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Gulfstream Park Oaks 2024 | Gulfstream Park Picks [Kentucky Oaks]
Fiona's Magic (right) outfinishes Into Champagne (Coglianese Photos)

Gulfstream Park Oaks 2024 | Gulfstream Park Picks [Kentucky Oaks]

Fiona’s Magic and Into Champagne, separated by a half-length in the Davona Dale (G2) four weeks ago, graded-stakes placed Scalable and Ways and Means and stakes winner Power Squeeze, riding a three-race win streak, help comprise a competitive edition of the $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) presented by FanDuel TV Saturday.

The 54th running of the 1 1/16-mile Oaks for 3-year-old fillies is part of a blockbuster 14-race program featuring 10 stakes, five graded, worth $2.425 million in purses anchored by the $1 million Curlin Florida Derby (G1) presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa, one of the country’s premier Triple Crown preps. First-race post time is 11:30 a.m.

Following the seven-furlong Forward Gal (G3) Feb. 3 and one-mile Davona Dale (G2) March 2, the Oaks completes the Gulfstream Park winter series of stakes for 3-year-old fillies and offers 200 qualifying points for the Kentucky Oaks (G1) to the top five finishers on a 100-50-25-15-10 basis. It is carded as Race 11 with a post time of 4:40 p.m.

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Stonehedge’s Florida homebred Fiona’s Magic has been first or second in all five of her starts, three of them wins, including a narrow decision over previously undefeated Into Champagne in the Davona Dale. It was her second start of the year after running second behind multiple stakes winner R Harper Rose in the Forward Gal.

“She’s going into the race well. She came out of her last race really good and she’s been training really nice,” trainer Michael Yates said. “We’ve pretty much followed the same [plan] going into this race as I did into the last race. We breezed [her] in company and thought [she] worked really well.”

As she had in her previous three starts, Fiona’s Magic raced on or near the lead in the Davona Dale, her longest trip to date, taking pressure throughout and seeing her lead dwindle to a head at the top of the stretch before digging in through the lane while between horses. Her prior two wins had come by 9 ½ combined lengths, including a seven-length maiden triumph in mid-November.

“I thought it was an excellent race,” Yates said. “She showed some grit. She had to dig down to get it done.”

Fiona’s Magic will be stretching out for the sixth straight race in her two-turn debut. Jorge Ruiz has the call for the first time from Post 8 of nine, rated at 6-1 on the morning line.

“Obviously I’ve been impressed with her because she’s been going up in class and further out in distance every race,” Yates said. “It’s hard not to like that.”

Six Column Stables, Randall Bloch, Jim Gladden, Mike Davis and Michael Steele’s Into Champagne lost for the first time in three starts in the Davona Dale. The $200,000 Into Mischief yearling graduated by 6 ¾ lengths last June at Ellis Park, then went unraced for 206 days before returning with a 1 ¼-length triumph in the six-furlong Glitter Woman Jan. 7 at Gulfstream.

“I’m really happy with her this time coming into this race,” trainer Ian Wilkes said. “After the last race I just had to take my time with her, and that’s why I waited two months. But she came out of that last race going forward, so I was very happy with her.”

After breaking outwardly at the start, Into Champagne raced four wide around the turn and was kept outside by regular rider Julien Leparoux in the stretch, moving to within a head of the lead entering the lane before settling for second, 1 ¾ lengths ahead of previously unbeaten Leslie’s Rose.

“The last race was a good race. She didn’t know how to respond when taken on down the lane. She won her first start so easy and won her next race easy. She didn’t know how to handle facing some adversity, but I see a better filly now, a maturing filly,” Wilkes said. “When you race once as a 2-year-old you lack the seasoning so I’m trying to squeeze all that in, as well as keep her moving forward and she’s responding. She’s handled everything well.”

Leparoux has the call again from Post 5 on Into Champagne (5-1 ML). Wilkes previously won the Oaks in 2019 with Champagne Anyone, who also had Six Columns and Bloch as part of the ownership.

The 8-5 program favorite for the Gulfstream Park Oaks is Klaravich Stables Inc.’s homebred Ways and Means, unraced in 211 days after finishing second by a half-length as the favorite in the seven-furlong Spinaway (G1) Sept. 3 at Saratoga, a month following her 12 ¾-length debut triumph there. The bay daughter of Practical Joke shows eight timed breezes since early February at Payson Park in Indiantown, Fla., the most recent a four-furlong move in 48 seconds Sunday, second-fastest of 44 horses.

Irad Ortiz Jr. rides Ways and Means from Post 4.

Drawing outermost Post 9 under jockey Jose Ortiz is Repole Stable’s Scalable (G1), trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, who previously won the Oaks with In Tune (2014), Dreaming of Julia (2013), R Heat Lightning (2011) and Devil May Care (2010).

By late champion sprinter Speightstown, also trained by Pletcher, Scalable (6-1 ML) went winless in three starts at 2, finishing second in the Chandelier (G2) and fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1), both 1 1/16 miles last fall at Santa Anita. The Oaks will be her third start of Gulfstream’s Championship Meet, following a six-length maiden triumph Jan. 4 and a fourth, beaten four lengths as the favorite, in the Forward Gal.

“We’ve kind of had a pretty ambitious schedule with her but she seemed to handle it pretty well. Backing up to seven-eighths last time wasn’t her preferred distance, I’d say, so getting her stretched back out I believe will be beneficial,” Pletcher said. “It’ll be nice to get her back around two turns. She’s training well for this so hopefully she’ll make another move forward.”

Lea Farms’ Power Squeeze (8-1 ML) graduated at third asking last fall at Delaware Park in an off-the-turf maiden special weight going one mile. The Union Rags filly opened this year with a five-length victory in the one-mile Cash Run Jan. 1 at Gulfstream, and followed up by winning the one-mile, 40-yard Suncoast Feb. 10 at Tampa Bay Downs.

Daniel Centeno, aboard for the Suncoast, rides back from Post 1.

Completing the field are:

  • R Lee Lewis’ Gun Song (4-1 ML), an eye-catching 5 ¾-length optional claiming allowance winner going one mile Feb. 9 at Gulfstream
  • Copper Thoroughbreds’ Do Gooder (10-1 ML), who won a one-mile maiden special weight by four lengths Feb. 18 at Gulfstream in her second start
  • Abdullateef Al Zeer’s Neom City (30-1 ML), a troubled sixth in her most recent start Feb. 22
  • Patricia Pavlish’s America’s Vow (30-1 ML), third in the Suncoast