Whoa Nellie was 20-1 in the program for her stakes debut last month, but she's the 5-2 program favorite for the $200,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares Monday at Oaklawn.
That's the power of a sparkling 4 ½-length victory in the $100,000 Pippin Jan. 25, Oaklawn's first of three preps for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 18.
Owned by Fox Hill Farm (Rick Porter) and trained by Larry Jones, Whoa Nellie is seeking her third consecutive victory after overcoming an injury to the same rear leg twice (tibia fracture) earlier in her career. Jones said the 1 1/16-mile Bayakoa is Whoa Nellie's audition for the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 14, the final major local prep for the Apple Blossom.
Jones also trains Grade 1 winner and millionaire Street Band, who is being pointed for the Azeri.
“We'll let those two kind of settle it between themselves and get another race under this one and see where she's sitting,” Jones said of Whoa Nellie, a 4-year-old daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Orb. “That's the game plan.”
Whoa Nellie tuned up with a 5-furlong bullet workout (:59.60) over a sloppy track Wednesday.
In addition to Whoa Nellie, Cairenn and the speedy Lady Suebee, third and fourth, respectively, in the 1-mile Pippin, return for the Bayakoa. New shooters in the projected six-horse lineup are Motion Emotion, Go Google Yourself and early 3-1 second choice Gold Standard.
Motion Emotion, a recent arrival for Southern California-based trainer Richard Baltas, was one of Oaklawn's leading 3-year-old fillies last year after breaking her maiden sprinting and dominating first-level allowance foes in her two-turn debut. Then under the care of trainer Tom Van Berg, Motion Emotion finished second in the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) and the $500,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) – Oaklawn's signature races for 3-year-old fillies.
Motion Emotion recorded her biggest career victory to date in the $250,000 Zia Park Oaks Nov. 27 at Zia Park.
Go Google Yourself was an allowance winner last year at Oaklawn for trainer Paul McGee (2018 Canadian Horse of the Year Wonder Gadot was second) before claiming the $125,000 Groupie Doll Stakes Aug. 11 at Ellis Park and the $200,000 Locust Grove Stakes (G3) Sept. 14 at Churchill Downs. Go Google Yourself, in her last start, finished second in the $250,000 Falls City Stakes (G2) Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs.
Gold Standard, who was scratched from the Pippin to await the Bayakoa, is seeking her first career stakes victory after finishing second, beaten a half-length, in the $200,000 Remington Park Oaks (G3) Sept. 29 at Remington Park and third in the $200,000 Comely Stakes (G3) at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 29 at Aqueduct in her last start.
“She's run some winning races,” trainer Brad Cox said. “Obviously, I was very proud of her Remington race. The race was maybe just a touch far her last time at Aqueduct. No real excuse there. She's a real nice filly.”
The Bayakoa field from the rail out: Gold Standard, Javier Castellano to ride, 117 pounds, 3-1 on the morning line; Go Google Yourself, Brian Hernandez Jr., 119, 7-2; Cairenn, John Velazquez, 115, 6-1; Motion Emotion, David Cohen, 119, 5-1; Lady Suebee, Tyler Baze, 119, 9-2; and Whoa Nellie, Joe Rocco Jr., 119, 5-2.
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