12/27/2010 3:59PM

Two fillies will try to unseat the queen in California Oaks

Marcel Langevin/Vassar Photography
Cathy's Crunches edges Lilacs and Lace and Game to Run in the Corte Madera on Dec. 4. The three will meet again in the California Oaks on New Year's Day.

Trainers Bill Delia and Duane Offield sent out fillies that dead-heated for second in the Dec. 4 Corte Madera Stakes at Golden Gate Fields, and they will meet again there in Saturday’s $100,000 California Oaks, which also figures to attract the Corte Madera winner, Cathy’s Crunches.

The Offield-trained Lilacs and Lace dueled the length of the stretch with the Delia-trained Game to Run, but both were passed late by Cathy’s Crunches. The California Oaks, a 1 1/16-mile New Year’s Day race for 3-year-old fillies, is the first race of the Black-Eyed Susan 2.2, which offers up to $2.2 million in bonuses to the connections of a filly that wins designated races at MI Developments-owned tracks in addition to the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico.

For both Lilacs and Lace and Game to Run, the California Oaks will be a measurement of whether they have continued to improve as they enter their 3-year-old seasons. Each has made five starts and improved her Beyer in each outing.

Offield says Lilacs and Lace, a daughter of Flower Alley, will be even better as the distances increase.

“She’s bred to go a mile and a half,” said Offield. “As Flower Alleys get a little more mature, they seem to run well.”

Being from a Seattle Slew mare doesn’t hurt either.

“We like her, and going long was one of the things we were looking forward to,” said Offield of Lilacs and Lace, a Judy Hicks and Kathryn Nikkel homebred. “She’s still growing and maturing, getting bigger and stronger.

“This is a time of year when young horses can really jump up. We’re hoping that’s what she’ll do.”

Offield will again have the services of leading rider Russell Baze but is making one change with his filly – taking the blinkers off. Lilacs and Lace has led in the stretch of her three route tries, winning once and finishing second twice.

“She’s always been real keen in the first quarter,” said Offield. “We just need to settle her down, and she might have more left in the lane.”
As for Game to Run, Delia thinks her future is on turf, but he wants to take advantage of Saturday’s two-turn race, which is run on the Tapeta. He also nominated Game to Run to Friday’s $75,000 Blue Norther at one mile on the turf at Santa Anita, but said he intends to run her in the Oaks.

“I’d like to keep her on the grass,” Delia said. “I think she’s better there. She’s got action for the turf. I think she will excel on the turf but, right now, I just want her to get through this hurdle.”

Game to Run, a Patricia Ford homebred, graduated on the turf.

Delia was pleased with the filly’s final work Sunday, saying she finished strongly in a 48.60 half-mile drill. His hopes are high for a good performance Saturday.

“She’s still learning and has room to improve,” Delia said. “But I think this filly has a chance to develop into a nice stakes horse.”

◗ Vadertore, making his first start since New Year’s Day, scored an impressive victory Sunday, opening day of the Golden Gate winter-spring meet, running down Reagan Republican to win a six-furlong allowance race by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:09.93 under Inoel Beato. Vadertore, a 4-year-old gelding owned by Harris Farms, has two wins, a second and third from five starts.

Beato and Omar Figueroa each had two wins on Opening Day.

◗ Fans attending the races this weekend will enjoy Dollar Day pricing on both Saturday and Sunday.