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2023 Dixie Belle Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Key Of Life Returns From Layoff For Brad Cox
Key of Life (Keeneland Photo)

2023 Dixie Belle Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Key Of Life Returns From Layoff For Brad Cox

Aaron previews the 2023 Dixie Belle Stakes from Oaklawn Park, then gives his top picks & long shots. After winning 3 straight races in 2022 including the Myrtlewood Stakes, Key of Life returns from a layoff for trainer Brad Cox. Will she rebound from her last-out defeat as the odds-on favorite in the Fern Creek Stakes? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The track press release:

Key of Life is the 7-5 program favorite for a strong renewal of the $150,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters Saturday at Oaklawn.

Probable post time for the 6-furlong Dixie Belle, the ninth of 10 races, is 4:42 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 12:30 p.m.

The projected eight-horse field from the rail out:

  1. Pate, Rafael Bejarano to ride, 115 pounds, 12-1 on the morning line
  2. Klassy Bridgette, Francisco Arrieta, 119, 6-1
  3. Key of Life, Flavien Prat, 122, 7-5
  4. Stone Silent, Ramon Vazquez, 119, 3-1
  5. Always Angels, Nik Juarez, 115, 15-1
  6. Parody, Ricardo Santana Jr., 115, 12-1
  7. Twirled, Isaac Castillo, 119, 7-2
  8. Baytown Lady, Grace McEntee, 115, 20-1

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From the first crop of Grade 1 winner Mo Town, Key of Life has a 3-0-2 record from five starts and earnings of $282,350. Key of Life was a front-running 6 ¾-length winner of the $200,000 Myrtlewood Stakes at 6 furlongs Oct. 28 at Keeneland.

Key of Life had been under consideration for the $125,000 Forward Gal Stakes (G3) at 7 furlongs last Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Instead, she will make her 3-year-old debut in the Dixie Belle.

“We just weren’t quite ready to go to Gulfstream and face that group,” said Brad Cox, who trains Key of Life for co-owners Staton Flurry of Hot Springs and Texan Gregory Hoffman (Hoffman Family Racing LLC). “She’s a stake winner, so we really need to try and focus on getting some graded placing and making her a graded winner this year. This will be the first step toward doing that.”

Flurry purchased Key of Life for $350,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training.

Key of Life exits a third-place finish in the $200,000 Fern Creek Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs. She has five published workouts in advance of the Dixie Belle, the last four coming at Fair Grounds. Fern Creek winner Red Carpet Ready returned to capture the Forward Gal and is unbeaten in three lifetime starts.

“It wasn’t a bad race,” Cox said of the Fern Creek. “It just wasn’t what we were hoping and expecting. Obviously, the filly that won the race is very good. She showed that again (in the Forward Gal). She won pretty impressively. So, she did run behind a really, really good filly. I kind of think maybe I did a little bit too much with her too quick. She won a first-level allowance there at Keeneland and then I ran her back in three weeks in a stakes and she won very impressively and then we were back in four weeks or whatever it may have been. It just may have been a little bit too much in a short period of time, but she’s always been a sound filly. She had plenty of runs at 2 and hopefully she gets started off in the right way Saturday.”

Key of Life will be racing on Lasix for the first time Saturday.

Twirled finished second in the Fern Creek, beaten 3 ¼ lengths, and returned to win a first-level allowance sprint Dec. 31 at Oaklawn for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who has won the Dixie Belle a record-tying three times. Asmussen is seeking his record-extending 99th career Oaklawn stakes victory.

The speedy Stone Silent returns for her Southern California-based connections (trainer John Sadler and Vazquez, a former Oaklawn regular) after winning her only start, the $100,000 Debutante Stakes at 5 furlongs June 18 at Santa Anita. Sadler said Stone Silent subsequently received 90-plus days off because of a minor knee issue and has trained well for her 3-year-old debut.

“She’s very fast,” Sadler said.

The daughter of Adios Charlie, a $410,000 purchase at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales March Sale of 2-year-olds in training, returned to the work tab Dec. 3 at Santa Anita. She logged nine more works there in advance of the Dixie Belle.

“It’s a tough field,” Sadler said. “It’s a good field, but she’s a nice filly. She’s only got one start under her, but you can see by her works she’s training forwardly, so we’re anxious to get started.”

Klassy Bridgette will be making her stakes debut after winning her first two local starts for 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman. Klassy Bridgette, from the first crop of Grade 1 winner Army Mule, was a six-length entry-level allowance winner Jan. 13.

“Tough race,” Hartman said. “You’ve got horses coming in from California and that Cox horse to deal with. Got our work cut for us. We’ll see what she’s made of.”

Parody returns to the barn of trainer Rodolphe Brisset after previously being in Southern California with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Parody exits a fourth in the $200,000 Santa Ynez Stakes (G3) at 7 furlongs Jan. 8 at Santa Anita.

Parody is also entered in Sunday’s eighth race at Oaklawn, a $104,000 entry-level allowance sprint.

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