During the early days of February, the 3-year-old filly Ainsley was entered against $12,500 maiden-claiming rivals at Gulfstream Park in a last-ditch effort to get the underachieving filly a victory. That plan of action proved successful as Ainsley drew off to win with ease, and after being claimed that day, the filly has since returned to the winner’s circle twice in advance of her stakes debut in Saturday’s $100,000 Calder Oaks.
“It’s not that often you get to claim a horse for $12,500 and then three starts later you’re running in a stake,” trainer Marcus Vitali said. “And usually over there (at Gulfstream), when there’s a horse like her dropping to twelve-five, you get four or five people in trying to claim. But we were the only one in for her. I was surprised.”
Vitali had seen Ainsley run in each of her first three starts at Gulfstream, and with each outing the filly returned a stronger echo on the conditioner’s radar.
“From the time she started her career, she’s had nothing but trouble in her races; none of her starts were clean,” Vitali said. “Each race she had trouble, trouble, trouble. The first race where she didn’t have anything go wrong was the race I claimed her, and she won that by 15 lengths.”
But troubled trips alone aren’t the sole reason Vitali noticed the filly and later dropped a claim slip on behalf of owner Bruce Mendel on February 3.
“The other reason I claimed her is that she’s a half sister to a stakes winner (2010 Grade 3 Miesque Stakes winner Neversaidiwassweet); a turf stakes winner,” Vitali said. “I do my homework.”
But despite having good grassy influences in her bloodlines, Vitali admits his initial plan was to keep Ainsley focused on a main-track career, as evidenced by her March 15 starter-allowance appearance, her first for Vitali, run and won over the main track at Gulfstream.
“I would have been content just keeping the filly on the dirt,” Vitali admitted. “But my assistant (Jennifer Young) was getting on her every morning and she kept telling me to run her on the turf. She would come back, and all she would say was ‘turf, turf, turf.’
“So I got smart and I listened,” Vitali said. “For her last race, we put her on the turf. And she just ‘whistled.’ That race made the decision easy for me. Keep her on turf and try for this race. Good thing I listened.”
The turf race Vitali refers to is an opening-day entry-level allowance on the Calder grass, a one-mile dash won almost effortlessly by Ainsley, who bested her competition by three lengths.
As for the Oaks, Vitali views the race as an honest test for his filly, a contest typical for an early-season turf stake at Calder, complete with a full field and proven outfits sending out proven runners that have had success over the track in the past.
“I think it’s going to be a fair fight,” Vitali said. “There are a lot of nice fillies in there that have done well at Calder, and a lot of good trainers, so nothing is going to come easy. I think trip will dictate the race; I think it will all come down to trip. I know one thing, we drew well. From there (post five), she should get the right kind of trip.”
Though jockey Elvis Trujillo was named aboard Ainsley at time of entry, Vitali reports that a rider change will be forthcoming Saturday as Trujillo has a conflicted schedule and has opted to ride at Pimlico instead.
“Elvis won’t be in the building, so he won’t be riding,” Vitali joked. “Right now I think we’re going with (Fernando) Jara, unless his horse draws in from the AE’s. If it’s not Jara, then I guess we’ll bring out a hat and pick from there.”
Notwithstanding his good-natured exterior, Vitali realizes he is in possession of a rather nice filly with plenty of potential, and the trainer is convinced he’s not off on some quixotic quest in trying to take a $12,500 maiden-claimer and turning in her into a stakes winner in a little less than three months time.
“She looks like a good horse and she’s been training like a good horse,” Vitali stated straightforwardly. “So why not go ahead and run her like she’s a good horse.”
SECOND LEG OF STARTER SERIES SATURDAY
The second leg of the rich Calder Starter Series will be contested as the ninth race on Saturday with a full field of 12 scheduled to tour one mile on the Calder turf course.
Clean Shot, Majestic Express, and Chiseled Light, the respective third, fourth, and fifth-place finishers from the April 14 first leg, all return for Saturday’s race. Of that trio, only Majestic Express has won on grass. First leg winner Homeboykris is on the also-eligible list and has been entered to run on the main track only.
The 7-2 morning-line favorite for the race is five-time Calder turf winner Grand Cash, last seen prevailing on the Tampa Bay Downs turf in a starter allowance on April 13.
SAEZ TRIPLES THURSDAY TO TOP TABLE
Two-time Calder Meet leading rider Luis Saez registered his first riding triple of the season on Thursday, tallying victories in race two with Another Brew for trainer Kate Francy, race four with Don’t Tell Patti for Roderick Rodriguez, and race eight with Purest Form for Dave Fawkes.
With his trio of Thursday victories, Saez ended the day atop the jockey standings with 11 wins, two victories ahead of apprentice Joe Rodriguez.
Saez won both the 2011 and 2010 Calder riding titles and was the leading jockey at the 2011 Tropical Meet.