Willowy blossoms into Kennedy Oaks contender
Willowy made the quantum leap from a Newcastle maiden to the Group 2 ZED RUN Wakeful Stakes (2000m) on Saturday, stamping herself as a primary contender for Thursday’s Group 1 Kennedy Oaks (2500m) by taking out the traditional lead-up for three-year-old fillies on Penfolds Victoria Derby Day.
Racing in the royal blue colours of global operation Godolphin, the James Cummings-trained Willowy charged home in the style of a filly who will enjoy every step of the Oaks trip. She became their second ZED RUN Wakeful Stakes winner, joining 2015 heroine Ambience.
Ridden by last year’s Lexus Melbourne Cup-winning rider Jye McNeil, Willowy looked to be in trouble at the top of the straight before kicking into another gear to run down Group 3 Ethereal Stakes (2000m) winner Daisies by a half-length. Douceur stuck on well for third, a further three-quarters of a length away, with Group 1 Thousand Guineas (1600m) victress Yearning in fourth.
Willowy, a daughter of 2014 Group 3 Carbine Club Stakes winner Kermadec, has had three stakes-winning half-brothers run on Penfolds Victoria Derby Day in the past, but she is the first to give her dam Dextrous a victory at Australia’s premier race meeting.
“The winner of the Oaks last year was by Kermadec and the winner of the Metropolitan was by Kermadec,” Cummings noted. “I think that will be alright (for the Kennedy Oaks). She’s got a big pedigree on her dam’s side.
“She’s a gorgeous filly. She’s certainly coming along in leaps and bounds in a short amount of time. She’s quite typical of the Kermadec breed – you can get a spring three-year-old and we certainly thought she was improving rapidly enough to tackle the Wakeful.
“She was dominant in a very ordinary maiden last time and she could only win but then she stepped out again and really ramped it up against those horses and put a bit of a margin on them. That’s not always the sign of a good filly but we just feel from what she’s shown us at home and how light we’ve been with her, that was a good sign.”
McNeil added: “She found a lovely rhythm back in the field and when they slowed up it was a little bit concerning, but she never overraced. When they stepped it up I really had to get stuck into her to get her motivated. I like her style, though – she finished fantastically well.”
Thirty-five fillies have completed the ZED RUN Wakeful Stakes and Kennedy Oaks double since the former was established in 1932, with Aristia (2018) and Miami Bound (2019) the most recent fillies to achieve that feat.
Image: Willowy storms into Kennedy Oaks contention (Credit: Getty Images)