chatterbox in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds in February and comes into the $300,000 Delaware Oaks on Saturday off back-to-back Grade 1 wins in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland and the Kentucky Oaks.

Trainer Larry Jones and owner Brereton Jones plan to use the 1 1/16-mile Delaware Oaks as a stepping-stone to the 1 1/4-mile Alabama on Aug. 22 at Saratoga. They have been down this road before with Proud Spell, who won the Kentucky Oaks, Delaware Oaks, and Alabama in 2008 en route to being named champion 3-year-old filly.

Lovely Maria has put together a record of 8-4-3-0. The only time she finished worse than second came in her final start at 2 in the Trapeze Stakes at Remington Park.

“The weather was bad that night,” Larry Jones said. “We were getting hailed on, there were tornado warnings, and then a strap cut her eye in the race. We had to stay there a few extra days to keep her eye medicated.”

Lovely Maria was not seriously challenged in either the Ashland, which she won by 3 1/4 lengths, or the Kentucky Oaks, which she won by 2 3/4 lengths.

“I think when Lovely Maria left Fair Grounds to go to Keeneland for the Ashland, she was just getting better,” Jones said. “I think she’s just gotten better as the distances got stretched.”

After the Kentucky Oaks, Jones freshened Lovely Maria for a month while keeping her in light training. He said she is ready for the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks, but he is hoping not to empty her tank.

“We are happy with where Lovely Maria is in her training right now,” he said. “We hope she doesn’t have to give 110 percent to win. If she has to, I think she can do it, but I’d rather it not be a gut-wrenching race.”

Lovely Maria will carry the high weight of 122 pounds and concede four to six pounds to her seven rivals. Kerwin Clark, who has been aboard for all her races, will ride.

Jones also entered White Clover, a two-time winner at the Delaware meet, but Lovely Maria’s strongest challenges may come from Danzatrice and Bar of Gold, who finished fourth and sixth in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park last time out, and the Grade 1 winner Peace and War, who showed marked improvement in her East Coast debut.

The others are Calamity Kate, who raced in contention between horses to the stretch of the Acorn before tiring; the 2-for-2 Hip Hop N Jazz; and Milaya, who was fifth in the Our Mims Stakes and since has won a maiden race.

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Key contenders

Lovely Maria (Last 3 Beyers: 94-91-86)

* Lovely Maria is out of the first crop by Majesticperfection, who went 5 for 6 as a 4-year-old in 2010 and stood the 2015 season at Brereton Jones’s Airdrie Stud for a fee of $20,000. Majesticperfection, a son of Harlan’s Holiday, never raced beyond six furlongs, scoring his biggest wins in the Vanderbilt at Saratoga and the Iowa Sprint Handicap.

Danzatrice (Last 3 Beyers: 82-87-68)

Lost her left front shoe in the Acorn, according to trainer Cathal Lynch. He thinks she might have lost it on the far turn when she backed up several lengths. She rallied to finish fourth.

Was impressive in winning her two-turn debut over the Grade 1 winner By the Moon in the Parx Oaks prior to the Acorn.

Bar of Gold (Last 3 Beyers: 72-83-61)

She ran very well to finish sixth of 12 in the Acorn after breaking poorly. Trainer John Kimmel described the race this way: “She got squished back at the start, and then the rider made the decision to engage her, which put her right into the bridle. He settled her at the half-mile pole just when everyone else was getting going. She could never find her rhythm.”

A New York-bred daughter of Medaglia d’Oro bred and owned by Chester and Mary Broman, she was highly impressive in winning her first three starts over statebreds, a Saratoga maiden race and optional-claiming races at Aqueduct in March and April.

Peace and War (Last 3 Beyers: 81-70-61)

Showed tactical speed when second to White Clover in the Our Mims while making her debut for trainer Graham Motion. Made a nice bid to the lead in that race but was outfinished in the final furlong. Might take another step forward here.

John Velazquez picks up the mount.

White Clover (Last 3 Beyers: 84-59-77)

Late bloomer has won her last two starts for Larry Jones, a Delaware allowance and the Our Mims.