Iotapa, runner-up to Beholder in the Santa Anita Oaks and coming off a win in the listed Railbird Stakes, is among the favorites for the $150,000 Hollywood Oaks June 22 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Disappointingly, just five 3-year-old fillies were entered in the 1 1/16-mile Cushion Track test, which goes as the third race on the Saturday card with a 2:01 p.m. PDT probable post.
Hronis Racing's Iotapa has won three of four starts for trainer John Sadler, including her first stakes tally in the May 19 Railbird as the 7-5 favorite. In that seven-furlong race at Hollywood, she stalked the pace in fourth to the turn before launching a four-wide bid to get the lead in the stretch and holding on well to win by 1 ¼ lengths.
In the start before that, the daughter of Afleet Alex tracked Beholder throughout in the Santa Anita Oaks April 6 before settling for second, beaten by 2 ¾ lengths.
Among those she defeated that day was Fiftyshadesofhay, who subsequently won the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert was expected to enter Fiftyshadesofhay, who worked a half mile in :48 1/5 June 18 at Santa Anita Park, back in the Hollywood Oaks but did not due to a reported foot abscess.
Iotapa, who broke her maiden at Hollywood one year ago, drew post 3 and will be ridden by Joe Talamo. She was assigned 113 pounds. Sadler is seeking his third Hollywood Oaks victory in the past four years., following Switch in 2010 and Zazu the following year.
Baffert will be represented by Peachtree Stable's Ondine, who comes off a 3 ¾-length win over first-level allowance foes as a 1-2 favorite at the Oaks distance May 11 over the track. The Medaglia d'Oro filly graduated before that at Santa Anita in her fourth start after three runner-up finishes to begin her career. She has been an odds-on choice in her past four outings. Martin Garcia has the call from the outside post for Baffert, who is also seeking his third Hollywood Oaks victory. He previously won it with Tough tiz's Sis (2007) and Santa Catarina (2003).
The other main challenges to Iotapa figure to come from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Doinghardtimeagain, a three-time stakes winner against California-breds, steps into graded company. Ciao Bella Luna was second to Iotapa in the Railbird and captured the seven-furlong Beaumont Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select on the Polytrack at Keeneland before that.
Tommy Town Thoroughbreds' homebred Doinghardtimeagain comes off back-to-back stakes victories in the Evening Jewel at Santa Anita and the April 27 Melair at Hollywood, as a 7-10 pick at Saturday's 1 1/16-mile distance.
The daughter of Ministers Wild Cat has four wins and three seconds from eight starts. She leads the field in earnings by a considerable margin with $483,770. Rafael Bejarano rides the 119-pound high weight from the rail post.
Ciao Bella Luna has yet to try the Oaks distance and her two previous tries at a mile, once on dirt and once on grass, were not successful. Racing on synthetic tracks at Golden Gate Fields, Hollywood, and Keeneland, the Kentucky-bred Tribal Rule filly has three wins and two seconds from five tries, all in sprints. Corey Nakatani has the call from gate 2.
Completing the field is Holy Cow Stable's Unbridled Wee, a maiden special weight winner May 24 at odds of 12-1.