Lilacs and Lace pulls stunner in Ashland Stakes
Judy Hicks picked out her pink outfit for the Kentucky Oaks months ago.
It didn't matter to Hicks that filly Lilacs and Lace looked a little bored and maybe even a little lethargic during an uneventful fourth-place finish in the Bourbonette at Turfway Park on March 26.
Hicks knew the 3-year-old would be ready to run in the filly version of the Kentucky Derby on May 6. She wasn't so sure about the $400,000 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on Saturday. Hicks and co-owners James Covello and Kathryn Nikkel entered her anyway.
''We knew we were in tough today, we were just hoping for third,'' Hicks said.
The filly did Hicks a couple better, punching her ticket to the Oaks with a stunning victory in the Ashland, going wire to wire to beat Wyomia by a length.
''Someone's got to win it,'' Hicks said with a laugh.
Lilacs and Lace did it with relative ease. Trainer John Terranova ordered jockey Javier Castellano to send her to the front early and see what happened.
''She had a perfect trip, beautiful trip,'' Castellano said. ''She enjoyed going to the lead.''
She certainly looked like it, setting the pace on Keeneland's synthetic surface then hitting the gas late to keep the rest of the nine-horse field at bay. Lilacs and Lace paid an eye-popping $99.40, $32.40 and $10 while picking up her third career victory in eight starts.
''We wanted to get more aggressive with her,'' Terranova said.
Certainly more aggressive than she showed in the Bourbonette, where she tired down the stretch to finish fourth, 12 lengths behind winner Summer Soiree.
Terranova, however, didn't hesitate to enter Lilacs and Lace in the Ashland. He checked the barn the day after the Bourbonette and found the filly's ears pricked up. It was the only proof he needed to enter her in the Ashland despite the short two-week turnaround.
Looking back, Lilacs and Lace appeared to treat the Bourbonette as a breeze. It was her first race since winning the California Oaks at Golden Gate on New Year's Day.
The nearly three-month layoff wasn't due to health issues as much as financial ones.
Hicks and Nikkel, who were racing Lilacs and Lace as a homebred, spent weeks fielding offers after the triumph out west before selling a majority stake in her to James Covello.
She was then shipped from Golden Gate to Santa Anita to the Fair Grounds, where she was scheduled to run in the Rachel Alexandra on Feb. 19. Terranova, however, was concerned she didn't ship well and decided to scratch her.
Turfway Park offered the next opportunity, and Terranova blames the so-so performance in the Bourbonette on lack of racing experience. He didn't panic when she faded late.
''We were just getting to know her the last several weeks,'' Terranova said. ''She's really blossomed. Turning her back in two weeks was pretty quick, but she seemed to be thriving.''
The surface wasn't an issue, neither was the distance, 1 1-16 miles. Lilacs and Lace covered it in 1:42.73 and appeared to have enough left to handle the Oaks' 1 1-8 miles on the dirt on May 6 at Churchill Downs.
''If she comes back, we've got a month and she's fresh,'' Terranova said. ''Hopefully we'll be ready.''
Wyomia, ridden by Freddie Lenclud, stalked the leaders and tried a late bid but couldn't quite chase down Lilacs and Lace, finishing second while paying $5.80 and $3.60.
''When I got the filly out she just switched her leads and she took off running,'' Lenclud said. ''Obviously if it had been the second wire today she would have been the winner. She's a pretty nice filly.''
Kathmanblu entered with a three-race winning streak and went off as the 2-1 favorite but didn't fire after jockey Alan Garcia sent her wide at the turn to get around some traffic. She paid $3 while ending up third.
''I'd be interested to look at the (data) to see just how far she had to travel,'' said trainer Ken McPeek. ''She just never had a chance to get inside and save ground. But we're still going to the Oaks.''
So is Lilacs and Lace.
''From the beginning we were hoping,'' Hicks said.