Servis has double-barreled “Blue” for Delaware Oaks
Mo Shopping held off Blue Strike (#6) to win the Light Hearted Stakes at Delaware Park. Photo by HoofprintsInc.com.
by Doug McCoy
Trainer John Servis has some fond memories of Delaware Park going back to the days when he used to come to the track as a kid, and now the veteran horseman will have a double-barreled threat when the field goes to the post Saturday for the 67th running of the Grade 3, $300,000 Delaware Oaks.
Servis, who became a household name with the great Smarty Jones, has one runner with tactical speed and another who possesses a strong late kick. Servis thinks both Blue Union Rags and Blue Strike have legitimate chances to win one of the region’s most prestigious races.
Both fillies are owned by D J Stable LLC, and both last ran in the $50,000 Light Hearted, a mile and 70 yard prep for the Oaks. Blue Strike was sent to the post as the 3-2 favorite of that field of six and closed well late to be just a half-length back of winner Mo Shopping, but it was the race that the “other” D J entrant turned in that had Servis talking the other morning from his headquarters at Parx Racing.
“I really think Blue Union Rags might have been the best horse that day,” Servis said. “She bobbled leaving the gate, then after she’d moved up behind the leaders into the stretch the rider (Jorge Vargas, Jr.) had to steady over horses’ heels and alter course outside with her. She’s a big, long-striding filly, and once she gets rolling, she needs to have clear sailing. She’s not the kind that can be stopped and get going again.”
Blue Union Rags, a daughter of Union Rags, is out of the Smart Strike mare Wishful Splendor. She’s a half-sister to the multiple-graded stakes winner Juanita and cost $335,000 at auction as a yearling. That would make the graded black-type on offer in the Oaks a valuable commodity, and Servis thinks that, if things break right, she could be in the mix.
“There looks to be enough speed in the race to set things up for her late running style,” he explained. “And if she gets a clean trip and clear racing room once she starts running, I think she’s going to have a great chance.”
Servis said that Blue Strike, $170,000 yearling purchase who is by Smart Strike out of the Ghostzapper mare Owl Moon, is a horse that just took some time to come together.
“She was a little late to come around and we took our time with her,” the trainer reflected, “We started her once at two on the turf in Florida then brought her back home and ran her at Parx for her first start at three and she ran second. We had to give her a little time after that race in February but when she came back in April at Laurel she really ran like a good horse when she broke her maiden at Laurel after we put the blinkers on her.”
After breaking her maiden, Blue Strike won an allowance easily at Parx Racing before her runner-up effort in the Light Hearted. Servis likes the way his charge is coming into the race, and the approach she takes on the track.
“She’s got the perfect running style, tactical speed with the ability to sit close to the lead,” Servis explained. “She and Blue Union Rags worked well together the other day (June 29, five furlongs in 1:00.2 at Parx), so both are coming up the race the right way.”
Unlike her stablemate, Blue Union Rags, a massive filly, has more of a late-running style that, at the beginning of her career, made it tough to find races. She didn’t break her maiden until her sixth career start, but there was good reason for that.
“We actually ran her three times on the grass because we knew there would be more two-turn races for her on the turf, but she just doesn’t like the grass so you can throw those races out,” the trainer pointed out. “We had a hard time finding races for her going long. Once we got her in going longer on the dirt she was able to settle early and make her late run.”
Blue Union Rags was off seven weeks from her allowance win at Laurel Park to her fifth-place effort in the Weber City Miss at that track and then seven more from that race until the Light Hearted.
“So you would think she would have gotten something out of that last race,” Servis said. “She’s such a big, robust filly that people see her around the barn for the first time and say, ‘Gee that’s a good looking colt.’”
In four starts at a mile or beyond on the main track, Blue Union Rags has two wins and that close-up fourth-place finish in the Light Hearted. That might be her ace in the hole heading into the Delaware Oaks.
“She’ll run all day, the farther the better,” Servis said. “She just needs to get a pace to run at and clear racing room. Now we’ve just got to deal with Mr. Pletcher (Todd Pletcher has three horses entered in the Oaks), but if it’s a graded race in America you have to expect to see horses from the big guys like Pletcher, Asmussen, or Chad Brown in the field. That’s just racing these days.”
It’s been 17 years since Servis saddled Zonk to win the 2001 Delaware Oaks for Fox Hill Farms, his only graded win at the track, and the veteran horseman said it’s always exciting to saddle a runner in a top race at Delaware Park.
“I’ve always loved Delaware Park.” Servis mused. “It will always be a special place to race for me.”
Race 10 — GRADE 3 DELAWARE OAKS
RACE PARTICULARS: Race 10 (5:45 pm EDT), Grade 3, $300,000 guaranteed purse for 3-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles
For more info on all four stakes at Delaware this afternoon, check out our In Focus guide.
1. Mo Shopping (8-1): Trainer Pletcher has three entered here – this miss plus #3 and #6 – so who actually starts is a question here; fresh off a win in the Light Hearted, this Uncle Mo filly seems likely to do so; in second off a two-month break, she owns the right to step forward, though the water here certainly figures deeper
2. Blue Union Rags (20-1): Trip trouble early and late doomed this John Servis trainee last out in the Light Hearted, but if you like her rivals from that race in this spot, you need to give her a look, too; note that rider Vargas jumps ship to #4 here
3. Takechargedelilah (10-1): Take Charge Indy mare has won two straight, though beating just four rivals in last, and none of three to run back has won next out; works since that victory are fairly moderate
4. Maya Malibu (8-1): Early promise — she won at first asking and was second and third in a pair of G1 races at two — hasn’t quite panned out for a filly out of the millionaire Island Sand; did register first win since debut race last out when taking an off-the-turf N1X locally, but the water’s deeper here
5. Blue Strike (10-1): Came under a ride with a long way to go in the Light Hearted but stuck with it willingly to be a closing second; has been taking giant steps forward race-by-race, and another one makes her formidable here
6. Cascanueces (6-1): How good are Peruvian G1 races? That question might get answered here; this miss, another from the Pletcher barn, absolutely has throttled her South American rivals; she gets Lasix for the first time here, has been training forwardly, and gets Kendrick Carmouche up
7. Prospective Lady (12-1): Bennett trainee gave a good accounting of herself last out when grabbing the lead and holding on gamely for the show spot, but added ground here doesn’t feel like it helps her cause; showing a couple of solid works since and gets to run on her home track
8. Coach Rocks (5-1): Nothing wrong with her effort in the G2 Black-Eyed Susan, and slight cutback in distance figures a plus; has shown ability to run well on the lead or running at the pace; major puzzle here is how to turn tables on #9; note this is trainer Romans’ second start at DEL in last five years
9. Red Ruby (3-1): Handicapping puzzle: is the fourth-place finish at odds-on in the G3 Honeybee just an anomaly in her otherwise stellar form? Or is she a true mudlark who faltered on a fast track? If the former, there’s every reason to expect another big effort here. If the latter, might want to go deep. Gorder trainee has won three of her last four and romped in the G2 Black-Eyed Susan and keeps Paco Lopez aboard here
10. Gio Game (4-1): Last-place finisher from G1 placing in last returned to be second in minor stake at GP; no shame in finishing behind 3x G1 winner Monomoy Girl; improving Casse trainee has two wins at the trip