Oliviaofthedesert Slight Favorite For Saturday’s Mistletoe

December 4, 2021

Oliviaofthedesert rallies to get the better of Sister Annie in the Panthers Stakes at Prairie Meadows June 4, 2021. (Coady Photography)

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – An evenly matched field of 10 is entered in the inaugural $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Saturday at Oaklawn.

Probable post time for the 1 1/16-mile Mistletoe is 4:13 p.m. (Central) and it goes as the ninth of 10 races. Racing begins at 12:30 p.m.

Oliviaofthedesert is the tepid 3-1 program favorite for the Mistletoe, which is among four new stakes races created after Oaklawn added 10 racing dates in December in conjunction with its earliest opening in history.

Trained by Kenny McPeek, Oliviaofthedesert returns to Oaklawn after finishing seventh in the $150,000 Valley View Stakes (G3) on the grass Oct. 29 at Keeneland. Oliviaofthedesert finished fourth in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) last March at Oaklawn and recorded her only 2021 victory to date in the $50,000 Panthers Stakes June 4 at Prairie Meadows.

McPeek also will send out Semble Juste (IRE) in the Mistletoe. She exits runner-up finish in a Nov. 12 allowance race at Churchill Downs.

“I like this 3-year-old filly listed stake,” McPeek said. “It’s perfect for both of these two. Oliviaofthedesert’s won a couple of listed stakes and she’s knocked on the door of some graded, but this ought to be a good spot for her. The French filly, Semble Juste, is a good filly in her own right. She’s been running well and it might be a good opportunity for her to pick up a little black type.”

Trainer Brad Cox dominated Oaklawn’s two-turn older female division last season, finishing a nose away from sweeping the four stakes races. Cox won the $150,000 Pippin with Getridofwhatailesu, $250,000 Bayakoa (G3) with two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl and the $350,000 Azeri (G2) with Shedaresthedevil. Monomoy Girl, in what would be her final career start, was beaten a nose by Letruska in the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1).

Cox also has two Mistletoe entrants in Marion Francis and Amendment Nineteen.

Under Florent Geroux Marion Francis beats Sundial to the wire to break her maiden March 28, 2021, at Oaklawn. (Coady Photography)

The consistent Marion Francis has finished first, second or third in 9 of 10 career starts. She enters the Mistletoe off an Oct. 21 allowance victory at Keeneland. Semble Juste was third. Marion Frances broke her maiden last March at Oaklawn and finished fourth, beaten a half-length, in the $200,000 Indiana Oaks (G3) July 7 at Indiana Grand. Amendment Nineteen, in her last start, was a Nov. 7 allowance winner at Churchill Downs.

The projected Mistletoe field from the rail out: Marion Francis, Francisco Arrieta to ride, 121 pounds, 4-1 on the morning line; Willful Woman, Ramon Vazquez, 124, 9-2; Sunny Isle Beach, Elvin Gonzalez, 117, 30-1; Bobbin Tail, Cristian Torres, 121, 20-1; Oliviaofthedesert, David Cabrera, 121, 3-1; Suki, Luis Contreras, 124, 10-1; Semble Juste, David Cohen, 121, 8-1; Mariah’s Princess, Martin Garcia, 124, 8-1; Amendment Nineteen, Florent Geroux, 121, 9-2; and Lovely Ride, Reylu Gutierrez, 124, 6-1.

Willful Woman (Coady Photography)

Willful Woman broke her maiden last January at Oaklawn for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong of Conway, Ark. After finishing seventh in the Honeybee, Willful Woman returned to capture an allowance race last April at Oaklawn and finished second in the $250,000 Black-Eyed Susan Stakes (G2) May 14 at Pimlico. In her only other start since the Black-Eyed Susan, Willful Woman finished third in a Nov. 12 allowance race at Churchill Downs.

Lovely Ride finished fifth in the Indiana Oaks for trainer Bret Calhoun. Mariah’s Princess, in her comeback start, was a powerful allowance sprinting Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs for trainer Phil Bauer, a former McPeek assistant.

Suki makes her stakes debut for trainer Matt Shirer and co-owner Ten Strike Racing (Marshall Gramm and Clay Sanders) after winning a Nov. 18 allowance race at Churchill Downs. She was 40-1. Suki had been claimed for $30,000 last May at Churchill Downs.

“She fits on numbers, I think,” said Liz Crow, who is Ten Strike’s racing manager. “Throughout the season, we’ll see if she’s a black-type quality filly. She certainly looks like she can take the next step.”

Live racing resumes Saturday at Oaklawn with a 10-race card, 12:30 p.m. first post. The 10-race card is highlighted by the $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes and the annual 50-cent corned beef sandwich promotion.

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