Anita Cauley’s homebred On Fire Baby, a local favorite who won the Grade I La Troienne at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day, will seek her fourth career stakes victory at her home track when she faces a strong group of five rivals in the 39th running of the $200,000-added Fleur De Lis Handicap (Grade II), one of five major stakes races scheduled for a “Downs After Dark Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka” night racing program headed by the $500,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI).
The Fleue De Lis, one of five graded stakes races on Saturday’s 11-race card, is scheduled as the evening’s seventh race with a post time of 9:05 p.m. (all times EDT). Admission gates for “Downs After Dark” will open at 4 p.m. and post time for the first of the evening’s 11 races is scheduled for 6 p.m.
The Fleur De Lis is a 1 1/8-mile handicap race for fillies and mares 3-years-old and up that was run for the first time in 1975. Recent winners have included champions Rachel Alexandra and Royal Delta, and other winners have included such notables as Serena’s Song, Banshee Breeze, Escena, Spain and You.
Trained by Louisville native Gary “Red Dog” Hartlage, On Fire Baby has raced five times at Churchill Downs – all in stakes races. She notched a pair of Grade II wins in the Pocahontas and Golden Rod as a 2-year-old in 2011 before she ran fifth the following spring to Believe You Can in the 2012 renewal of the Kentucky Oaks (GI). She returned to the track in 2013 with a narrow loss to Authenticity in the La Troienne, which was then a Grade II race, and rolled to an easy win in this spring’s renewal of that 1 1/16-mile race, which is now a Grade I event.
On Fire Baby, installed as the 8-5 favorite for the Fleur De Lis by Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battaglia, will be ridden by Joe Johnson from post four and has been assigned high weight of 122 pounds. Her La Troienne victory improved her overall record to 5-4-3 in 16 races and booster her to millionaire status when it lifted her career earnings to $1,082,687. Her list of wins also includes the 2013 Apple Blossom Handicap (GI) at Oaklawn Park.
If On Fire Baby is to join the roster of previous Fleur De Lis winners and increase her impressive total of stakes triumphs at Churchill Downs, she will need to turn back expected challenges from two stars positioned just to her outside in the starting gate: Fiftyshadesofhay and Flashy American.
The well-travelled Fiftyshadesofhay will break from post five as she makes her Churchill Downs debut in the 9-5 second choice in the Fleur De Lis for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman. With Saturday’s run at the Louisville, Ky. track, the 4-year-old daughter of Pulpit will have competed at nine different tracks in five states.
Her most recent win came at Belmont Park in the $250,000 Ruffian (GII) and it was one of her most impressive efforts. She launched a dazzling stretch charge to defeat Grade I winner Grace Hall by three-quarters of length for her first victory in three 2014 races. Her career record of 5-4-3 in 15 races also includes stakes wins in Pimlico’s Black-Eyed Susan (GII), Prairie Meadows’ Iowa Oaks (GIII) and Santa Anita’s Santa Ysabel (GIII) and runner-up finishes to champion Beholder in the Las Virgenes (GI), Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner Princess of Sylmar in Saratoga’s Alabama (GI) and Broken Sword in Betfair Hollywood Park’s Bayakoa (GII).
A victory in the Fleur De Lis would earn millionaire status for Fiftyshadesofhay, who has already collected $946,547 in her career bankroll. She will carry 121 pounds – one fewer than the impost for On Fire Baby – and jockey John Velazquez, who was aboard for her victory in the Ruffian, will return to the saddle.
Breaking from the outside gate in the field of six is Preston Stables LLC’s Flashy American, who won the $150,000-added Sixty Sails (GIII) at Arlington Park in her most recent start. It was the first graded stakes triumph for the 5-year-old daughter of Flashy Bull and a significant accomplishment for the Kenny McPeek trainee who did not find her way into the winner’s circle until her 11th career start in a $25,000 claiming race in July 2012 at Saratoga.
The Sixty Sails was her fourth stakes win in 15 races since Flashy American’s breakthrough win at Saratoga. Flashy American also won the Locust Grove in September at Churchill Downs and scored 2013 stakes wins in the Iowa Distaff at Prairie Meadows and the Alada at Saratoga. The win at Arlington improved her career record to 8-3-3 in 26 races with earnings of $515,163.
Like On Fire Baby, Flashy American has displayed an affinity for Churchill Downs, where she has a record of 3-2-1 in seven starts. Julien Leparoux will be in the saddle aboard McPeek’s star, who will carry 119 pounds. She is the 7-2 third choice in Battaglia's Fleur De Lis morning line odds.
While On Fire Baby, Fiftyshadesofhay and Flashy American are likely to attract the interest of most Downs After Dark fans, the remaining three fillies and mares that will join them in the Fleur De Lis starting gate bring solid credentials into Saturday’s race.
Bill Cubbage’s Molly Morgan ran second to On Fire Baby in the La Troienne, where she finished 2 ¾ lengths behind the winner. It was the best effort in the career of the Dale Romans-trained daughter of Ghostzapper, who will be ridden from post two by Corey Lanerie, the leading jockey of the Spring Meet.
G. Watts Humphrey Jr.’s Frivolous, a 4-year-old daughter of Empire Maker, comes into the race for trainer Vicki Oliver off a runner-up finish to La Tia in the Arlington Matron (GIII) over the synthetic Polytrack surface at Arlington Park on May 27. James Graham will ride Frivolous, who will carry 114 pounds and breaks from post three in the Fleur De Lis.
An unknown factor in the race could be Peachtree Stable’s Ondine, a 4-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro who makes her first start for new trainer Brad Cox. She finished fifth as the favorite in the Santa Maria (GII) at Santa Anita in her most recent outing on Feb. 15. Prior to that race, she ran third to Spellbound in the La Cañada (GII) over the Arcadia, Calif. track. Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan will be in the irons for the Kentucky debut of Ondine, who will carry 116 pounds and drew the inside post.
The field for the Fleur De Lis (with jockey, weight, morning line odds) from the rail out: Ondine (Bridgmohan, 116, 6-1), Molly Morgan (Lanerie, 116. 6-1), Frivolous (Graham, 114,20-1), On Fire Baby (Johnson, 122, 8-5), Fiftyshadesofhay (Velazquez, 121, 9-5) and Flashy American (Leparoux, 119, 7-2).