Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Oaks Contender: On Fire Baby

An ordinary-looking bay filly named High Heels went to post in the most prestigious race for three-year-old fillies, the Kentucky Oaks (GI) with one graded stakes victory and several stakes-placed finishes to her credit. That early May day, Anita Ebert-Cauley’s homebred crossed the wire in third behind the great Rags to Riches and the victor’s talented stablemate Octave, stamping her dam, Ornate, as a broodmare anyone would like to have.

Five years later, another daughter of Ornate, On Fire Baby, will load into the starting gate for the Run for the Lilies. This filly, however, will be more strongly backed. Not only is High Heels’ younger half-sister far flashier than she was as far as looks are concerned, but she also has a race record that draws more attention. A stunning cadet gray rather than a relatively forgettable bay, On Fire Baby has been victorious in many races in which High Heels could not quite get her nose in front.

On Fire Baby debuted at the belittled Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky, setting the pace alongside another filly before easily drawing off to a 4-length victory in the five and one-half-furlong maiden special weight. Her dominant debut was enough to convince her owner and breeder Anita Ebert-Cauley and trainer Gary Hartlage to put the filly on a much tougher path.

She took a huge step-up in class next out, contesting in the prestigious Darley Alcibiades Stakes (GI) at the competitive Keeneland fall meet. Sent off as the longest shot in a field of thirteen, On Fire Baby narrowly set the pace before faltering to finish fifth. In her first try against stakes company, the gray filly put in a valiant effort while finishing behind a future Breeders’ Cup victor, a stakes-winning filly, and a stakes-placed filly. She also finished ahead of many talented runners, including a Canadian champion, a graded stakes winner, two graded stakes-placed fillies, a stakes-placed filly, and the full sister to the graded stakes-winning Wilburn.

On Fire Baby’s respectable effort against a tough field in the Alcibiades must have given her a huge confidence boost, as next out in the Pocahontas Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs, the gray filly proved many doubters wrong. Sent off at 9-1, On Fire Baby found the perfect position off the leaders and though it appeared as if she was going in the wrong direction around the far turn, jockey Joe Johnson guided the filly through traffic in the homestretch before the pair crossed the wire victoriously by ¾ of a length. Her final time for one mile over the Churchill dirt was almost identical to the male equivalent of the Pocahontas, the Iroquois Stakes (GIII). Whereas the winner of the Iroquois, Motor City, completed the eight furlongs in 1:37.18, On Fire Baby stopped the clock at 1:37.17.

Then came her best race yet. A month after scoring in the Pocahontas, On Fire Baby contested in the Golden Rod Stakes (GII), a race that High Heels had only managed to finish third in. In the Golden Rod, On Fire Baby set the pace at Churchill Downs before showing great acceleration as she drew off to a 6 ¼-length victory. Immediately, On Fire Baby was dubbed one of the top juvenile fillies in the nation.

Her brilliance as a two-year-old was enough to convince her connections to run her against the males in her sophomore debut, which came in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park in January. Settling off the pace, On Fire Baby raced wide for a large portion of the race and despite putting up a gallant fight against the males, she finished third, beaten just over a length. Despite losing, she did defeat the winners of four past or future stakes, horses who had placed or would go on to place in four graded stakes races, and runners who had placed or would eventually place in four ungraded stakes.

On Fire Baby returned to running solely against her own gender in her following start, the Honeybee Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn Park – yet another race that High Heels ran well in but could not win. After rating just off the lead, On Fire Baby loomed on the outside around the far turn, sticking her nose in front near the quarter pole and battling with Amie’s Dini prior to drawing clear to win by 2 lengths.

Though the plan had been for On Fire Baby to make her final start before the Oaks in the Fantasy Stakes (GII) or Arkansas Derby (GI), her connections came to the decision to train her up to the Run for the Lilies, as her owner prefers to have a fresh filly going into the renowned race. She is already at Churchill Downs, having turned in a remarkable seven-furlong work over the Louisville track on Friday. I find it very encouraging that the filly breezed a much longer distance than most horses, as it prepares her for the nine-furlong expanse of the Oaks and also keeps her from working too quickly.

With the talented graded stakes-winning and Kentucky Oaks-placed High Heels as her half-sister, On Fire Baby is clearly bred for the Derby’s sister race. Yet that is not the only indication that her pedigree will support her in the Oaks. Her dam, Ornate, is a stakes-winning daughter of the juvenile champion Gilded Time who not only has produced On Fire Baby and High Heels, but is also the dam of the stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed French Kiss.

Though her sire, Smoke Glacken, was a champion sprinter, he has produced such horses as the Sabin Stakes (GIII, 8F)-winning Lady Marlboro; the Personal Ensign Stakes (GI, 10F)-winning Persistently, who defeated 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra with that win; the Fountain of Youth (GII, 8.5F)-winning Read the Footnotes; and Smok’n Frolic, who won multiple graded stakes races over one mile.

On Fire Baby is also bred on the same Smoke Glacken/Gilded Time cross as the grade one-winning Irish Smoke and is inbred 5 X 5 to both Bold Ruler and Native Dancer. 5 X 5 inbreeding to Native Dancer has appeared in the pedigrees of many talented racehorses, including the grade one winners Big Brown, El Corredor, Strategic Maneuver, and Whywhywhy. Bold Ruler inbreeding has been immensely successful, being in the pedigrees of such grade one winners as A.P. Indy, Bernardini, and Sky Mesa.

The fourth dam of On Fire Baby is Light Verse, the dam of the graded stakes-placed Al Stanza and the dam of the grade one-winning Olympio. Not only was she successful with her own offspring, but she was an influential presence in the female family of the grade one winners Cuvee, Pyro, and Paddy O’Prado. This dam line stems from female family eight, which yielded the recent Kentucky Oaks winners Plum Pretty, Rags to Riches, Bird Town, and Secret Status.  

There is no doubt that On Fire Baby should be taken seriously in the Kentucky Oaks. Her race record is flawless at Churchill Downs, which seems to be the surface over which she performs best. In addition to being a brilliant runner, On Fire Baby is bred through-and-through for success at the pinnacle of racing. She will face many tough fillies, but if On Fire Baby is on the top of her game, she will be very difficult to defeat.


Remember to like Past the Grandstand on Facebook and follow Past the Grandstand on Twitter! Links can be found on the right side of the blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment