California Fillies Dream of Oaks Points in Santa Ysabel Stakes
By: Nicolle Neulist, Blinkers-Off
The Santa Ysabel Stakes is the third of four Kentucky Oaks points races run during the winter meet at Santa Anita. The series started with the one-turn Santa Ynez (G2) on January 2 and then stretched out to a mile for the Las Virgenes (G2) on February 6. This race covers a mile and a sixteenth, the same distance as the Santa Anita Oaks (GI) on April 9. It offers a purse of $100,000, as well as Road to the Kentucky Oaks points (50-20-10-5) for the top four places.
The Santa Ysabel Stakes will be run for the 49th time this year. Except for a seven-furlong edition in 1970, the race has been run at a mile and a sixteenth since its inception in 1968. To date, no winner of the Santa Ysabel has gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks, but its winners' roll features some accomplished race mares. Sharp Cat (1997) won twelve graded stakes races between the ages of two and four, including a walkover victory in the 1997 Bayakoa Handicap (G2). Sweet Catomine (2005), the Eclipse winner for Champion Two-Year-Old Filly the year before, began her three-year-old season with a victory in the Santa Ysabel.
Santa Ysabel winners of the last three years have gone on to win Eclipse Awards. Stellar Wind (2015) made her stakes debut in the Santa Ysabel. She won and followed it up with a win in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1). Though she finished fourth as the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks, two more graded stakes wins plus a game second in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) were enough for her to secure the Three-Year-Old Filly championship.
The next year's winner, Songbird, also went on to win the Santa Anita Oaks. Though she missed the Kentucky Oaks, she finished her year with wins in the Summertime Oaks (G2), Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), Alabama (G1), and Cotillion (G1), and then finished a nose second to Beholder in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1). That carried her to the Three-Year-Old Filly Eclipse. Last year's winner, Unique Bella (G1), also missed the Kentucky Oaks, but a season that concluded with a victory in the La Brea (G1) proved enough to clinch the Female Sprinter Eclipse.
Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3), three-year-old fillies, one and one-sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 3:00 PST
Midnight Bisou and Dream Tree are a bit of a 1-1A here in preference: it's difficult to split the two, and in a multi-race ticket, this space would be comfortable going two deep to this pair.
Midnight Bisou gets the top billing here only because she stands to be a sliver better price than Dream Tree. Yes, Midnight Bisou does have tables to turn, as Dream Tree nosed her out both in her maiden debut and in the Desi Arnaz. However, when Midnight Bisou switched to Mike Smith in the irons for the Santa Ynez (G2), a race Dream Tree sat out, Midnight Bisou responded emphatically. She beat seven outmatched horses -- and, quite positively for this short-field race, she was able to sit closer to the pace under Smith than she had before. That is a positive given this field of just six; she won't be on the front end, but she'll be close enough not to leave herself too much to do late. As long as Midnight Bisou can handle a mile and a sixteenth -- something her pedigree suggests she should do -- she should have a major win chance here.
The other top contender here, of course, is Dream Tree. She does have two two-turn races under her; she won both the Starlet (G1) and the Las Virgenes (G2) by open lengths. Midnight Bisou did not contest either of those races, however; Dream Tree beat short fields of overmatched fillies in both of those starts. Here, the only filly who has been able to keep her honest returns. But, with Drayden Van Dyke back in the irons, tactical speed, and proven route form, it would hardly be a surprise to see Dream Tree stretch her record to five-for-five.
With Thirteen Squared going blinkers-off, there is a good possibility Spring Lily is left to set the pace: a positive in a short field, and a positive at Santa Anita. The daughter of Union Rags led at every call going six and a half furlongs last out and drew off to win easily. That was her second career start, but her first with rider Evin Roman in the irons; Roman returns here. It was also her first since moving to the John Shirreffs barn. This will be Spring Lily's first route try, but her pedigree suggests she can handle it, and Shirreffs is solid with first-time routers. Spring Lily does get a hike in class here, facing winners for the first time. But, with a tactical advantage and some upside stretching out, she appeals the most among the rest of the field.
#3 Midnight Bisou (7/5)
#6 Dream Tree (6/5)
#2 Spring Lily (4/1)