04/13/2005 11:00PM

Victory sends In the Gold to Oaks

Bill Straus/Keeneland
In the Gold, Rafael Bejarano up, rallies from last to finish 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Aspen Tree in Thursday's Beaumont at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - In the Gold gave trainer Nick Zito a major contender for the 131st Kentucky Oaks when the filly powered from last to win the $250,000 at Keeneland before 9,096 on a postcard-perfect Thursday afternoon.

With Rafael Bejarano aboard, In the Gold let her four rivals scamper well ahead of her down the backstretch, but entering the far turn, she had gathered steam and was taking dead aim from the outside. Down the stretch, only Aspen Tree, who had gotten through along the rail, posed a serious challenge, but In the Gold steadily edged away to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths.

Owned by the Live Oak Plantation, In the Gold returned $5.80 as the favorite. She finished the Beard Course distance of seven furlongs and 184 feet in 1:26.04 over a fast track.

"We're going through a hot streak right now," said Zito. "We wanted to try to let the filly relax like she did, and it worked out. This should set her up for the next race. This Stonerside race has produced a lot of winners. A couple of years ago I ran second in this race with a filly named Bird Town," he said, referring to the horse who won the 2003 Oaks for Zito and Marylou Whitney in her following start.

Aspen Tree was second behind In the Gold, 11 lengths clear of Hot Storm. Punch Appeal was fourth, while Brooke's Halo, the early leader, was eased through the stretch after faltering badly.

In the Gold, by Golden Missile, now has 3 wins and 3 seconds from 8 starts. In her two previous starts, both at Gulfstream Park, she was a distant second to Sis City in the Davona Dale, then a narrowly beaten second to Jill Robin L in the Bonnie Miss.

The Kentucky Oaks is set for May 6.

* Earlier Thursday, Path of Thunder ($9), ridden by John Velazquez, drew clear for a 3 3/4-length victory in a classified turf allowance.