Anyone searching for a flaw or loophole in the points system Churchill Downs has inaugurated this year to determine the Kentucky Derby starting field needs to look no farther than the stunning filly Dreaming of Julia.
Stonestreet Stables’ 3-year-old daughter of A.P. Indy awed a Florida Derby day throng Saturday with a breathtaking 21 3/4-length romp in the $300,000 Gulfstream Oaks, and she did it on cruise control.
Todd Pletcher, a five-time Eclipse Award winner on target for his 10th consecutive Gulfstream Park training title, is not easily impressed. But even he seemed a bit startled.
Dreaming of Julia has been training expertly, he said.
“But I would never have expected a dominating performance like that,” he added after his third stakes victory on the card.
Jockey John Velazquez let Dreaming of Julia stalk last-race conqueror Live Lively down the back stretch in the 1 1/8-mile Oaks and then made a powerful move to the lead in the far turn.
She had moved 11 lengths free of Live Lively straightening for home, and from that point on, she stretched out in a romp literally reminiscent of the legendary Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
“Perfect,” Velazquez said of the performance, in which Dreaming of Julia avenged the Davona Dale Stakes loss to Live Lively. He said when he signaled Dreaming of Julia to move, she went past so easily that “I thought, ‘I hope I’m not moving too soon.’ But it didn’t matter. I didn’t think she was going to get away that easy down the lane, but she did. Very impressive.”
Dreaming of Julia covered the distance in 1 minute 48.97 seconds. That was 1 1/2 seconds off Quality Road’s track record, but Velazquez could have left his whip in the dressing room. What’s more, she was just shy of two seconds faster than Florida Derby winner Orb, who ran later.
Dreaming of Julia established herself as a near-certain favorite in the Kentucky Oaks that headlines the Friday card on Kentucky Derby weekend.
The new Derby points system has replaced graded-stakes earnings as the determinant for a starting gate in the Run for the Roses. But there are no qualifying filly races.
Pletcher said, “In the old days, we might have looked at” a Kentucky Derby bid by Dreaming of Julia. “But with the points system structured the way it is now, she would never get in.”
Around the track
• The Oaks headlined a six-stakes undercard, where Pletcher also won the Rampart Stakes with Ciao Bella.
Ciao Bella led almost the entire route and beat Authenticity, also trained by Pletcher, by 4 1/2 lengths.
Velazquez rode Ciao Bella, who won in 1:50.06.
The win was the first in a stakes for Ciao Bella and her third win in three starts at Gulfstream.
• Former Pletcher assistant Michelle Nihei trains Regalo Mia, who won the $100,000 Orchid Stakes (Grade 3) by two lengths.
Regalo Mia was ridden by Luis Contreras and won the 1 1/2 mile turf stakes in 2:23.48.
The win was the second in a Gulfstream stakes this year for Regalo Mia. She won the Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Turf on Jan. 19.
• Cigar Street, co-owned by Heat forward Rashard Lewis, beat Take Charge Indy by two lengths in the $100,000 Skip Away (Grade 3) for 4-year-olds and up.
The win was the first in a stakes for the 4-year-old Cigar Street, who was ridden by Velazquez and won the 1 3/16 mile dirt stakes in 1:56.84.
• Zo Approval defeated Beaux Choix by a length in the $100,000 Appleton (Grade 3) for 4-year-olds and up.
Jose Lezcano rode Zo Approval, who won the one-mile turf stakes in 1:32.07.
• Travelin Man won the Sir Shackleton for the second year in a row. It was his fifth win in seven Gulfstream starts.
Travelin Man had a break from the gate that Pletcher called “flat-footed” and was in fourth place after a half mile, he but rallied to take the lead entering the stretch and went on to beat Action Andy by four lengths.