OCEANPORT, N.J. * Whirlie Bertie, unbeaten in three starts around two turns, tries graded stakes company for the first time in Saturday’s $150,000 Monmouth Oaks * Owner Martin L. Cherry and trainer Steve Margolis have another filly to watch in Northern Belle, who broke her maiden here Wednesday.
Rapidly improving 3-year-old fillies are always a treat to watch, and Whirlie Bertie promises to make Saturday’s $150,000 Monmouth Oaks (G3) an exciting event.
“She had to step up to win her last against older horses,” said trainer Steve Margolis, “and now she’ll have to step up again in the Oaks.
“The goal all along has been to get her to a graded stakes, and the Monmouth Oaks looked like a good fit timewise,” the trainer said. “I brought her here last week so she would have some time to get acclimated.”
Whirlie Bertie finished her work for the Oaks by breezing a half-mile in :48 4/5 at Churchill Downs last Friday. She was put on a van and arrived at Monmouth on Saturday. The filly had an open gallop at a two-minute lick Wednesday, and on Thursday jogged and schooled in the gate. Now she’ll gallop up to Saturday’s race.
“She’s got lots of energy,” Margolis said, “and that why we open-galloped her. She’s big, but she’s light on herself and she’s got a good attitude.”
Whirlie Bertie is an impressive specimen both standing still and in motion, and she has been brought along at a steady pace. She made her career debut in March, then won two races in May, and her last outing came on July 4.
“She’s a great big filly,” Margolis said, “and we took our time with her. She never started at 2, and we didn’t run her until she started working well in Florida. We put her in a seven-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream (March 12) even though we knew from her size and breeding that she’d be a router.
“We felt she’d be competitive even in a sprint,” the trainer said, “but we were very disappointed.”
In the Gulfstream race, Whirlie Bertie broke with her field, was rushed up to challenge for the lead, and then backed up to be eighth a long way behind.
“It was a strange race,” Margolis said. “The jockey rushed her to be with the leaders, and then when she started backing up, he just took a hold of her.”
Margolis found a two-turn race for the filly at Churchill on Kentucky Oaks Day, May 2, and she broke her maiden by daylight, leading all the way under Borel, who kept her on the rail.
On May 21, this time at a mile and an eighth, she was even more impressive, winning off by nearly eight lengths under Borel.
Most recently on July 4, Shaun Bridgmohan took over while Borel was otherwise occupied, and Whirlie Bertie stalked the pace and drew off late to win by nearly two.
“That was a turf race, and we were main track only,” Margolis said. “It worked out our way when it came off the grass. There were some nice older fillies in there, and I knew she’d have to step up to get the job done, and she did.”
Margolis said Whirlie Bertie has good tactical speed and will be on or near the lead in the Oaks.
“I think she has the perfect style for Monmouth,” the trainer said.
DÉJÀ VU ALL OVER AGAIN FOR MARTIN CHERRY AND MARGOLIS?
Last year, trainer Steve Margolis brought a group of horses to Monmouth in the middle of the meet, and the string included a 2-year-old filly bred and owned by Martin L. Cherry named A Little Gem.
The daughter of Yonaguska, coming off a close third in a maiden event at Churchill Downs, made her presence felt immediately at Monmouth when she galloped to a five and a quarter-length score in a maiden race here on Aug. 2 as the 4-5 favorite. A month later, she was even more impressive, taking the Sorority Stakes by more than two lengths.
In Wednesday’s ninth race, a 2-year-old filly bred and owned by Cherry named Northern Belle, coming off a close second in a Churchill Downs maiden race, broke her maiden by five lengths as the 9-10 favorite.
“Am I thinking Sorority for her?” Margolis asked rhetorically. “Of course I am. Especially after the way she ran here.
“But we’ll have to wait and see. The filly that beat her in the Churchill maiden race (Smokin Bayou) came back to win the Colleen here last week. It would be interesting to meet her again.”
Northern Belle is a daughter of Northern Afleet * Lady Cerise, by Honor Grades.
A Little Gem, now trained by Eddie Plesa Jr., reaffirmed her love of the Monmouth strip when she won an allowance race here on July 24 by nearly seven lengths in her first start in more than six months. The filly has three career wins in seven starts * all at Monmouth.