ARCADIA, Calif. -- Nashoba's Key, flawless in six starts, and Citronnade, the winner of four graded stakes this year, meet for the first time in Saturday's $400,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting.
At stake is momentum going toward the $2 million Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Monmouth Park on Oct. 27.
The Breeders' Cup is firmly on trainer Carla Gaines's mind as she prepares Nashoba's Key, who is making her first start in a graded stakes on turf. Trainer Bobby Frankel insists the Breeders' Cup is not his focus with Citronnade, whose five-race winning streak was interrupted with a fourth in the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park on Aug. 11.
"I'm worried about this race right now," he said earlier this week.
Citronnade, who won the Grade 2 Beverly Hills Handicap at Hollywood Park on July 1 with little effort, is a confirmed front-runner who may prove tough to catch in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon, which is run for fillies and mares over 1 1/4 miles on turf.
Owned by Frank Stronach, Citronnade has shown the ability to set a decent pace and pull clear, as she did in the Grade 2 San Gorgonio Handicap at Santa Anita last January, or set a sleepy pace and draw off, as she did in the Beverly Hills over 1 1/4 miles on turf.
"I want to see her in front," Frankel said.
Citronnade must have a better start than she did in the Beverly D., when she struck the gate, never reached the front, and finished seven lengths behind Royal Highness in a race run over a good track.
"I'm not sure if she really liked the going," Frankel said.
Frankel said he thinks that Citronnade has a class advantage over Nashoba's Key.
"She hasn't beaten the quality on the grass that we have," Frankel said of his main rival.
Nashoba's Key will be close to Citronnade early in the race. Owned by Warren Williamson, Nashoba's Key won the Fran's Valentine Stakes for statebreds at Hollywood Park in April in her last start on turf.
The Yellow Ribbon is Nashoba's Key's first start at 1 1/4 miles. Since the Fran's Valentine, she has won three consecutive graded stakes on synthetic tracks at 1 1/16 and 1 1/8 miles.
"I think she'll love it," Gaines said of the 1 1/4 miles. "In the morning, she gets stronger and stronger. It's hard to get her pulled in her gallops."
Gaines acknowledges that the Yellow Ribbon will be tougher than Nashoba's Key's last victory, in the Grade 2 Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar in early August.
"We're jumping into a different quality of horses," she said.
The Yellow Ribbon has drawn a field of six, including two improving 4-year-old fillies - Imagine and Black Mamba.
Imagine won the CTT and TOC Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf at Del Mar on Aug. 24, her third win in her last four starts. The Yellow Ribbon is her graded stakes debut.
Black Mamba was a game second to the Frankel-trained Precious Kitten in the Grade 2 Palomar Handicap at Del Mar on Sept. 1, her North American stakes debut.