Saturday Stakes Preview at Keeneland: Compact, loaded Ashland field is led by Cathryn Sophia


>>Go to the PPs for The G1 Ashland, Post Time 3:28 EDT Saturday

The Grade 1, $500,000 Ashland has a field of five three-year-old fillies going a mile and 1/16 on the dirt. The field for this Kentucky Oaks prep is led by the undefeated Cathryn Sophia, but Rachel’s Valentina and Carina Mia both figure to have plenty of supporters as well.

According to the TimeformUS Pace Projector, #5 Carina Mia will be in the early lead at the opening half-mile. She is followed by Rachel’s Valentina and Cathryn Sophia. The two longshots, Banree and Weep No More, are shown in fourth place and a distant fifth place respectively.

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Weep No More has the fastest TimeformUS Late Pace rating, and by a considerable margin, but she figures to be coming from far behind.

Here is the field in post position order, with morning line odds in parentheses:

Weep No More: (20-1): Broke her maiden in a weak maiden special weight at Tampa in her second start, earning a speed figure of 76. Jumped to a 91 while winning a minor stake at Tampa. That number leaves her 23 points shy of Cathryn Sophia’s best, and, while we’re at it, it leaves her 12 points shy of Cathryn Sophia’s worst. Even in a dream scenario—she sits behind a suicidal four-horse speed duel—we have a hard time seeing her winning this race.

Banree (20-1): Her 2016 debut was a disappointing sixth-place finish against the boys in a minor stake on synthetic. Her best speed figure from seven tries is a 91, which leaves her in the same boat as Weep No More, and Weep No More at least has the advantage of being very lightly raced. Her best finish in a graded stake is a second-place finish. Her previous encounter with Rachel’s Valentina resulted in a humbling defeat. Even allowing for potential big improvement in what will be only her second start as a three-year-old, she seems to be in way too deep today.

Cathryn Sophia (1-1):

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There is not a lot of room to begin a career in more promising fashion than this $30,000 purchase has begun hers. She broke her maiden effortlessly at Parx as a two-year-old, earning a speed figure of 103. Then she turned a Laurel stake into a cakewalk, earning a 113. She began her three-year-old season at Gulfstream, winning a Grade 2 despite a difficult trip. She broke poorly and spent too much time in a spot where 1-10 shots ought never go. Then she was freed up and she blew the field away, understandably regressing to a 108. Then she returned in the Davona Dale, a one-turn mile. She briefly attended the soft pace. Then she backed off and stalked. Then she made a seemingly effortless three-wide move around the turn and won off as she pleased. For this effort she earned a speed figure of 114, one point faster than her two-year-old top. She enters today’s race with textbook-perfect spacing between starts for a trainer having a superb year. Much as we love trying to beat favorites, we do like to have something to grab ahold of, some sort of negative angle on the favorite, and Cathryn Sophia presents us with precious little. Yes, this will be her two-turn debut. But she’s the fastest horse in the race. The Davona Dale field she just scuttled gets a higher Race Rating than this one. She has been visually impressive in the extreme. Her trainer gets a 94 rating with this spacing. Her trainer is red-hot. We look forward to watching this filly run. We will not look to beat her.

Rachel’s Valentina (3-1):

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Pletcher filly makes her three-year-old debut today off a five-month layoff. She was no secret in her debut, in which she went off at even money at Saratoga and rallied to post a two-length win and earn a speed figure of 97. She came right back to win the Grade 1 Spinaway over 7F while improving nary a point. In her first try around two turns, she was up against Songbird in the BC Juvenile Fillies, run over this racetrack, and she responded with a new top of 110 while no threat to the winner. Proven at this distance and over this surface but losing JR Velazquez, she goes for a trainer who gets a 95 rating off layoffs of this approximate length and a 100 rating at Keeneland. Her top figure of 110 leaves her four points short of Cathryn Sophia’s best. Increased maturity may erase some or all of that margin. However, she may find herself in the unenviable position of having to keep an eye on and then overhaul Carina Mia, and then hold off Cathryn Sophia.

Carina Mia (7-5):

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Mott filly makes her three-year-old debut today off a four-month layoff. She broke her maiden over this racetrack in her second start and did so in a romp, earning a speed figure of 112. Returning in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill, run over a two-turn mile and 1/16, she was four-wide at the beginning of the first turn, but then she displayed an impressive burst of speed and quickly cleared and made her way to the rail. She was then rated on a tame (pace figures of 97 98 102) pace and won with authority, earning a speed figure of 106. This constituted a six-point regression in her two-turn debut, though her ease of victory can be seen as an extenuating circumstance. It is also notable that the race was run in the slop, since the early weather report for Lexington is calling for rain on Friday, which does not give us a lot of confidence that those clouds it shows for Saturday will prove innocuous. Carina Mia has reportedly been training very well, and we believe that her early speed gives her a tactical edge over Rachel’s Valentina. So we will call Carina Mia the most likely filly to defeat Cathryn Sophia.

The Bottom Line:

We see Cathryn Sophia as the most likely winner, and we give Carina Mia the second best chance. We see this as a great race to watch and a bad race to bet.


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