Road to the Oaks Makes Stop at Oaklawn for the Honeybee

HOT SPRINGS, AR (Friday, March 5, 2021) – Oaklawn’s road to the Kentucky Oaks continues Saturday with the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles.

The Honeybee is the ninth of 10 races, with probable post time 5:10 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 1 p.m.

The Honeybee will offer 85 points (50-20-10-5, respectively) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks, the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies. Last year’s Honeybee winner, Shedaresthedevil, captured the delayed Kentucky Oaks (COVID-19) for Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox and co-owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs.

Cox has two entrants Saturday, including 5-2 program favorite Sun Path for breeder/owner Juddmonte Farms. Sun Path, a daughter of Munnings, will be making her first start since a disappointing fourth-place finish as the odds-on favorite in the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes Jan. 16 at Fair Grounds.

“Sun Path’s been training extremely well,” Cox said. “I have really no excuse or reason for her dull performance last time. I was kind of taken aback by that. She came out of it well. She’s breezed tremendous at the Fair Grounds.”

Prior to the Silverbulletday, Sun Path had broken her maiden by three lengths Nov. 8 at Churchill Downs and won a first-level allowance race by 12 ¾ lengths in her two-turn debut Dec. 18 at Fair Grounds.

Cox’s other entrant is Coach, who finished a troubled second as the odds-on favorite in Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Oaks points race, the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 30. Coach was squeezed early and beaten 5 ¼ lengths by Will’s Secret in the 1-mile race run over a muddy surface. Coach had won her first three career starts before completing her 2-year-old campaign with a third-place finish behind stablemate Travel Column in the $200,000 Golden Rod Stakes (G2) Nov. 28 at Churchill Downs.

Coach breezed a half-mile in :48.60 last Sunday morning, but Cox noted the daughter of Commissioner had her work/gallop schedule significantly impacted after Oaklawn lost 11 days of training last month because of severe winter weather.

“Coach has obviously missed some training,” Cox said. “We’ll kind of see how things go.”

Conversely, powerful Martha Washington winner Will’s Secret hasn’t missed a beat, said Fair Grounds-based Dallas Stewart, who trains the daughter of champion Will Take Charge for breeder/owner Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark. After winning the Martha Washington, Will’s Secret recorded three half-mile works last month at Fair Grounds.

“She’s doing good,” Stewart said. “She’s a nice, honest filly and easy to train – just an easy keeper. Nice filly.”

Will’s Secret is bidding for her third consecutive victory. After finishing third, beaten 2 1/4 lengths by the highly regarded Clairiere, Oct. 25 at Churchill Downs, Will’s Secret broke her maiden by 2 ¾ lengths in a 1 1/16-mile off-the-turf event Dec. 20 at Fair Grounds under Jon Court. She displayed push-button acceleration in the Martha Washington, romping from just off the pace under Court.


“Actually, I thought it might be a little short for her,” Stewart said of the Martha Washington. “She proved me wrong. She stepped up to the plate nicely.”

The projected eight-horse Honeybee field from the rail out: Tabor Hall, David Cohen to ride, 117 pounds, 10-1 on the morning line; Will’s Secret, Jon Court, 122, 7-2; Willful Woman, Ricardo Santana Jr., 117, 6-1; Sun Path, Joe Talamo, 117, 5-2; Pauline’s Pearl, Francisco Arrieta, 117, 8-1; Absolute Anna, Ramon Vazquez, 117, 15-1; Oliviaofthedesert, David Cabrera, 119, 7-2; and Coach, Florent Geroux, 119, 4-1.

The Honeybee is the final major local prep for the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 3. The Fantasy is Oaklawn’s third and final Kentucky Oaks points race. Last year’s Fantasy winner, Swiss Skydiver, was named the country’s champion 3-year-old filly after finishing second in the Kentucky Oaks and beating males, including eventual Horse of the Year Authentic, in the Preakness, the final leg of the revamped Triple Crown. Swiss Skydiver’s trainer, Kenny McPeek, is represented by Oliviaofthedesert and Tabor Hall, both based this winter in Florida.

Oliviaofthedesert closed her 2020 campaign victories in a Nov. 28 allowance race at Churchill Downs and the $60,000 Trapeze Stakes Dec. 18 at Remington Park. Owner Susan Moulton purchased the daughter of Bernardini for $320,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Moulton’s Fire Coral finished fifth behind Swiss Skydiver in the Fantasy.

“She seems to be getting better,” McPeek said of Oliviaofthedesert. “Just been real pleased with everything. She got a little break between races. She’s been training down here in Florida for two months.”

Tabor Hall broke her maiden by 1 ½ front-running lengths Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park in her last start.

“I’m glad to have David back up on (Oliviaofthedesert),” McPeek said, referring to Cabrera. “He did a marvelous job on Olivia (in the Trapeze). David Cohen’s won the Travers for me, so I know I can trust his work. Tactically, I haven’t dug too deep on it.”

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who has won the Honeybee a record five times, is represented by Fair Grounds shipper Pauline’s Pearl and Willful Woman, who broke her maiden Jan. 24 at Oaklawn for prominent Arkansas owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong.

Willfull Woman's half-sister, the Asmussen-trained Ever So Clever, finished fifth in the 2017 Honeybee before winning the Fantasy.