Four scratches later, Shimmering Aspen draws into CT Oaks
by Ted Black
When the entries were finalized for Saturday’s Grade III, $300,000 Charles Town Oaks for three-year-old fillies, it appeared that Maryland-based Shimmering Aspen would end up on the outside looking in. Only 10 can start, and, based on the track’s method of determining preference, the talented Malibu Moon filly ranked only thirteenth of the 14 entries.
But Thursday morning the Charles Town race office said that four horses are expected be scratched from the Oaks and that Shimmering Aspen would then draw into the field, surprisingly good news for trainer Rodney Jenkins, who initially thought that he would have to find another race for Shimmering Aspen, who has won four of five starts this year and five of seven overall for owner Ellen Charles’s Hillwood Stables.
Her last two victories came against stakes rivals at Laurel Park at the Oaks distance of seven furlongs, albeit at one turn over the Maryland oval. She won each easily, the Alma North, for sophomore fillies, by almost six lengths over a field that included Grade 1 winner Yellow Agate; and the Maryland-bred Twixt, for fillies and mares three and up, also by more than five.
But her impressive resume — five wins, two in stakes company, from seven starts — was missing one critical element: graded stakes earnings. In her only previous try against graded company, she ran seventh in the Grade 2 Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico after leading to the final furlong. Graded stakes in Maryland pay down to sixth.
“When you look at how they wrote the race, the rules gave preference to any horse that had (earned money) in a graded stakes,” Jenkins said. “There was nothing wrong with that, we just didn’t fit that group. (Charles Town racing secretary) Charlie (Macintosh) called me this morning and told me I was going to get in because those other four were coming out. We had already taken her over to the track for her normal routine. She was going to do the same thing even if we didn’t get in. We’re looking forward to going up there. I’m pleased with the way she’s coming into the race.”
The preference for entries for the race had been for Grade I, Grade II then Grade III winners, then highest earnings in top six finishes in graded stakes, then to highest earnings in top six finishes in all stakes. Seven of the horses higher on the preference list have lower overall earnings than does Shimmering Aspen. Those include Astrollinthepark, whose graded earnings came when fifth in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness, and Downtown Mama, sixth in the Grade 2 Prioress.
Charles Town Vice President of Racing Operations Erich Zimny said that four horses — Stay Fond, Sine Wave, Who’s The Lady and Stormy Embrace — are expected to be scratched from the Oaks. Who’s the Lady and Stormy Embrace both were on the also-eligible list, but the scratches of the other two will allow both Yorkiepoo Princess and Shimmering Aspen to draw into the field.
“We didn’t expect it at all,” Zimney said in regard to the full field. “It was a total surprise. This year we could have split the race. I think we had 18 in there. We did move the race back a week, so maybe we got a horse out of he Prioress we wouldn’t have gotten. But we didn’t do anything different other than that.”
Zimny said in the future the track would consider changing the preference system for the race. A different system might reward ungraded stakes wins more than it does fifth- and sixth-place finishes in graded company, for example. But any system, Zimny said, is bound to leave some people unhappy.
“We’ll talk about it,” he said. “There’s some stuff you can do to tweak it, but when you have 18, you’re going to have to exclude almost half the field. It worked pretty well in the past.”