09/16/2010 12:15PM

Shippers take on local talent in Charles Town Oaks

Christiana Scavuzzo/Equi-Photo
Belle of the Hall (above) narrowly beat Derwin's Star in the Jostle in June.

Belle of the Hall and Derwin’s Star, separated by less than a length when they met three months ago in a $200,000 stakes, challenge queen of the West Virginia-bred fillies Down Town Allen in the $400,000 Charles Town Oaks on Saturday.

The seven-furlong Oaks, the richest sprint for 3-year-old fillies in the country, headlines a four-stakes card that begins at 6 p.m. Eastern and includes two other six-figure races, the Miss Shenandoah and the Charles Town Juvenile.

The Oaks field lost one contender on Friday when it was announced Richiegirlgonewild, winner of the Grade 3 Old Hat at Gulfstream in January, would be scratched, leaving a field of nine.

Belle of the Hall, based in New York with trainer Tom Albertrani, is likely to be favored in the Oaks (race 10) on the basis of her 3-for-4 record, highlighted by a three-quarter-length triumph over Derwin’s Star when they met in the Jostle at what then was called Philadelphia Park in mid-June. In her only subsequent start, Belle of the Hall got bumped coming out of the gate and never got involved in the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga.

“She tried to get out a little bit in her last race, but it wasn’t something we had issues with before with her," Albertrani said.

Although Belle of the Hall has raced twice at seven furlongs, Saturday's Oaks will be the first time she will be going around two turns.

"You never know for certain how they’ll handle it, but you don’t know until you try,' Albertrani said.

Derwin’s Star set the pace and led until deep stretch of the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks, a race won by the nation’s leading 3-year-old filly, Blind Luck. She then regressed 30 points on the Beyer Speed Figure scale when seventh of eight in the $151,000 Duchess at Woodbine.


Trainer Steve Klesaris, however, doesn’t put much stock in her poor performance.

“It was a combination of things,” he explained.  “She’s probably more comfortable on natural dirt and the race at Delaware was very tough on her so putting those together, it just didn’t work out.  The race was a total toss as far as I’m concerned.”

Klesaris is confident that his filly is well suited to the Oaks distance of seven furlongs..

 “Her two best distances are probably seven furlongs and a mile," Klesaris sais. "She ran great going a mile and a sixteenth, but that may have been just a hair farther than she wants to go. I think a two-turn seven furlongs will be right up her alley.”

The home track advantage belongs to Down Town Allen, who brings a five-race winning streak into the Oaks, including two stakes against open company. Owner-trainer John Casey said Down Town Allen, who went 4 for 9 last year, has improved with age.

“She ran a lot as a 2-year-old, we gave her the whole winter off, and she came back even better,” Casey said. “Sometimes when you give them that much time after running a lot as a 2-year-old, you have to worry about them not coming back as good, but she just keeps getting better.”

Among the six others in the Oaks lineup, C C’s Pal and Southern Fireball merit respect.

C C’s Pal, based at Monmouth Park, was within a length or less of the leader with a furlong remaining in the both the Grade 3 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs and the Grade 3 Comely at Aqueduct.

Southern Fireball, who made her first eight career starts in Southern California, was only a length back after seven furlongs of the one-mile, Grade 2 San Clemente Handicap on turf at Del Mar last time out.