This week, the Kentucky Oaks trail goes to Gulfstream Park for the Forward Gal Stakes (GII). A seven-furlong sprint over the Gulfstream dirt, this race is the first of three Oaks points races through the winter and spring at the South Florida track. The series continues with the 1 1/16 mile Davona Dale Stakes (GII), and concludes with the Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII). Given its short distance, it inevitably draws a mixture of Kentucky Oaks contenders who can stretch out, as well as sprinters whose connections believe they can carry the distance seven furlongs.
The road to the Kentucky Oaks does not typically lead through the Forward Gal, but twice the Oaks winner has hit the board here. In 1989, Open Mind kicked off her three-year-old campaign in the Forward Gal en route to winning the Kentucky Oaks, and later the Eclipse Award for Champion Three Year Old Filly. The only other Oaks winner to finish in the money in the Forward Gal was 1981 Oaks winner Heavenly Cause, who finished second behind Dame Mystereuse in the inaugural running of the Forward Gal.
Selections: By the Moon (10), Lassofthemohicans (8), Enchantress (6)
Longshot: Birdatthewire (4)
There is no shortage of early speed in this race. Even at Gulfstream, a track that can be friendly to the speedy types, there is enough speed to give pause. Taylor S, Seduire, Ekati’s Phaeton, Lassofthemohicans, and Momameamaria have all clearly done their best work on the front end, and Distinta and Skipalute have shown enough penchant for being up there that they could help make things even hotter up there. Seduire may well be the most accomplished of the field, and showed last out in the Santa Ynez that she could handle some pressure, but all her other better races have come with her having an easier trip on the front end. Between the pace and the fact that her recent stakes wins will make her an underlay, pass. Ekati’s Phaeton has the horse-for-course factor going for her; she is a perfect 3-3-0 over the Gulfstream dirt, including a win in the Old Hat (GIII) last out. Still, she has nowhere near the zippiest early pace; straight horse-for-course seems unlikely to help her against this bunch.
On top, consider a horse who should be out of the kerfuffle up front, but still close enough to get a run on them in time: By the Moon. Though her Grade I win came over slop in the Frizette, she broke her maiden from a few lengths off the pace over fast dirt at Belmont. She is not a one-dimensional slop monster. She has not seen the starter since an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI), but has been working regularly since the end of November and working at Palm Meadows for most of that time. Trainer Michelle Nevin fires at 28% with a positive ROI off of similar layoffs, and she gets rider Jose Ortiz back. Ortiz has ridden her in all four of her starts, and has been 7-17 with Nevin over the last two months. This cutback to seven furlongs should serve her well, and she should be able to avoid getting burned out early while being fast enough to stay in striking distance.
Another who seems strong here is Lassofthemohicans, who makes her first start against winners. Last out, she won at a mile over the Gulfstream main, and has shown a good upward progression in her last three starts. Since that win on December 28, she has put up two works. Her last one was a bullet, right in line with the near-bullet she fired just before her last race. Her maiden win was an easy wire job, but she has finished second from stalking or even midpack positions. This suggests a versatility so far absent in the rest of the speed brigade. The humans behind her also suggest a good chance for success. Edgar Prado’s riding style should suit her frontrunning but also ratable tendencies, and trainer Brendan Walsh is four for his last ten when cutting back from a route to a sprint, with seven of ten in the money.
Finally, there is Enchantress, who looms large. The question surrounding her is the pace: this race features a plethora of speed types, and she is yet another one. There may be enough speed to burn her out, no matter what else suggests she is live. However, many things suggests she has a shot. In her two wins, her speeds fit right in with the best of what this field has yet mustered. In both of those victories, she had some early pace pressure, and was still able to draw away. Those both came at six furlongs. Though she faltered in her one stretch to a mile, the dirt was rated good that day, which she may not have liked. Being by Malibu Moon out of a Hennessy mare, seven panels should be well within her abilities. That most recent allowance win of hers came at Gulfstream, showing she can handle the track. Finally, her trainer has owned the Forward Gal in the last three years. Todd Pletcher has won three straight editions of this race, and his go-to jockey John Velazquez has the call here. Velazquez has been aboard Enchantress in all of her starts. The pace scenario casts a few questions upon her, but her connections and her sprint races have been good enough to merit serious consideration.
For a darker horse, look to Dale Romans: no, not speedster Taylor S, but his “B” entry, Birdatthewire. She returns for the first time since November 29, the day she broke her maiden in a rather weird 1 1/16 mile maiden special at Churchill in which Super Saks sent almost twenty lengths ahead, only to fade badly. Birdatthewire bided her time midpack, took over turning for home, and won by a length and a half over Lassofthemohicans. Though she has not raced since then, she has been working regularly and well over the Gulfstream since mid-December, and should appreciate the cutback in distance first off that short layoff. She should at least be able to hit the exotics here, with a chance to win at a good price if the pace truly melts down and she builds upon her maiden win.