Al Fouzia to land Bigga Oaks
Orville Clarke, Gleaner Writer
It's Ladies Day at Caymanas Park, the well-supported 11-race programme featuring the 71st running of the Bigga Jamaica Oaks over 2000 metres; this for native-bred three-year-old fillies.
Offering a total purse of $3.3 million, the Wisynco-sponsored event for the Hilma Veira Trophy has attracted 13 starters, including the April 5 1000 Guineas winner, AL FOUZIA, and the runner-up, GABIWITZO.
It marks the third meeting between AL FOUZIA and GABIWITZO this season, both holding a victory over each other in recent months.
The Fitznahum Williams-trained GABIWITZO drew first blood on March 13, when scoring a decisive victory in the valuable Thornbird Stakes (Guineas Trial) over 1400 metres, beating the then favourite and top weight AL FOUZIA into fifth place, 5 1/2 lengths adrift.
AL FOUZIA, who is trained by Rowan Mathie, duly turned the tables on GABIWITZO in the 1000 Guineas on Easter Monday, staving off her fast-finishing opponent by 1 1/4 lengths.
Both have trained well in preparation for the Oaks, AL FOUZIA galloping seven furlongs in 1:31.3 last Saturday morning, while GABIWITZO looked easy on Sunday morning, breezing six furlongs in 1:18.3. She will again be ridden by US-based jockey, Andrew Ramgeet, while title-chasing jockey Dane Nelson will once again have the leg over AL FOUZIA.
Indications are that it will be pretty close between them over the additional 400 metres of the Oaks. Williams, who is popularly called 'Features', believes GABIWITZO can reverse the placings with AL FOUZIA.
"She got into all sorts of problems in the 1000 Guineas and this could have cost her the race," bemoaned the Triple Crown winning trainer of ALSAFRA fame.
"Her preparation is basically on cue and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that she has better luck in running," he added.
In addition to AL FOUZIA and GABIWITZO, the race will see the first five past the post in the 1000 Guineas returning for classic glory.
The others are EXCELLENCE and REGAL SENSATION, who finished third and fourth, respectively, and have worked nicely for this race, as well as the fifth horse TOPLESS ANGEL, and the lightly raced HERROYALHIGHNESS, who was a disappointing eighth, but has been extensively prepared by veteran Noel Ennevor and should get significantly closer.
The Wayne DaCosta-trained EXCELLENCE looked sharp at exercise in the cheek pieces last Sunday morning, galloping six furlongs in a brisk 1:14.2. She will wear the cheek pieces for the first time today, a move that could enhance her performance, especially with champion jockey Omar Walker now taking the ride.
But it all comes back to the experience of AL FOUZIA and the marked improvement of GABIWITZO.
The four previous winners of the 1000 Guineas (Swing By, Lady T, Alsafra and Saint Cecelia last year) have gone on to win the Oaks, so recent history is on the side of AL FOUZIA.
For me, there was a lot to like about the manner in which she made rapid headway from the half-mile, moving from seventh position (six lengths off) to straighten a length second to long-time leader MISS LEE, before going about her business. She will relish every inch of the distance, and I am banking on her proven class to get the job done once again, holding GABIWITZO and REGAL SENSATION at bay in the final rush.
I also like SAINT CECELIA in the secondary feature, Lady Geeta Trophy (race five); REGGAE PRINCESS in the second; EVER BLESSED in the sixth; TREND SETTER in the eighth; and DE-BACHELOR in the ninth.