Carribeab Caper handily winning the Dogwood at Churchill Downs Sept. 25. (Coady Photography)
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—Last year’s inaugural running of the $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes was for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles. It’s now a $150,000 race for female sprinters, 3 and up, which in the case of Fair Grounds-based trainer Al Stall, is a good thing.
“It’s the only game in town,” said Stall, who is scheduled to send out 5-2 program favorite Carribean Caper in Saturday’s Poinsettia at Oaklawn. “There’s nothing at the Fair Grounds and I wanted to run her back in a rhythm. That’s been her problem.”
The accomplished Carribean Caper, already a Grade 3 winner for owner Andrea Pollack (Columbine Stable), tries to pad her resume in the 5 ½-furlong Poinsettia, which goes as the seventh race on a 10-race card. Racing begins at 12:30 p.m. (Central), with probable post time for the Poinsettia 3:18 p.m. The card also features the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes and the return of 2022 Arkansas Derby runner-up Barber Road in an allowance race.
The projected eight-horse Poinsettia field from the rail out: Ari Oakley, Isaac Castillo to ride, 122 pounds, 5-1 on the morning line; Carribean Caper, Colby Hernandez, 115, 5-2; Novel Squall, Ricardo Santana Jr., 122, 4-1; Red Hot Mess, John Hiraldo, 115, 20-1; Quick Munny, Joe Talamo, 117, 15-1; Sarah Harper, Rafael Bejarano, 122, 6-1; Pretty Birdie, David Cabrera, 122, 3-1; and I’m the Boss of Me, Francisco Arrieta, 122, 8-1.
Carribean Caper, a 4-year-old daughter of noted sire Speightstown, won her first five career starts, including the $275,000 Dogwood Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 7 furlongs in September 2021 at Churchill Downs. But after a planned winter vacation following the Dogwood, Carribean Caper didn’t resurface until Aug. 16 at Colonial Downs, where she finished fourth in the $150,000 Seeking the Pearl Stakes at 7 furlongs. In her last start, Carribean Caper ran a credible fourth against males in the $175,000 Thanksgiving Classic Stakes at 6 furlongs Nov. 24 at Fair Grounds.
“Just a stub here and a temperature there,” Stall said. “Next thing you know, you look up and she’s only run twice, in what, 15, 16 months and nothing’s really been wrong with her. No surgeries, anything like that. It’s just been a little bit unusual trying to find the right races for her. The seventh-eighths race in August at Colonial was the only thing that we could find and running against the boys at the Fair Grounds was not optimal. But after she ran a fever at the Keeneland meet, we ran out of options. Actually, she seems as good as she’s ever been, so I’m kind of looking forward, if we make it between now and Saturday, like she is now, we might be all right.”
A forward factor early throughout her racing career, Carribean Caper was beaten only three lengths in the Thanksgiving Classic. Carribean Caper was the 3-1 second choice in a seven-horse field that included multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Long Weekend.
“She put herself right in the race early and it was only her second race in about 14 months,” Stall said. “She just didn’t have that battle-tested fitness and mentality. She wasn’t like tired; she just wasn’t hardened enough to go on. I like the way she’s come out of that race and so this race was next on the calendar. I just thought, ‘Let’s go,’ rather than have something come up. We’re just looking for some recency, really.”
Stall said Carribean Caper is a valuable broodmare prospect, and it hasn’t been decided whether she’ll race in 2023. She was purchased for $250,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
“We’ve had all kind of offers from the biggest dogs in the whole game,” Stall said. “Andrea Pollack, she breeds and is a committee of one, so she’ll most likely go to the broodmare band at Claiborne. Whether we do it this year or not, we haven’t decided. I guess if she wouldn’t run a nice race this weekend, that could be the end of the line. So, we’re just going to see how this Saturday goes and see if she’s in the game or out of the game.
Speedy Grade 3 winner Pretty Birdie will be making her first start against older horses for trainer Norm Casse, who saddled the gray daughter of Bird Song to a 2 ¾-length victory in the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters last March at Oaklawn.
Pretty Birdie hasn’t started since finishing fifth, beaten 37 ¾ lengths as the favorite, in the $150,000 Victory Ride Stakes (G3) July 9 at Belmont Park.
“We were always going to give her time off after the Belmont race, regardless,” Casse said. “Never had any real issues or anything when she came out of that race, and she performed badly. She’s always been a real temperamental filly and I feel like since we gave her the little break, she’s really settled in and become much more professional. I feel much more confident going into this race on Saturday that maybe if things don’t go her way, she won’t fold up as quick as she does. A lot of times, what she does if she gets headed, she decides she’s not going to do it. I feel much more confident she’s not going to do that anymore.”
Ari Oakley, bidding to give Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his record-extending 98thcareer Oaklawn stakes victory, exits a front-running 5-furlong allowance score Nov. 10 at Churchill Downs. The 2022 Oaklawn maiden special graduate will be making her stakes debut Saturday. Another speedster, supplemental nominee Sarah Harper, returns to stakes company for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs.
Novell Squall will be making her first start since finishing fourth in the $200,000 Winning Colors Stakes (G3) May 30 at Churchill Downs for trainer John Ortiz. She ran a good third in the $200,000 Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters last April at Oaklawn.