FLORIDA / PLETCHER’S R HEAT LIGHTNING HEADS GULFSTREAM PARK OAKS – Paul R. Robsham Stables’ R Heat Lightning was considered a major contender for the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) heading into Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Oaks (GII), but her 8 ¼-length demolition of six rivals at Gulfstream Park could make her the filly to beat in America’s greatest race for 3-year-old fillies on Friday, May 6 race at Churchill Downs.

The 3-year-old daughter of Trippi, the odds-on 3-5 favorite in the Gulfstream Oaks, rallied three wide on the far turn in her debut at the Kentucky Oaks distance of 1 1/8 miles and drew away easily under jockey
John Velazquez. Island School rallied for second and 50-1 shot Salary Drive salvaged third. It’s Tricky, the 9-5 second choice, never threatened and finished fourth.

R Heat Lightning, trained by two-time Kentucky Oaks winner Todd Pletcher, covered the distance in 1:49.27.

Pletcher’s filly won Saratoga’s Spinaway (GI) and was runner-up to unbeaten champion Awesome Feather in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Churchill Downs at two. Saturday’s win was preceded this year by a romp in Gulfstream’s one-mile Davona Dale (GII), and her combined victory margin in the two races is 15 ½ lengths.

“I wasn’t surprised that she ran that kind of race today after the way she ran the last time,” Pletcher said. “I didn’t think she got quite the respect she deserved after winning the Spinaway and finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup last year, but now I think she’ll be recognized at the head of the class.”

Trainer Shug McGaughey said runner-up Island School could also head to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Oaks.

“It’s very hard to catch up over this track from the back, but we always want to let her run her race, and that’s what we did today,” McGaughey said. “We thought going two turns was what she’d like, and she’ll keep improving.”

MIDWEST (Illinois, Kentucky) / ASHLAND FIELD TAKES SHAPE – Kathmanblu, the favorite in 2011 Kentucky Oaks Future Wager, looms as the likely favorite for Saturday’s 74th running of the $400,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (GI).

Trainer Ken McPeek skipped the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) for a run in the Keeneland race by Kathmanblu, who carries a three-race winning streak that includes Churchill Downs’ Golden Rod (GII) and Fair Grounds’ Rachel Alexandra (GIII).

Other likely starters for the 1 1/16-mile race Ashland, which will be run over Keeneland’s synthetic Polytrack, include Pocahontas (GII) winner Dancinginherdreams; Mazarine (GIII) and Suncoast winner Wyomia; Delightful Mary, third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and winner of the filly division of the recent Ocala Breeders’ Sales (“OBS”) Championships in Florida; Delta Princess (GIII) and Silverbulletday winner Bouquet Booth; Draw It and Excited.

SOUTH (Arkansas, Louisiana) / HEARTS ON FIRE LIKELY FOR INSTANT RACING – The field for Saturday’s $300,000 Fantasy (GII) at Oaklawn Park figures to be something less than crowded, but trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said on Sunday that his promising 3-year-old filly Hearts On Fire would probably run in the $100,000 Instant Racing on April 15.

“I’m just not sure our filly is quite up to the level of the leaders around her quite yet,” Von Hemel said.

Honeybee (GIII) winner Joyful Victory and unbeaten Arienza are expected to head the Fantasy field.