02/22/2013 5:20PM

Oaklawn: On Fire Baby working toward return


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. − It’s like she never left.

On Fire Baby was nestled in her old stall at Oaklawn on Friday, and come Sunday she’ll be back breezing over the same track on which she won last year’s Honeybee before going on to run fifth in the Kentucky Oaks.

On Fire Baby has been in Ocala, Fla., gearing up for a 4-year-old campaign that could be launched at Oaklawn. Anita Cauley, her owner, and Gary Hartlage, her trainer, said On Fire Baby will dictate when she returns, with more to be known in a month or so. On Fire Baby has been in training at Eisaman Equine since Jan. 1 and is scheduled to breeze a half-mile Sunday.

“She’ll probably go a slow half and gallop out five-eighths,” Hartlage said. “She’ll tell us where we’re at in about a month.”

On Fire Baby last raced in May, finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont Park. She was given time off after she was found to have some inflammation in one of her stifles, Hartlage said.

“She probably jumped up and kicked something,” he said.

‘Sophia’ targeting Azeri

On Fire Baby is part of a strong cast of older fillies and mares based at Oaklawn. Don’t Tell Sophia has established herself as the local kingpin with wins in the $75,000 Pippin on Jan. 19 and the $100,000 Bayakoa on Feb. 16. She won those races by a combined 14 lengths, and for her most recent score she earned a career-high Beyer Figure of 100.

Phil Sims, who trains Don’t Tell Sophia, said she has thrived at Oaklawn. He also noted she has not really had the chance to consistently race on dirt until recent times. Don’t Tell Sophia is 4 for 4 on dirt. Earlier in her career she was a regular on turf and synthetic tracks, with some of those starts coming at her usual base of Keeneland.

“She did break her maiden on the turf, at Indiana Downs, but it wasn’t her forte,” Sims said.

Sims said Don’t Tell Sophia is being pointed for the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri at Oaklawn on March 16. From there, the hope is that she will advance to the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom, the division’s chief prize at Oaklawn. The race is April 12.

Tiz Miz Sue, who was third in the Bayakoa in her first start since October, has the Apple Blossom as her goal this meet, trainer Steve Hobby said. But first, he said, is the Azeri.

“We’ve got the Azeri, and then I’m hoping her third race is her best race,” Hobby said of the Apple Blossom.

A newcomer to the local filly and mare ranks is Songs and Sonnets, who was an eight-length allowance winner at Oaklawn on Jan. 31. She won the one-mile race in 1:38.40 and earned a career-high Beyer Figure of 90.

“We’re hoping we can make the Azeri,” said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Songs and Sonnets for Pin Oak Stable. “It’s still a ways out there.”

Songs and Sonnets, who is 4, is a daughter of Unbridled’s Song and the multiple Grade 3 winner Bedanken.

Options for Alternation

Alternation, who won five stakes last year including the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, is nearing a return to action after being freshened following a sixth-place finish in the Grade 2 Hawthorne Gold Cup on Oct. 6. His latest work came Feb. 18 at Oaklawn, when he went six furlongs from the gate in 1:13.20.

Donnie Von Hemel trains Alternation and said he is possible for either the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup at 1 1/8 miles at Sam Houston next Saturday, March 2, or the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback Handicap at 1 1/16 miles at Oaklawn on March 9.

“It’s just too early to decide,” he said Friday.

Alternation went over $1 million in earnings last year, when his wins included the Razorback, the Grade 3 Pimlico Special, and the $200,000 Governor’s Cup at Remington. He races for Pin Oak.

◗ Channel Isle, who was fourth in the Southwest last Monday at Oaklawn, is under consideration for Kentucky Derby preps around the country, including the Spiral at Turfway, said his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas. “A mile and an eighth is a better option for him now,” he said.

◗ Pure Fun, who last week at Gulfstream had her first breeze since winning the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet on Dec. 8, remains possible for the Grade 3, $150,000 Honeybee at Oaklawn on March 9, said her trainer, Ken McPeek. “We’re going to try to make it,” he said. “If not, then we’ll probably point for the Fantasy or the Ashland.”

◗ Jockey Calvin Borel has the mount on Rose to Gold in the Honeybee, said her trainer, Sal Santoro. Broken Spell is being pointed for the race, according to her trainer, Lukas.