04/03/2009 11:00PM

Stardom Bound out to extend streak


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Sometimes being frank can be construed as being brash, even cocky. No doubt that Rick Dutrow rubbed some people the wrong way last year during his Triple Crown quest with Big Brown, but those close to him say he was simply being himself in exuding confidence.

Observers may find Dutrow to be similarly engaging this spring as he takes aim on the Kentucky Oaks with the most accomplished filly in her class. Stardom Bound, the reigning divisional champion, will make her first start since Dutrow assumed her training when she goes postward as a solid favorite Saturday in the 72nd running of the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland.

Stardom Bound extended her impressive streak of Grade 1 victories to five by capturing her last start, the March 7 Santa Anita Oaks, in a four-horse photo. Overseen at the time by Dutrow's close associate, Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, Stardom Bound quickly came under scrutiny because of the closeness of that race, leading some to question whether her once-sizable edge over the rest of the 3-year-old filly division had suddenly vanished.

Ask Dutrow about all that, however, and he responds in that Maryland-accented way of his, subtly implying that the issue doesn't even need to be brought up.

"If she runs her race, she'll be very tough Saturday," he said. "Very tough."

Dutrow said he and the ownership group, headed by the IEAH Stables syndicate, are intent on bringing Stardom Bound to a peak for the May 1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, "but first we've got to get past the Ashland. I don't know much about the other fillies in there, but I know my filly is doing extremely well coming into the race."

Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith retains the mount on Stardom Bound, who will break from post 7 in the 1 1/16-mile Ashland.

To extend her Grade 1 streak to six, Stardom Bound will have to defeat eight others in the $400,000 Ashland, the feature of a 10-race Saturday card. Three of those opponents were part of the Santa Anita Oaks cavalry charge - Third Dawn, Hooh Why, and Nan, the respective two-three-four finishers - while another Ashland foe, Dream Empress, was particularly sharp last fall in romping to victory in the Grade 1 Alcibiades over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland.

Adding to the depth of the race are What a Pear, a New York-bred unbeaten in four career starts, and Gozzip Girl, a two-time stakes winner over the Gulfstream Park turf course. The balance of the field is Be Fair and Boleyn.

TVG will provide exclusive coverage, with post time for the Ashland, the ninth race, set for 5:05 p.m. Eastern.

Hooh Why, a heavily traveled Florida-bred co-owned by Derby Daze Farms and Mark Hoffman, has been very consistent in her nine-race career and rates as one of the logical upsetters if Stardom Bound stubs her toe.

"I'd like a rematch with Stardom Bound," Hoffman said. "That's why we're here. If she beats me, she beats me. But this is the first time Stardom Bound has had to travel, and my filly loves to ship."

Dream Empress could be the hidden danger in the field. Last fall, the sky seemed the limit for the daughter of Bernstein as she looked sensational in winning the Alcibiades by 4 1/4 lengths, then was closing strongly when second to Stardom Bound in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

But two subsequent races have been subpar, and trainer Ken McPeek is among those looking for a quick turnaround Saturday. Noting that the Ashland will mark the filly's first start on a synthetic surface since the Breeders' Cup, McPeek said he expects a return to form, "especially after the way she's trained."

What a Pear, who rated close to the pace in winning the Wistful and Busher in her last two starts, will be seriously tested for class Saturday. Without much speed opposing her, she should have no excuses when breaking from post 2.

Besides the Ashland, Saturday's terrific card includes five allowances and not a single claiming race. First post is 1:05 p.m.

All 1 1/16-mile Polytrack races at Keeneland begin and end at what otherwise is the sixteenth pole.