A quartet of stakes winners heads a talented and promising field of a dozen 2-year-old fillies entered to compete in Saturday’s 49th running of the $200,000 Pocahontas (Grade II) at Churchill Downs, one of four stakes races scheduled at the Louisville track on the first Saturday of its 11-day September Meet and an event with implications for both next spring’s 144th running of the Longines Kentucky Oaks (GI) and the upcoming $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI).
The Pocahontas will be the last of 11 races on the Saturday racing program and has a scheduled post time of 5:50 p.m. (all times Eastern).
Top contenders in the Pocahontas include Ike and Dawn Thrash’s unbeaten Kelly’s Humor and Normandy Farm’s Sunny Skies, the 1-3 finishers in the recent $75,000 Ellis Park Debutante; Barry and Joni Butzkow’s Firstmate, a dominant winner in last month’s $85,000 Northern Lights Debutante for Minnesota-bred fillies at Canterbury Park and Bruce Talisman’s unbeaten Take Charge Paula, winner of the $50,000 White Clay Creek Stakes in her most recent outing at Delaware Park.
The 1 1/16-mile race opens the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” points system that will determine the eligibility of the fillies that will compete in the maximum field of 14 that will contest the 1 1/8-mile race that is America’s top race for 3-year-old fillies. The Pocahontas offers Kentucky Oaks points on a scale of 10-4-2-1 to its top four finishers.
The Pocahontas is also a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge race for Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, which will be run on Saturday, Nov. 4 at Southern California’s Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. The Pocahontas winner will earn an automatic berth in the starting gate for the 1 1/16-mile race for 2-year-old fillies, along with $60,000 in starting fees and a travel stipend.
Kelly’s Humor, a daughter of Midnight Lute trained by Brad Cox, is perfect after two races in her young career, both at Kentucky’s Ellis Park. She was a front-running winner in her debut in a maiden event at Ellis Park’s one-mile distance, but had to rally from ninth in a field of 11 in her victory in the seven-furlong Debutante at odds of 11-1. The Pocahontas will be the first outing for Kelly’s Humor in which Cox’s filly will be required to navigate two turns.
“With a lot of horses in this field stretching out for the first time, it’s really a test to see who can handle the distance,” Cox said. “Our filly should really enjoy going two turns. She’s been training great and I’m really looking forward to running her 1 1/16 miles.”
Kelly’s Humor drew the outside post in the field of 12 and will be ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan, who was in the saddle for her triumph in the Ellis Park Debutante.
Sunny Skies, a daughter of 2012 Kentucky Derby (GI) winner Animal Kingdom, won the $100,000 Debutante over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs on June 30 – her second front-running victory in as many races. But the Kenny McPeek trainee had to rally from eighth in the Ellis Park Debutante to eventually finish third, 2 ¼ lengths behind Kelly’s Humor.
Regular jockey Robby Albarado will ride Sunny Skies, who will start from post eight.
While she faced restricted competition in her racing debut in the Northern Lights Debutante, Firstmate was a dazzling winner for Churchill Downs-based trainer Joe Sharp in the six-furlong race. The daughter of Midshipman endured a rough start that left her 20 lengths off the early pace, but she circled the field six-wide to romp by nine lengths. Kendrick Carmouche will ride Firstmate, who drew post two.
Trainer Kelly Breen has shipped unbeaten Take Charge Paula from his base at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park to Churchill Downs for the Pocahontas. The daughter of Take Charge Indy won the $50,000 White Clay Creek Stakes at 5 ½ furlongs in her most recent start at Delaware Park. James Graham will ride Take Charge Paula, who will break from post seven in her first attempt at a two-turn distance.
Also among the likely major players in the Pocahontas is Allied Racing Stable LLC’s Upset Brewing, who has never finished worse than second in four career starts that include a 9 ¾-length maiden triumph at Ellis Park and runner-up finishes in both the Debutante at Churchill Downs and the Ellis Park Debutante. Trained by William “Buff” Bradley, the daughter of Justin Philip will be ridden by Corey Lanerie, who was in the saddle for her two most recent races.
Another filly to watch is John C. Oxley’s Snowfire, a gray daughter of Tapit who won her racing debut at Churchill Downs on June 29 before she finished fourth behind the unbeaten Dream It Is in the Schuylerville (GII) at Saratoga. The Mark Casse trainee drew post 10 and regular rider Julien Leparoux is scheduled to be in the irons.
The field for the Pocahontas, in order of post position (with jockey and assigned weight): Lady Freedom (Florent Geroux, 118), Firstmate (Carmouche, 120), Snowfire (Leparoux, 118), Harbor Lights (Ricardo Santana Jr., 118), Primo Extremo (Walter De La Cruz, 118), Vision of Justice (Gabriel Saez, 118), Take Charge Paula (Graham, 120), Sunny Skies (Albarado, 120), Sultry (Joe Rocco Jr., 118), Upset Brewing (Lanerie, 118), Patrona Margarita (Brian Hernandez Jr., 118) and Kelly’s Humor (Bridgmohan, 120).