VINERY MADISON STAKES | PURSE: $300,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | FILIES AND MARES | 7 FURLONGS
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Jim Cassidy thought about running Evening Jewel in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park this week. Then, he thought better.
"You've got Havre de Grace and Switch in there," Cassidy said. "I said, 'We might as well try to find a little better spot.' "
So instead of being a fringe player in Arkansas, Evening Jewel will be in from California as a solid favorite Thursday at Keeneland in the $300,000 Vinery Madison, a seven-furlong Polytrack race that carries the same Grade 1 rating as the $500,000 Apple Blossom.
"The filly's shown how versatile she is," Cassidy said of Evening Jewel, a California-bred 4-year-old with earnings of more than $1.2 million from 17 starts. "Plus, this seven-eighths should set us up just right for the La Troienne," a 1 1/16-mile dirt race on the May 6 Kentucky Oaks undercard at Churchill Downs.
Evening Jewel, with Victor Espinoza to ride, drew post 8 in the Madison, the eighth of nine Thursday races and the first of seven graded stakes on a huge weekend at Keeneland. Winner of the Grade 1 Ashland here last spring, Evening Jewel went on to finish second by an excruciating nose in the Kentucky Oaks amid a season in which she was an Eclipse Award finalist in the 3-year-old filly division.
The 10th running of the Madison also drew the defending champion, Dr. Zic, on the outside under jockey Corey Lanerie, although she clearly has gone off form since she led gate-to-wire last year at 15-1. The strongest opposition to Evening Jewel was expected to come from Amen Hallelujah, but that filly will be forced to scratch after a Kentucky committee decided to deny trainer Rick Dutrow a racing license.
The sleeper of the field could be Kitty in a Tizzy (post 1, Julien Leparoux), fourth here last fall in the Grade 2 Raven Run. Trainer Jim Bond really seems to have the filly on her toes following a series of rapid workouts in south Florida.
Two allowances (races 3 and 7) and the third 2-year-old race of the meet (race 2) also are on tap for Thursday, when first post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern. Live video of the Madison can be seen on DRF.com. TVG also will provide live coverage.