Updated on 09/15/2011 1:50PM

Reine de Romance in 'a whole new ball game'

Benoit & Associates
Affluent looms one of the horses to beat in Saturday's Del Mar Oaks.

DEL MAR, Calif. - Winning the Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap at Del Mar on July 29 was the perfect spot for Reine de Romance's stakes debut. She had an ideal trip and was clearly best against seven others, drawing off to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

The San Clemente was a key test for Reine de Romance before Saturday's $300,000 Del Mar Oaks, which is shaping up as a vintage running. The Grade 1 Oaks, run over 1 1/8 miles on turf, brings together California's top 3-year-old turf fillies, along with Voodoo Dancer, the division leader from New York.

The scope of the task at hand is not lost on trainer Jenine Sahadi, who has developed Reine de Romance from a maiden winner in the last 3 1/2 months.

"I was thrilled with the way she ran, but she'll have to get better," Sahadi said. "It's a whole new ball game."

The Oaks features four graded stakes winners - including Affluent, Voodoo Dancer, and Innit; two stakes-placed fillies - Live Your Dreams and Golden Apples; and allowance-race winners Blushing Ballerina and Desiraes My Candy. Voodoo Dancer, one of two shippers, will be a strong favorite, seeking her third consecutive stakes win and fourth of the year. Trained in New York by Christophe Clement, Voodoo Dancer had already conquered a California stakes this year: On May 28, she won the Flawlessly Stakes at Hollywood Park by a convincing 2 1/2 lengths.

Voodoo Dancer was considered for the $250,000 Honeymoon Handicap on July 1, which was won by Innit in a photo over Live Your Dreams. Instead, Voodoo Dancer started in a division of the Grade 3 Lake George Stakes at Saratoga on July 30, winning by 4 1/2 lengths as a heavy favorite.

"Voodoo Dancer is tough," Sahadi said. "If she handles the trip, she'll be tough." Reine de Romance may be the second choice in the betting, closely followed by Affluent, the winner of the Hollywood Oaks, and Live Your Dreams.

Trained by Neil Drysdale, Live Your Dreams made her stakes debut in the Honeymoon, losing by a neck to Innit. Live Your Dreams could have started in the San Clemente but ran a day earlier in the restricted Sandy Blue Stakes, which she won as a heavy favorite by a half-length.

"I'm very pleased with her," Drysdale said. "We wanted to have a nice easy race for her because she had a hard race the previous time. I think we succeeded in doing that.

"We felt it would be good to have a confidence-booster. Some of the 3-year-old fillies are improving, and I'm hoping she's improving with them."

Ron McAnally, who through Thursday had struggled with one winner at the Del Mar meeting, has two starters in Affluent and Innit. Affluent will be ridden by Eddie Delahoussaye, who was aboard for the Oaks. Several of the other leading contenders will have new jockeys because many top riders are engaged to ride the Arlington Million program.

Brice Blanc replaces Jerry Bailey on Voodoo Dancer; Tyler Baze rides Innit for the first time; and Victor Espinoza rides Live Your Dreams, whom he rode to a second behind Affluent in an allowance race on turf at Hollywood Park in May.

David Flores has the ride on Reine de Romance.

"I think David is doing so well," Sahadi said. "I think he rides the grass well. I've asked him to watch the tapes of her races. She needs a little finesse."

Sahadi needs Flores to do his homework. Any edge might be the difference in the Del Mar Oaks.

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