Thursday, April 12, 2012

Oaks Contender: Grace Hall

With the defections of My Miss Aurelia and Weemissfrankie, Grace Hall became the sole top finisher of the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) to remain on the Kentucky Oaks (GI) trail. In fact, for many, she is the top contender for the race that is labeled as the Kentucky Derby (GI)’s sister.

Grace Hall was a brilliant juvenile, winning her first three starts by a total 10 ½ lengths. She, like Union Rags, debuted at Delaware Park without even going off favored before traveling to Saratoga for a graded stakes race. This graded stakes was the prestigious Spinaway Stakes (GI), in which the Tony Dutrow trainee edged away to triumph by 1 ¾ lengths. She then returned to Delaware Park for her final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, effortlessly winning the ungraded Blue Hen Stakes by 5 ¾ lengths.

In the Juvenile Fillies, Grace Hall ran into the tremendously talented My Miss Aurelia and could not keep up with the eventual champion, finishing three lengths behind the Stonestreet homebred. However, she was six lengths clear of the dual grade one-winning Weemissfrankie and left behind twelve fillies.

Grace Hall made her much-anticipated sophomore debut in the Davona Dale Stakes (GII) at Gulfstream Park, but was beaten a neck by Yara, a 64-1 longshot. Grace Hall ran gamely but simply could not outduel Yara. She avenged the loss next out in the Gulfstream Oaks Stakes (GII), settling off the pace before striking to the lead under Javier Castellano to score by a dominant 6 ½ lengths. Behind her were seven other fillies, including Yara and the highly-touted Zo Impressive.

With her Gulfstream Oaks victory, Grace Hall verified that she will have no issue with the nine-furlong distance of the Kentucky Oaks, as the Gulfstream Oaks shares the same mile and one-eighth distance. Her pedigree also suggests that she will not have a problem with the distance of the Oaks, as she is by Empire Maker and out of an Ezzoud mare.

Empire Maker, winner of the 2003 Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F), is also the sire of the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (GI, 9F) winners Acoma and Mushka, the Personal Ensign Stakes (GI, 10F)-winning Icon Project, the Santa Anita Derby (GI, 9F)-winning and Kentucky Derby (GI, 10F) runner-up Pioneerof the Nile, and the Alabama Stakes (GI, 10F)- and Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (GI, 9F)-winning Royal Delta. The stallion, who is inbred 4 X 3 to the Man O’ War sire line descendant, In Reality, also exhibits two crosses of Aspidistra, Buckpasser, Native Dancer, and Rough’n Tumble in the first five generations of his pedigree. When bred to Grace Hall’s dam, Season’s Greetings, the two form a 4 X 3 cross of Mr. Prospector, a 4 X 5 cross of Northern Dancer, and a 4 X 5 cross of a Reine De Course mare.

Season’s Greetings, an Irish-bred by a victor of multiple prestigious group ones, was a stakes winner in France owned by Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum. This, of course, makes Grace Hall bred by Darley. The top side of Season’s Greeting’s pedigree is primarily European while the bottom side is chiefly American. Through her dam, Grace Hall is a direct descendant of a string of Reine De Course mares from Calumet Farm that begins with her seventh dam, Nellie Flag, a daughter of the 1924 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly Nellie Morse. Nellie Flag was in turn a champion, garnering the title of Champion Two-Year-Old Filly in 1934. Nellie Flag produced three black-type winners, including a champion and the Kentucky Oaks-winning Nellie L, Grace Hall’s sixth dam. Nellie L continued this strong dam line by producing Comely Nell, the dam of the champion Bold Forbes.

Grace Hall has a valid chance at repeating the feat of her sixth dam, Nellie L. Not only is she wonderfully bred for the Kentucky Oaks, but she has proved that she possesses remarkable racing talent. It would be no surprise to see Grace Hall standing before the Twin Spires with a blanket of beautiful lilies draped over her withers. 

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