04/01/2017 6:48PM

Salty secures spot in Kentucky Oaks by dominating Gulfstream Park Oaks

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Barbara D. Livingston
Salty, under Joel Rosario, wins the Gulfstream Park Oaks by 4 1/4 lengths.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - With an impressive four-wide move around the far turn, Salty went from maiden winner to Kentucky Oaks contender with an emphatic 4 1/4-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks.

Making her first start against winners and first around two turns, Salty, under Joel Rosario, was second-to-last down the backstretch. She began moving at the six-furlong pole, made a four-wide bid for the lead at the five-sixteenths pole and kept on going through the lane to win going away as the even-money favorite.

Tequilita, the Grade 2 Forward Gal winner on Feb. 4, rallied for second, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Jordan’s Henny. She was followed, in order, by Nonna Bella, Modacious, Conquest Sorceror, Spring Mist, and Shezaprado.

The win was worth 100 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Oaks for Salty, a daughter of Quality Road. The $1 million Oaks, on May 5 at Churchill Downs, is limited to 14 starters. Points may come into play after it was revealed this week the division-leading Unique Bella would miss the Oaks due to injury.

Mark Casse, the trainer of Salty, also lost a potential Oaks contender in Valadorna, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up. Casse said that Valadorna fractured a hind ankle during a workout at Keeneland on Saturday morning and will be out several months. Valadorna had been pointing to next Saturday’s Grade 1 Ashland.

Owner Gary Barber purchased a majority interest in Salty following a second-place finish in the filly’s debut here on Feb. 4. In her first start for Casse and Barber, Salty won a seven-furlong maiden race by 2 1/2 lengths.

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Casse was confident that Salty would be able to get two turns in the Gulfstream Oaks. He just was a bit surprised to see Salty so far back in the early stages.

“We were back a little farther than I thought we would be,” Casse said.

Rosario said he may have moved a little early, but said he was cognizant of the fact the Oaks ends at the first finish line.

“She broke nice, there was a good pace in front of her, I got her going in the middle of the race because I’m always thinking about the first wire,” Rosario said. “I felt very confident. I was in a good spot. It was time to get her up there. They were coming back to me at that point. When I got there, it looked like it was only her. She made a nice move.”

Salty covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.91 and returned $4.

“I was a little nervous about it,” Casse said. “Even afterward, Joel said, ‘Maybe I moved a little early.’ But she’s extremely talented as everyone saw today. We’re excited just to have her.”

While Salty will move on to the Kentucky Oaks, a decision will be made later regarding Tequilita. Tequilita, ridden by Luis Saez, had a three-race winning streak snapped in the Gulfstream Oaks, her first try around two turns.

Trainer Michael Matz said that Saez told him Salty “went by him too fast” around the turn. “He said he wanted to wait a little longer to move,” Matz added. “He said he didn’t think there was a problem with distance.”

Matz said he would wait a little while before making a decision regarding the Oaks with Tequilita, owned and bred by his wife, Dorothy.

“She doesn’t have to go,” Michael Matz said. “If we decide to do the Oaks at least she’s had a nice prep and she wasn’t going the wrong way.”