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Ashland Stakes: Wonder Wheel Headlines a Field of Seven Sophomore Fillies

Written by: Brian Zipse
Updated April 6, 2023
15 min read

Ashland Stakes Odds and Post Position

Check out our predictions and odds for the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland!

PP

Horse

Odds

Jockey

Trainer

1

PRIDE OF THE NILE

8/1

BET HERE

L Dettori

D O’Neill

2

WONDER WHEEL

8/5

BET HERE

T Gaffalione

M Casse

3

GUNS N’ GRACES

8/1

BET HERE

J Rosario

C Brown

4

JULIA SHINING

7/2

BET HERE

L Saez

T Pletcher

5

PUNCHBOWL

5/2

BET HERE

F Prat

B Cox

6

DEFINING PURPOSE

15/1

BET HERE

B J Hernandez Jr

K McPeek

7

EFFORTLESSLYELGANT

12/1

BET HERE

R Santana Jr

N Casse

*Odds provided by author Brian Zipse.

Ashland Stakes Predictions and Best Bets

Here are my plays ($60 in total)

$5 Trifecta Key - Wonder Wheel over Punchbowl, Julia Shining, Pride of the Nile and Defining Purpose = $60

If you're playing only to win, go with my top pick Wonder Wheel (8/5).    

TwinSpires

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Ashland Stakes Predictions

Last year’s champion juvenile filly Wonder Wheel headlines a field of seven sophomore fillies entered in the $600,000 Ashland stakes on the opening day of the spring meeting at Keeneland.

A daughter of Into Mischief, Wonder Wheel returns to the site of her two biggest career victories, having scored in both the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the Grade 1 Alcibiades at the Lexington oval last fall. 

Trained by Mark Casse, she has never finished worse than second in six career starts. In her only start this year, she finished second in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs eight weeks ago.

Chief among her opposition in the 8 1/2-furlong Ashland will be the Brad Cox-trained Punchbowl. The daughter of Uncle Mo is perfect in two career starts, both of which came at Oaklawn Park. 

In her debut in February, she overcame a bad start to get up and win a 6-furlong maiden, before dueling last time in her two-turn debut, and pulling away for an easy victory.

Julia Shining also merits respect on Friday as a winner of the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct last December. 

Trained by Todd Pletcher, she also won at Keeneland before, rallying from way back in her career debut. The daughter of Curlin finished third in the Suncoast in her seasonal debut.

As a key trail race, the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes will offer qualifying points for the Kentucky Oaks on a scale of 100-40-30-20-10 to the first five finishers.

Ashland Stakes Predictions and Race Analysis

Wonder Wheel

Back at the track where she won back-to-back Grade 1 races last fall, the 2-year-old champion should be right at home on Friday. While it is true that she has lost her only start this year, the race when a close second in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs was not a poor effort. 

Working well since that effort, she should be ready to fire her best as she readies for next month’s Kentucky Oaks. Just like her last one, she has found a race without much early speed, so she might need to do the dirt work of going right with Punchbowl early here. 

I think they are the two most likely winners and given her experience and fondness for the track, she gets the overall edge. She is the top pick.

Punchbowl

If anyone can knock off the champion, this is the most likely candidate. She has only had two career starts, but the daughter of Uncle Mo has demonstrated serious talent in those first two starts. 

After a rough start in her career debut, she somehow came from well back in the mud to get up in a 6-furlong maiden race at Oaklawn Park. And then in her last, she went right to the lead, but had to duel before taking over and winning easily at the Ashland distance. 

The versatility demonstrated in those two wins is impressive. This will be a serious move up in class, but she looks like the type of filly who could rise to the occasion. She is the biggest threat to Wonder Wheel.

Julia Shining

Once again, I believe this regally bred daughter of Curlin will be up against the likely pace set-up on Friday. Without much early pace in the race, it will be tough for the Todd Pletcher-trained filly to kick in her best stretch run. 

She may be good enough to overcome that and win anyway, having demonstrated a fondness for the oval in her career debut, but given the quality of fillies that she will need to run down, I believe she is much more likely to be running to fill out the exotics, rather than winning this one. 

A grade stakes winner last fall, I look for her to be better suited for next month’s Kentucky Oaks, which is the bigger prize anyway.

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Pride of the Nile

After a pair of good second-place finishes in graded stakes races, this daughter of Pioneerof the Nile disappointed last time, finishing fifth and last in the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel. Her previous consistent form has me believing that a rough start in the race was the cause of her poor performance, though. 

She’s run well on different surfaces and different tracks and her trainer Doug O’Neil has a history of coming to Keeneland and seeing his horses outrun their odds. 

Given that she should offer nice value because of the last, she will be a must-include for me in the exotics on Friday.

Guns n’ Graces

It’s not often you see a Chad Brown-trained runner go off at 28/1 in any race, but that is what happened last time with this daughter of Gun Runner. 

She outran her odds, rallying for second in the Grade 2 Davona Dale. It was a nice effort in only her third career start, but things will only get tougher in this Grade 1 affair. 

On the bright side, she has improved with each start and further improvement gives her a shot here, but the lack of early speed in the race does not help her chances.

Effortlesslyelgant

Trained by Norm Casse, this Liam’s Map filly failed in her only stakes attempt when she faded to tenth in a sloppy edition of the Grade 3 Honeybee. 

A poor break certainly didn’t help her chances that afternoon. She did rebound to gamely win an allowance last time, but she will likely need more to compete with these in the Ashland. 

It’s not out of the question, as the lightly raced filly does appear to have some talent, but I am liking others better here.

Defining Purpose

A gray daughter of Cross Traffic, this Kenny McPeek-trained filly will need to step it up on Friday to make any serious noise here. Having said that, it is possible that she can. 

Coming off two straight losses to the current division leader Wet Paint, both of them came on wet tracks at Oaklawn Park. On dry tracks, she has won two of her last three, including a minor stakes race in Arkansas. 

An impressive winner of her maiden last fall at Churchill Downs, she is eligible to run an improved race in her return to Kentucky.

TwinSpires

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How to Watch the Ashland Stakes

Ashland Stakes Race Information

  • What: Ashland Stakes (Grade 1)

  • Location: Keeneland

  • Time: Saturday, April 8 -- 5:16 pm Eastern time

  • How to Watch: FanDuel TV

  • Purse: $600,000

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Image for Brian Zipse

AUTHOR

Brian Zipse

287 Articles

Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.

Email: [email protected]

More info on Brian Zipse
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