By Dick Downey
On Fire Baby's connections put her into the Kentucky Derby picture after she won the Grade III Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park.
At 2-5 odds, On Fire Baby came from post 8 of 8, stalked the pace and then finally wore down a stubborn Amie's Dini, who went off at 3-1. On Fire Baby prevailed by two lengths, timed in 1:43.64 under Joe Johnson.
After the race, trainer Gary Hartlage would not say where he intends to start On Fire Baby next, only that it would be at Oaklawn Park. That must mean he hasn't ruled out the Grade I Arkansas Derby.
But Hartlage was clear that On Fire Baby is Kentucky Derby-bound, and he compared her to Curlin and Rachel Alexandra. The filly now has $286,729 in graded stakes earnings.
Winning trainer Gary Hartlage, On Fire Baby: “I was watching the race and Ron’s filly was having a real good time out there. She was nice and relaxed. I said to (owner) Anita (Cauley) that Joe’s going to have to work a little harder than we thought. Just as soon as I said that, Joe went and tackled her and she really hung in there tough with our horse. Our horse ran a super race. I don’t think I gave Ron’s filly enough credit going in, and that’s going to help us in the next race.”
“We’ll see how she comes out of this race before we decide on her next race, but it will be here. We have options now. We have enough earnings to get into the Kentucky Derby at this point, and she’s undefeated at Churchill. I’ve been training horses around here for 25 years, and the last horses I’ve seen that trained like her were Curlin and Rachel, and I know that’s saying something, but she’s just so flashy. So professional. I’m the luckiest guy in the world to be training one like her. If I had lost today, I would have had to go crawl in a gutter. It’s Anita’s Birthday. She called it the best birthday she’s ever had. ”
Winning jockey Joe Johnson, On Fire Baby: “I’m just glad to be a part of it. I’m very thankful to this guy for sticking with me for 27 years. You don’t get to ride this kind very often. She hit the side of the gate leaving there, but recovered nicely. She wanted to run and I could have slowed her, but I let her run on. She got to gawking in the stretch, but as soon as I asked her, she responded. She has a great future, and I’m just glad to be a part.”