AIR SUPPORT_The Virginia Derby 14th Running  Grade II_07-16-11_CD_Gate

START OF 2011 VA DERBY (Coady Photography)

(Daily Racing Form – Joe DiVivo)  Praia outran double-digit odds of 45-1 and 11-1 in back-to-back stakes at Churchill Downs this spring but had to settle for second behind the talented Kitten’s Dumplings both times. Without that rival to deal with Saturday, Praia is in a strong position to collect her first stakes victory in the $150,000 Virginia Oaks at Colonial Downs.

The Grade 3 Oaks is among four undercard stakes on a closing-day card topped by the Grade 2, $500,000 Virginia Derby.

Praia, trained by Ken McPeek, looks good coming off a runner-up performance that produced a career-best 88 Beyer Speed Figure in the Grade 3 Regret on June 15. She rallied from 13 lengths back at the second call to get within 2 1/4 lengths of Kitten’s Dumplings at the finish. In May, she closed to get within 3 3/4 lengths of Kitten’s Dumplings in the 1 1/16-mile Edgewood Stakes.
Praia retains jockey Alan Garcia and gets the same 1 1/8-mile distance as in her last start.
Team Valor’s filly Three Hearts could be the most serious challenger for Praia. Three Hearts exits a third-place finish in the May 27 Little Silver, a one-mile stakes at Monmouth Park that produced two next-out winners, including Street Gem, the filly who finished a half-length ahead of Three Hearts. Three Hearts was elevated to second place when Street Gem was disqualified for interference.
Blossom’s Trail, unbeaten in three starts, gets a class test while making her first start off a $65,000 claim by Gary Contessa.
Always Kitten, whose lone victory came in the Happy Ticket Stakes at Louisiana Downs last September, makes her first start since April for high-percentage trainer Mike Maker.
In the other undercard races, all scheduled for turf:

Al Qasr, a Group 1 winner over heavy ground going 1 1/2 miles in Argentina last year, and Olympic Thunder, a Group 1 winner going a mile in Brazil in May 2012, form an intriguing uncoupled entry for McPeek in the $75,000 Kitten’s Joy at 1 1/2 miles.
Al Qasr gets class relief after three consecutive failures in graded stakes since coming to the United States. Olympic Thunder will be making his North American debut and his first start in slightly more than a year.
La Mejor Fiesta, winner of her career debut sprinting five furlongs on grass at Churchill Downs for trainer Wesley Ward, looks like the 2-year-old filly to beat in the $75,000 Tippett at 5 1/2 furlongs. Her rivals include Dream S’more and Deliver, who were heads apart as the top two finishers in a maiden turf sprint at Indiana Downs in May.
My Corinthian, third in the Grade 3 Bashford Manor on a sloppy main track at Churchill Downs and a dominant winner in his career debut on turf at Colonial, heads a dangerous three-horse uncoupled entry for trainer Dane Kobiskie in the $75,000 Chenery for 2-year-old colts and geldings.
Kobiskie won back-to-back runnings of the Tippett for 2-year-old fillies in 2010 and 2011 with horses sent off at odds of 19-1 and 30-1. Both of those winners were coming off maiden victories, much like Kobiskie’s colt Rope on Saturday.

To see the PPSs for Saturday, click here.

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