Trainer Wayne Catalano has been here before, entering the Silverbulletday Stakes with a special horse, that being Farrell in 2017.
Catalano, a New Orleans native from the 9th Ward, will be there again, this time with Liora in the 27th running of the Silverbulletday on Saturday at the Fair Grounds on the Road to the Derby Kickoff.
It is the second feature race, for 3-year-old fillies, and is the first of three such prep races for the Kentucky Oaks, which will be run on May 3 at Churchill Downs. Farrell swept all three of the Fair Grounds prep races on her way to the Kentucky Oaks.
“They’re different,” Catalano said. “Liora is a bit laid back, and Farrell wanted to have things her own way and wanted to be on the lead. Liora looks like she doesn’t mind being on the lead or off of it.
“Liora is big, strong, strapping filly. Farrell was smaller but very fast. We’re hoping Liora is as good as Farrell.”
Liora, with jockey Channing Hill aboard again, is the 5-2 early-line favorite for the $150,000 race, which will be contested over a mile and 70 yards.
Seven are entered, four of which have won their past two races or more. Needs Supervision, trained by Jeremiah O’Dwyer, is the 3-1 second favorite. Cowgirls Like Us, who has won three consecutive stakes races, is among three who are next at 9-2, including Grandaria, trained by Brendan Walsh; and Mandy Blue, trained by Brad Cox.
Liora, a daughter of 2018 sire of the year Candy Ride, burst onto the scene in her last race, the $200,000 Grade 2 Golden Rod Steaks at Churchill on Nov. 24. She had won her previous race, a maiden special weight encounter at Churchill on Sept. 20 after finishing fourth at Saratoga in July then third at Churchill in September. She went off at 27-1 for the Golden Rod.
However, Liora had crushed the field by nine lengths in the race before Golden Rod.
“She was training very forwardly,” he said. “She had some really nice times. She proved to be what we thought she might be.”
Hill quickly got Liora to the lead and she fought off 3-5 favorite Restless Rider to win by a nose in a big upset.
Although Liora is favored to win the Silverbulletday, which carries 10 points toward the Kentucky Oaks standings, Catalano said there are some talented fillies in the race.
“She’s won a big race,” he said. “She’s got to step up and run another big race. If she can do that, then you know you’ve got a good one.”
Cowgirls Like Us shapes up as a big-time threat. Having run in six races, she is the most experienced of the 3-year-olds. Trainer W. Bret Calhoun said it shows in her versatility.
“She can take the lead, she can come off the pace or she can stalk just off the pace,” he said. “There’s plenty of talent in this race, but I think her experience will help her.
“She didn’t do well in her first three races. But she started to figure things out.”
Cowgirls Like Us, who will have Miguel Mena aboard, won two races at Retana Park, then came a 3 1/4-length romp in the park at Remington Park on Dec. 16 that has Calhoun convinced.
“The most impressive thing was that she had not run in 3½ months and was going a mile facing better competition,” he said. “She was so relaxed during the course of the race. She had a high cruising speed and just waited for the rider’s call.”
Needs Supervision, with Joseph Rocco up, certainly can’t be overlooked. Needs Supervision is making her stakes debut but had a five-length victory on Nov. 24 at Churchill as a 37-1 long shot. And, Grandaria, who will be ridden by multiple Churchill jockey champion Corey Lanerie, has A.P. Indy bloodlines.
Perhaps making things interesting, Liora and Cowgirls Like Us will break from the Nos. 5 and 6 posts in a race with seven entrants, so none are likely to get boxed in.
The next fillies’ prep race on the Fair Grounds’ Road to the Derby is the the Rachel Alexandra Stakes on Feb. 16. It carries 50 points for the winner, with 20 for second, 10 for third and five for fourth. The final leg is the March 23 Fair Grounds Oaks, worth 100 points to the winner, then 40-20-10.