04/06/2017 11:50AM

Who will step up in Ashland Stakes?

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Barbara D. Livingston
Daddys Lil Darling is the morning line favorite for Saturday's Ashland Stakes at Keeneland.

The past two Kentucky Oaks winners, Cathryn Sophia and Lovely Maria, each had their final prep in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, with Cathryn Sophia finishing third last year and Lovely Maria winning both races in 2015. For this trend to continue this year, one of the eight 3-year-old fillies in Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland is going to have to elevate her game.

The 80th renewal of the Ashland is not a vintage one by the race’s lofty standards, with only two graded stakes winners in the field: Pretty City Dancer and Daddys Lil Darling. There are some up-and-comers, most notably Elate, who ran third in the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn on March 11 following a poor start.

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The Ashland, sponsored by Central Bank, offers 170 qualifying points toward the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks on May 5 at Churchill Downs.

Favored at 5-2 on the morning line is Daddys Lil Darling, the winner of the Grade 2 Pocahontas last September at Churchill Downs. She then finished second in the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland, fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and second in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill in her final race at 2.

Owned and bred by Normandy Farm, Daddys Lil Darling has started just once as a 3-year-old, finishing sixth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths, after making a middle move in the Grade 3 Florida Oaks on grass at Tampa Bay Downs.

“It was either go there or run a flat mile at Gulfstream or ship her to Fair Grounds,” trainer Ken McPeek said of the decision to kick off her 3-year-old campaign on turf. “We tinkered with her running style some – sat closer to the pace – and that’s not her. She’s a one-run filly.”

McPeek, aiming for his third Ashland victory after winning the race in 2014 with Rosalind and in 2002 with Take Charge Lady, has given a return riding assignment to Robby Albarado.

Elate probably will get bet down from her 7-2 morning line in the Ashland. Elate was the beaten favorite in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa and the Honeybee at Oaklawn after a flashy debut victory at Aqueduct last fall. Drawn in post 2 with Jose Ortiz aboard, she has the ability to sit close to the pace, in contrast to the late-running Daddys Lil Darling.

Key Contenders

Elate, by Medaglia d’Oro

Last 3 Beyers: 80-75-88

◗ Although she was upset in her two stakes starts, none of the fillies who beat her in those races is in the Ashland.

Pretty City Dancer, by Tapit

Last 3 Beyers: 67-79-75

◗ The race’s lone Grade 1 winner, via a dead-heat finish with Sweet Loretta in the Spinaway last summer at Saratoga, she makes her first start around two turns.

◗ Blinkers were added for her last race, a sixth in the Grade 2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream, and they will be removed for the Ashland.

Daddys Lil Darling, by Scat Daddy

Last 3 Beyers: 78-70-70

◗ She owns subpar speed figures on dirt, though they were earned as a 2-year-old. She has a right to run faster as a developing 3-year-old filly.