CHARLES TOWN – Ollie Figgins III said after Red Hot Diva finished a close second last month during her 2014 debut that the chestnut filly likely needed a race under her belt to get rolling after a six-month layoff.
How right the 4-year-old thoroughbred’s trainer has turned out to be.
Roughly one month after she was outkicked late to finish second, beaten by a half-length, Red Hot Diva returned to the winner’s circle Wednesday night at Charles Town following a dominating performance while running 1 1/16 miles over a dirt track rated fast.
Now the multiple-stakes-winning filly appears as a realistic candidate to launch a bid this fall to try to be the first to cross the finish line in the West Virginia Breeders Classics’ richest race for fillies and mares – the $200,000 Cavada.
Ridden by jockey Matt McGowan, Red Hot Diva led every step of the way and coasted to a 10 1/2-length victory Wednesday in a $26,000 open allowance race against a field of four rivals while stopping the clock in 1:45.67 – slightly less than two seconds off the track record for 8.5 furlongs.
The triumph handed Red Hot Diva her fifth victory in her previous six outings, including a four-race winning streak dating back to last August. Among those victories as a then 3-year-old, Red Hot Diva won the West Virginia Breeders Classic Distaff and My Sister Pearl stakes last fall at Charles Town.
On Wednesday, Red Hot Diva proved much the best after grabbing an early lead and winning with seemingly minimal effort against a small group of overmatched females aged 3 years and upward.
The 4-5 favorite, Red Hot Diva – a West Virginia-bred daughter of stallion Devon Deputy and broodmare Sweet Music – returned $3.60 to win on a $2 wager.
Tap It Easy, under jockey Angel Cruz, finished a distant second, 3/4 of a length better than Rita Haywood in third. Penguin Heart and Mother May I completed the order of finish.
“It was a really good trip,” Figgins said the following day. “I actually thought the other filly I had in the race (Mother May I) would show a little speed. But she kind of got away bad, and that gave (Red Hot Diva) the lead all on her own.
“She went around the first turn with her ears pricked, and Matt had a lot of horse,” Figgins continued. “She was real relaxed in the bridle. He asked her to run a little bit through the stretch just to get something out of the race. I’m really happy with her, and I’m happy with the way she came out of the race.”
Figgins said the victory shows that Red Hot Diva is headed in the right direction and, if all goes according to plan, she will likely face reigning West Virginia-bred champion older female Down Town Allen on Aug. 16 in the $50,000 Sadie Hawkins Stakes at Charles Town.
But first, Figgins said Red Hot Diva would likely be pointed toward another allowance race on July 16.
“That would give her 21 days before her next race,” the trainer said, “and a good month between the next race and the Sadie Hawkins. If (the July 16 allowance race) doesn’t fill, then I’ve got to improvise from there. But I’d like to have one race before the Sadie Hawkins.”
The Sadie Hawkins will be contested at seven furlongs, slightly shorter than the 1 1/16 miles distance Red Hot Diva has covered during her last four victories, including the Distaff and My Sister Pearl.
But Red Hot Diva does have a pair of previous wins racing at the 7/8 of a mile distance, including a state-bred allowance race last August when she kicked off a four-race winning streak with a victory over eventual co-West Virginia-bred 3-year-old champion filly Blisstikus.
Last week’s win pushes Red Hot Diva’s career record to seven victories from 13 lifetime starts and more than $159,000 in earnings.
Figgins said he is hopeful Red Hot Diva will continue to run well and be a factor in the Cavada during the West Virginia Breeders Classics series in October.
“The main threat I’d be worried about would be Down Town Allen,” he said. “The other horses, I think we’re just as good as anybody else.
“Just from a financial standpoint I think we’d go the Cavada route,” Figgins continued. “You could get a minor award in the ($200,000) Cavada and make just as much as winning the ($65,000) Distaff. The Distaff is not out of the question, but if they’re going to run the Cavada with four or five horses again, I’m going to be in there.”
Down Town Allen won the Cavada in 2012, but was scratched the day of the race last fall due to a foot bruise. The late withdrawal of the reigning champion was followed up by a victory by Fear the Facelift, who topped a short field of four in the seven-furlong contest.
Down Town Allen, a 7-year-old bay mare, has since returned to the races in 2014 with three consecutive victories, boosting her career earnings to more than $872,000.
Down Town Allen’s owner and trainer, John A. Casey, has said his goal is to get his champion mare back in the starting gate this fall in the Cavada.
Figgins said Red Hot Diva ran into a speed-favoring track during her 2014 debut in May, a race contested at 6 1/2 furlongs. But the trainer said she still ran well while stalking the early pacesetter before overtaking her and only getting beaten in the final strides by a fast-running closer.
“We sent her a little bit last time … and that just softened my horse when she needed it,” Figgins said. “Just keeping her closer to the pace than normal at that short distance.”