Cathryn Sophia was brought to Gulfstream Park for her 2016 debut, the Forward Gal, where she crushed the field. She romped again in the Davona Dale Stakes over the same track, making it natural to assume that her trainer, John Servis, had designs on competing in the Gulfstream Park Oaks.
After all, his filly had two very dominant wins over the track, so why change up now? That is the question everyone is asking after Servis threw a curveball by announcing that Cathryn Sophia would race next in Keeneland’s Ashland Stakes.
Why would he take her away from a track she has run so well at?
Is he ducking competition?
Is shipping her to a new track a good idea, this close to the Kentucky Oaks?
The answer to the latter question is a resounding “yes.” I don’t believe Servis is ducking anyone; he is simply trying to make things easier on his filly.
Shipping into Keeneland will present Cathryn Sophia a host of benefits, chief among them being that Churchill Downs is only a short ride away from Keeneland. After the Ashland, Cathryn Sophia won’t need to ship to Kentucky. She will, instead, be able to stay at Keeneland and van to Churchill Downs at Servis’ leisure. This puts less stress on Cathryn Sophia and allows her to acclimate to her Kentucky surroundings for a longer period of time.
Secondly, there won’t be any “second finish line” to deal with. In her prior starts, Cathryn Sophia has been finishing at Gulfstream Park’s regular finish line. In the Gulfstream Park Oaks, the finish line is moved to the sixteenth pole, which could cause confusion. At Keeneland her connections won’t need to worry about that, since the Ashland will finish at Keeneland’s regular finish line.
Other reasons for the move — that Servis himself mentioned — are the fact that the Ashland is a Grade I, whereas the Gulfstream Park Oaks is a Grade II, and the Ashland is run a week later than the Gulfstream Park Oaks. The additional week gives Cathryn Sophia some extra time after her effort in the Davona Dale. The spacing also provides four weeks between the Ashland and the Kentucky Oaks, giving Cathryn Sophia ample time to prepare.
The Grade I status can also be a big deal, considering that it is a more prestigious race. However, part of me believes that the move has a good deal to do with the lack of success the Gulfstream Park Oaks has had in producing Kentucky Oaks winners.
The Gulfstream Park Oaks winner hasn’t gone on to win the Kentucky Oaks since 1996, when Dispute completed the double. The Ashland did have a dry spell, but the very year Keeneland dug up the Polytrack and reverted the main track to dirt, they landed a Kentucky Oaks winner with Lovely Maria.
Given the recent success of Ashland winners in the Kentucky Oaks, its status as a Grade I race and the lack of overall traveling, I’d say Servis has made a very astute move. The Ashland would seem to be the perfect prep to set Cathryn Sophia up for success in the Kentucky Oaks.