Southlawn draws away in the Fair Grounds Oaks, winning by three and a half lengths (Hodges Photography)
Fair Grounds Press Release
NEW ORLEANS— When the five sophomore fillies lined up for the 56th running of the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) presented by Fasig-Tipton, Robert Masterson’s Southlawn was not a big part of the narrative, but once the race was over, she quickly became a new darling in the division.
Stepping up in class off a resounding, eight-length maiden win, Southlawn had to prove that career-best effort wasn’t a fluke, and she had to do it against a pair of rock-solid rivals in Rachel Alexandra (G2) winner Pretty Mischievous and a fresh Silverbulletday victress in The Alys Look, not to mention the enigmatic Hoosier Philly, sensational as 2-year-old but hoping to bounce back off an underwhelming sophomore debut.
Then there was Christian d’Oro, the longest shot on the board who looked like the likely pacesetter on paper, and that’s exactly what she did, carving out the opening half mile in a swift 47.20 with Hoosier Philly seemingly comfortable while right on her hip. Hoosier Philly put her head in front approaching the 3/8ths pole, at which point Pretty Mischievous was ready to pounce. Pounce she did, putting away an overwhelmed Hoosier Philly, meanwhile Southlawn, who was content at the back while covered up at the rail, popped out and unleashed her rally. Straight and strong down the lane, Southlawn kicked free in the final furlong, drawing out to win by 3 ½ lengths over Pretty Mischievous. It was another 3 ¾ lengths back to The Alys Look in third. Hoosier Philly was a spent fourth and the pacesetting Christian d’Oro failed to complete the course before walking off.
“I wanted to save all the ground that I could,” Gutierrez said. “The way she’s been training and with how well Norm (trainer Casse) has prepared her, I knew that once I saw the clear she would burst through and she did. Norm and his team have done a sensational job developing her. She’s gotten better and better with the time off she got. We lost the Oaks last year by a nose with Hidden Connection (for trainer Bret Calhoun), so for me, this was sweet revenge.”
It was the biggest win in the career of trainer Norm Casse, the longtime assistant to his father Mark, who struck out on his own in 2018. He had won three graded stakes races previously, but this one puts him into the Longines Kentucky Oaks with one of the horses to beat after earning the 100 points.
“We’ve been really excited to run her,” Casse said. “She’s been breezing extremely well. This is a filly that we liked last year. We thought she was a Breeders’ Cup type filly and it just didn’t pan out, but she’s good now. I was with my dad (trainer Mark) in Ocala and I said ‘wouldn’t it be something if we had two of the favorites for the Kentucky Oaks’, he’s got Wonder Wheel, I’ve got Southlawn, we will sort it out on the track.”
Despite the second place finish, Pretty Mischievous remains on top the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard, earning 40 points and boosting her overall total to 103.
“Turning for home I thought Hoosier Philly would take me a little further,” Hernandez, Jr. said. “I’ve been on my filly and she just kind of waits around. That was kind of her problem today. She put Hoosier Philly away so easily and when she made the lead, she got to wandering around. The filly that beat her was way out there in the middle of the track and ran by her quick and it surprised her. She’s still kind of figuring it out and wants to hang around and wait on horses and that’s what she did today. I was like ‘man, we are either going to win by six (lengths) or she is going to wait around’, and that’s what she did when she got to the eighth pole.”
Adding 30 points to her total for running third, The Alys Look is also a safe play to make the Oaks with 54 in the bank.
“I didn’t like the spot (she was in),” Cox said. “There was enough pace, but she was kind of leaning out around both turns. She was wide. No real excuse, she just wasn’t good enough today, bottom line.”
Undefeated from three starts as a 2-year-old, including resounding wins in both the Rags to Riches and Golden Rod (G2) at Churchill Downs, Hoosier Philly just hasn’t been the same since returning from her winter vacation. She banked another 20 points for her distant fourth-place run, and the 45 she has earned overall are very likely good enough to get in the Oaks.
“She was traveling really well and turning for home I thought she’d give me the normal kick, but she was just kind of flat,” Morales said. “She’s been working well. I think she’ll be all right. This (Fair Grounds) is not the best track for her. She loves Churchill, we know that, so hopefully she’ll go back there, start training on it, and get back to herself.”
Just one for five to begin her career, Southlawn has now won two straight, boosting her career mark to 7-3-0-0 while increasing her bankroll to $318,369. Bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, she returned $17.40, $6.60 and $5.40 to her backers.