04/16/2009 11:00PM

Wilkes confident Miss Isella will improve


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Not only did Miss Isella improve substantially over a poor Gulfstream Park effort after moving north to Kentucky last spring, but she got good enough as her 3-year-old season progressed that she was able to defeat older females in the Grade 2 Falls City Handicap at Churchill Downs in November.

Trainer Ian Wilkes is hoping a similar scenario unfolds this year. Miss Isella was a disappointment in her 4-year-old debut at Gulfstream in February, but Wilkes is confident the filly will fare far better Friday when part of a well-matched field in the Grade 3, $100,000 Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland.

"I don't have a question about her improving off her Gulfstream race," said Wilkes. "She just can't handle that track. I couldn't be any happier with the way she's been training up here. She's thriving."

Miss Isella, with Calvin Borel to ride, was assigned post 6 in the 15th running of the Doubledogdare, a 1 1/16-mile Polytrack race that anchors a 10-race card.

The Doubledogdare drew an interesting mix of contenders that have tended to specialize on dirt (Miss Isella and Awesome Ashley) or turf (Tejida, Sefroua, and Indescribable), so their clashing on synthetic middleground makes this a tricky handicapping chore indeed.

Awesome Ashley exits five straight inner-track races at Aqueduct, where she accounted for two minor stakes for breeder-owner Alex Campbell Jr. and trainer Todd Pletcher.

Tejida, once speed-crazed for trainer Michael Matz, showed a welcome new dimension at Gulfstream this winter when rallying from far back to win an upper-level allowance in January.

Sefroua last raced in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup last fall on the Keeneland turf and has been working sharply in recent weeks toward her return for trainer Graham Motion.

Indescribable also will make her seasonal bow, having ended 2008 with an improbable rally to capture the Grade 3 Cardinal Handicap at Churchill for breeder-owner Courtlandt Farm and trainer Bill Mott.

Serenading, Drop a Line, and Crown of Diamonds complete the lineup.

The Doubledogdare is carded as the ninth race. The preceding race, a $66,000 turf allowance, should have a solid favorite in Ariege, who makes her first start since finishing fifth as the favorite in the QEII last fall. Julien Leparoux, the leading rider at the spring meet, rides for trainer Bobby Frankel.