Evaluating the strength of three-year-old stakes race early in a year is usually a bit of a challenging task. Many of the horses in the field will never be consistent running at the graded stakes level and are merely being given a shot to perhaps come up with a big effort. That's more so the case with the colts than the fillies due to the allure of the Kentucky Derby. But regardless of the strength or weakness of the fields they sometimes face, there are occasions where it's clear that we are watching an extremely talented colt or filly. That's the case for me with respect to Kathmanblu, a three-year-old filly that easily won yesterday's Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream Park.
I've written a bit about Kathmanblu both prior to and after the Breeders' Cup; she's a filly that spent most of her early career running on the turf since those were the only races her trainer could find for her that were two-turns (her preferred distance). Since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Filly Turf (where she was a bit unlucky to finish 3rd behind More Than Ready and Winter Memories)m she dominated the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill on the main track and then found herself back on the lawn for yesterday's listed Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream. Kathmanblu continued her strong run of form with 1 ¼ length victory over Excited in the mile race on the turf.
Sweetest Chant Chart (via DRF.com)
The margin of victory may not have been as large as we saw in the Golden Rod, but Kathmanblu's win in the Sweetest Chant was still impressive. Consider a couple of the factors that were working against this filly in yesterday's Gulfstream race:
1. The rail was out at 72 feet, and while that doesn't given speed as big of an advantage as it does when we see a 84 foot rail (or greater), it still provides an edge up front.
2. The fractions were pedestrian over the "Good" course - 1:13.04 for six.
3. Her two biggest rivals in the field - Excited and Nina Fever - were both in front of her early on and would have a small, but important tactical advantage over the heavy favorite.
In short, Kathmanblu was running on a course that probably helped those with tactical speed, her biggest competitors were forwardly placed early, and the fractions were soft enough to suggest that it would be difficult to make up a lot of ground in the stretch. However, mone of that mattered on bit to Kathmanblu.
If you watched the race live (or had a chance to check out the replay...which I've embedded below) you had to be impressed with the huge move the winner made on the turn as she closed into the early leaders. Track announcer Larry Collmus made the perfect observation as she ran towards the leaders, that Kathmanblu was being "confidently ridden" by Julien Leparoux. Watch Leparoux's hands on the winner as she making that move - they are almost dead silent. Compare that to the hands of the jocks he's in the process of passing at that time - they are all working hard.
Kathmanablu went by the leaders with such considerable ease you wonder how much she could have won by had Julien asked her for everything she had. Fortunately, he didn't appear to get even close to the bottom of her.
While the performance of the winner was clearly top notch, I think the runner-up (Excited) is also a filly to watch going forward. She never seriously threatened Kathmanblu for the top spot but she easily outdistanced the rest of the field (10 lengths clear). And while it's tough to gauge how good the fillies running behind the top two are, both Kathmanblu and Excited should move forwards off of this performance.
Trainer Ken McPeek is clearly pointing towards the Kentucky Oaks with this daughter of Bluegrass Cat, but also has a lot of options at his disposal given her ability to run strong over both dirt and turf.
Video replay below the jump...