OLDSMAR, Fla. -- La Coronel looked so good in winning the Grade 3 Jessamine last fall at Keeneland that Breeders' Cup bettors made her the favorite in the Juvenile Fillies Turf a few weeks later.
She wound up sixth, but that didn't change what trainer Mark Casse has believed about her for quite some time.
"I think she's a superstar," said Casse.
On Saturday at Tampa Bay Downs, La Coronel will make her first start of the year when she faces eight other 3-year-old fillies in a terrific 34th running of the Grade 3, $200,000 Florida Oaks at 1 1/16 miles on turf.
Casse said this week from his Ocala, Fla., base that La Coronel got a brief respite following the Breeders' Cup and has returned as good as ever following a series of workouts that began in late January.
"I just watched her train, and she's tremendous," he said. "I've wanted to keep her separate from Dream Dancing," who won the Grade 3 Herecomesthebride last weekend on the Gulfstream Park turf for Casse.
"So, I've kept her here, getting her ready. I think if she continues to grasp what the game's about, she's going to be an extremely good filly."
La Coronel, owned by John Oxley, will break from post 5 under Florent Geroux. Her top challengers include the second- through fourth-place finishers five weeks ago in the Grade 3 Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream -- Compelled, Fifty Five, and the Casse-trained Tamit -- as well as Daddys Lil Darling, a Ken McPeek-trained filly who ended her 2-year-old season with four straight Grade 1 or Grade 2 dirt races. Daddys Lil Darling has never raced on turf.
"She's done really well all winter," said McPeek. "I was looking for a prep where timing is more important than surface, although her family does have a lot of grass in it. I'm looking to use this to take us to the Fair Grounds Oaks or the Ashland."
The top locally based filly in the field is Dynatail, who has gone wire to wire in three straight races since trainer Mike Dini added blinkers. But she figures to have early company here in the form of Like a Hurricane, returning from a four-month layoff for trainer Phil Bauer.
The Florida Oaks goes as the ninth of 12 races (post, 4:25 p.m. Eastern) and is a key link in multi-race wagers that also include the Tampa Bay Derby (race 11).
The Florida Oaks was run on dirt from its 1984 inception through 2010. Since it was switched to turf in 2011, Tapicat has run the fastest time (1:41.89 in 2013). Last year, Baciami Piccola posted a $31 upset for Amerman Racing.
La Coronel, by Colonel John
Last 3 Beyers: 79-87-85
A powerful maiden win on closing day at Saratoga marked her turf debut, which then was followed by the Jessamine romp and a berth in the Breeders' Cup.
Compelled, by War Front
Last 3 Beyers: 82-86-65
This Glen Hill Farm homebred has yet to run a bad one in five starts and appeared to be the Sweetest Chant winner until Rymska came flying to nail her.