02/06/2012 12:59PM

Tampa Bay: Dixie Strike gives Oxley another shot at Kentucky Oaks

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Tom Cooley
Dixie Strike closes strongly under Jose Lezcano to win Saturday’s Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – It has been 17 years since Gal In a Ruckus carried the colors of John C. Oxley to victory in the 1995 Kentucky Oaks, and now, in the wake of Dixie Strike’s thrilling stretch-running victory in last Saturday’s $150,000 Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs, Oxley and trainer Mark Casse have their sights set on the 2012 Oaks.

Dixie Strike, who was making her first start since early December, was content to lay off the pace for five furlongs of the 1 1/16-mile Oaks on the Tampa turf course. But midway on the second turn, jockey Jose Lezcano made up his mind to not let others make the first move and gave his mount the signal to go after the leaders.

“I didn’t want any of the others to slip up on us,” Lezcano said. “We got a clear slot and were able to make a clean run. I’d love to ride this filly back anytime, anywhere.”

It was a breathtaking closing charge through the lane for Dixie Strike, who was able to run down graded stakes winner More Than Love late, despite the fact the leader had been able to slow the pace to a point where the half was run in 50.79 seconds and the six-furlong clocking was 1:15.06.

But they came home flying in the Oaks, running the quarter from the six furlongs to the mile in 22.50 and the final sixteenth in 5.74, racehorse time in any man’s book. While Regalo Mia showed considerable promise to finish a close third while moving from a maiden win to stakes company and Dixie Strike’s stablemate Northern Passion took the overland route to close from the far outside to be fourth, there’s no doubt the star of the Oaks was Dixie Strike.

Sunday morning, she was back at trainer Mark Casse’s barn in Ocala as he discussed her future plans.

“We brought her back to the farm to relax for a few days, then we’ll get back to work,” Casse said. “Right now, we plan on running her twice before the [Kentucky] Oaks, and one of those races will most likely be the Ashland at Keeneland. That’s on Poly, and we know she likes that type surface. As to the other race, that’s still up in the air. Mr. Oxley and I are going to check our options and make some decisions soon.”

As to Saturday’s race, Casse said he was really worried his filly was too far back to be able to make an effective run with the slow pace.

“For her to close like she did off that soft pace just shows how good she is,” he said. “She loves to win, and there’s no substitute for that.”

Guidry riding in good form

Jockey Mark Guidry, who retired from the saddle after the 2007 season, returned to the track last year and is riding well at this meeting, with 17 wins through the weekend. Recently, he was approached for an interview, but the rider who has won more than $101 million in purses and 5,070 races modestly deferred.

“I appreciate it, but I’d rather you write about the young guys, the ones who are the future of the game,” Guidry said. “I’m doing okay and enjoy being back, but the young riders are the ones who are fun to watch and ride against.”

That approach to the game is one of the reasons Guidry was voted the George F. Woolf Award by his fellow riders in 2006.

◗ Jockey Leandro Goncalves didn’t win any of the stakes on the program Saturday, but he did post a riding double to run his win total for the meeting to 42 wins through the weekend. He holds a sizeable lead in the jockey standings. Ronnie Allen Jr., who was forced to take a few days off after going down in a spill Jan. 26, is back in action and ranks second in the standings with 27 wins. Rosemary Homeister Jr. is third, with 22.

◗ Scott Spieth is rapidly approaching his 4,000th career win and posted a riding double on Sunday’s card to move up to 3,985. He now has 10 wins at the meeting after arriving late. Spieth has won more than 100 races a year 22 times during his career.