By Jim Freer
There will be a pair of firsts for Daddys Lil Darling in Saturday’s $200,000 Florida Oaks (Grade 3) at Tampa Bay Downs.
The race will be her first of 2017 and it will be her first start on turf.
Fans will find a match-up of Daddys Lil Darling, who has a win and two second places in graded dirt stakes, against turf stakes winners La Coronel and Compelled. The Florida Oaks also has Dynatail, a filly with two gate-to-wire turf wins at Tampa Bay Downs.
The Florida Oaks is 1 1/16 miles on turf for 3-year-old fillies, and is the day’s ninth race with a scheduled post of 4:25 p.m. There are eight entrants, following the morning scratch of Tamit. It is one of five stakes races on the annual Festival Day card.
“I’ve been looking for a chance to test her on turf, and the timing and location of this race are good,” said Ken McPeek, the trainer of Daddys Lil Darling.
She has spent the winter training at Payson Park in Indiantown, on Florida’s Atlantic Coast.
Running on March 11 also fits McPeek’s goal of two races for Daddys Lil Darling before the Kentucky Oaks (Grade 1) on May 5. That 1 1/8 mile dirt stakes will be at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
In between, McPeek plans to run Daddys Lil Darling on April 8 in the Ashland (Grade 1) at 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky.
Daddys Lil Darling has 20 qualifying points for the Kentucky Oaks. That could be enough to make the 14-horse Kentucky Oaks field.
The Florida Oaks is not a Kentucky Oaks points scoring race. In the Ashland, first through fourth places are worth 100, 40, 20 and 10 Kentucky Oaks points.
Last year, Daddys Lil Darling won the Pocahontas (Grade 2) at Churchill Downs and finished second in the Alcibiades at Keeneland and in the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs.
She also finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (Grade 1) at Santa Anita in Arcadia, Calif.
“We had horrible posts in those races, but it is better for this race,” McPeek said.
Daddys Lil Darling is in post four for the Florida Oaks.
In the Breeders’ Cup, she had post eleven in a 12-horse field. That resulted in her being in eighth place, farther back than planned, after a half mile.
Corey Lanerie rode Daddys Lil Darling in her four stakes races. He is at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., today, with mounts that include the McPeek-trained Perfect Wife in the Honeybee (Grade 3) at 1 1/16 miles on dirt for three-year-old fillies.
Robby Albarado will ride Daddys Lil Darling in the Florida Oaks.
Daddys Lil Darling is the 7-2 second choice and La Coronet is the 5-2 favorite in the morning line.
The Florida Oaks will be the first race for La Coronel since last Nov. 4 when she finished sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. She was the 4-1 favorite in a 14-horse field.
In her previous race, La Coronel won the Jessamine (Grade 3) at 1 1/16 miles on turf at Keeneland.
Regular jockey Florent Geroux will ride La Coronel, a daughter of Colonel John, for trainer Mark Casse.
The Florida Oaks also has Compelled and Fifty Five. They finished second and third in the Sweetest Chant (Grade 3) at one mile on turf at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 4.
Rymska, winner of the Sweetest Chant, is not in the Florida Oaks.
Rymska won the Sweetest Chant by ¾ of a length over Compelled in 1:35.04, a solid time for a 3-year-old.
Compelled finished nose ahead of Fifty Five.
Last Nov. 12, Compelled won by 6 ½ lengths in the Juvenile Filly Turf at one mile at Gulfstream Park West (Calder).
Paco Lopez rode Compelled in that race and has the mount in the Florida Oaks. Tom Proctor trains Compelled, a daughter of War Front.
Dynatail is trained by Michael Dini will be ridden by her regular jockey Orlando Bocachica.
Past performances indicate that Dynatail will be contested for the lead by Like a Hurricane and Valentine Wish.
“The horses she’s beaten (to date) aren’t stars, and this time she’s facing horses that have been in major races,” Dini told the Tampa Bay Downs media office. “But I have a lot of good thoughts about her, and she will probably be in front early.”
He added with a joke: “I told her that when they come to her, you have to be ready.”
Compelled, La Coronel and Daddys Lil Darling will no doubt be coming to Dynatail in the stretch.
Daddys Lil Darling has had some fast recent workouts on dirt at Payson Park, and a key to the Florida Oaks could be how well she takes to the turf.
Her sire is Scat Daddy, who won the 2007 Florida Derby (Grade 1) at Gulfstream.
“We’ll probably keep her on the dirt most of this year, but there could be some turf in her future,” McPeek said. “She is a half-sister to Mongolian Saturday, who won the Breeders’ Cup Turf.”
Mongolian Saturday won that Grade 1 race in 2015 at Santa Anita.
Mongolian Saturday’s sire is Any Given Saturday.
Miss Hot Salsa is the dam of Daddys Lil Darling and of Mongolian Saturday.
Miss Hot Salsa was sired by Houston, whose sire was the 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew.
Mongolian Saturday, a 7-year-old gelding, is entered in Saturday’s $75,000 Silks Run at Gulfstream. It is the 12th race, at five furlongs on turf for four-year-olds and up.