Grade I winner Off Limits, Fourstar Crook capable of delivering Eclipse Award Outstanding Trainer his third Hillsborough victory; pair of French-bred sophomores look to be strong contenders in Florida Oaks.
Chad Brown has a tremendous track record of success with all types of horses, but turf females have been a specialty.
The two-time Eclipse Award winner as Outstanding Trainer in North America seeks to build on that reputation Saturday, entering two horses in both the Grade II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares and the Grade III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for 3-year-old fillies.
The Hillsborough and the Florida Oaks are part of a five-stakes Festival Day 38 program that includes the Grade II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, a major Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve prep race for 3-year-olds.
Brown will saddle a pair of 6-year-old mares in the Hillsborough: Martin S. Schwartz’s Grade I winner Off Limits, who is riding a four-race winning streak, and Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and Gary Aisquith’s Fourstar Crook, a Grade III winner who has won nine of her most recent 11 starts.
Off Limits will break from the No. 2 post in the 10-horse field under jockey Joel Rosario, with Fourstar Crook and Irad Ortiz, Jr., directly outside of them in the No. 3 post position.
Brown has won the mile-and-an-eighth Hillsborough Stakes twice, with Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey’s Stephanie’s Kitten in 2015 and with Schwartz’s French-bred Zagora in 2012.
The Hillsborough is the ninth race on a 12-race program that begins at 12:12 p.m.
In the mile-and-a-sixteenth Florida Oaks, slated as the 10th race, Brown will vie for his second victory in the event with a pair of French-breds: Swift Thoroughbreds, Madaket Stables and Doheny Racing Stable’s Altea, who will be making her first start in the United States, and Salsa Bella, owned by Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables and Bethlehem Stables.
Altea will break from the No. 2 post under Jose Ortiz, while brother Irad Ortiz, Jr., and Salsa Bella start from the outside No. 12 post.
Brown won the 2014 Florida Oaks with still another French-bred, Testa Rossi, owned by James Covello, Thomas Coleman and Doheny Racing Stable.
The conditioner, who has trained such outstanding grass females as last year’s Eclipse Award Champion Turf Female, Lady Eli; the 2012 Eclipse and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner, Zagora; two-time Breeders’ Cup winner Stephanie’s Kitten; Dayatthespa, a Breeders’ Cup and Eclipse winner; Breeders’ Cup winners New Money Honey and Wavell Avenue; and multiple Grade I winner Dacita, says the Irish-bred Off Limits and Fourstar Crook are coming into the Hillsborough in top form.
They’ll need to be, since the salty field also includes Grade I winners La Coronel and Daddys Lil Darling.
Neither Off Limits nor Fourstar Crook has raced since last year, with Brown circling the Hillsborough for their 2018 debuts in January.
“It looks like a very strong field, and we’re bringing two fresh horses that are training extremely well,” Brown said. “They both drew good posts and hopefully they’ll get good, clean trips.”
Off Limits was 5-for-6 last year, capping her season with a dramatic last-to-first rally against 10 foes in the Grade I Matriarch Stakes on Nov. 26 at Del Mar. “She was nearly flawless (her only defeat by a neck to On Leave in the Perfect Sting at Belmont), and hopefully she will have an equally strong year this year,” Brown said.
New York-bred Fourstar Crook captured her first career graded-stakes victory in the Grade III Dr. James Penny Memorial in July at Parx Racing and finished third in her final start of 2017, the Grade I E. P. Taylor in October at Woodbine.
“She prefers firm turf, and it was soft that day, so I thought it was a good effort,” Brown said. “She is a very nice horse in her own right who has proved she belongs in open graded-stakes company.”
Altea, who was 1-for-5 in France with three seconds, was a runner-up in her most recent start, the Grade III Prix des Reservoirs – Etalon Kendargent as a 2-year-old in October at Deauville. She has been training exceptionally well at Brown’s Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach throughout the winter in preparation for starting her 3-year-old stateside campaign in the Florida Oaks in style.
“We had planned for this to be her first start, and she has been training super right along,” Brown said.
The only one of Brown’s Festival Day 38 stakes entrants not coming off an extended layoff is Salsa Bella, who finished second to Thewayiam in the Grade III Sweetest Chant Stakes on Feb. 3 at Gulfstream.
“She ran very well for it being her first race in this country and showed a good, strong kick at the end,” said Brown, who will count on jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., to mitigate the possible effects of breaking from the No. 12 post.
In addition to the three graded stakes, Saturday’s Festival Day 38 card includes the $100,000 Challenger Stakes for older horses on the main track and the $75,000 Columbia Stakes for 3-year-olds on the turf.