Clairiere and Travel Column. Travel Column and Clairiere. The two 3-year-old fillies are becoming linked in many ways as they prepare for Saturday’s Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks.

Clairiere-Rachel Alexandra
Clairiere (1) and Joe Talamo ran down Travel Column and Florent Geroux to win last month’s Rachel Alexandra Stakes. The two top 3-year-olds tangle for the third consecutive race Saturday in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks. (Image: Lou Hodges Jr./Hodges Photography)

The two staked their grounds as the top 3-year-olds this spring, seizing attention from last year’s Champion 2-Year-Old, Vequist, along with contenders Simply Ravishing and Dayoutattheoffice. They figure to seize much of the wagering and most of the oxygen out of the 1 1/16-mile Fair Grounds Oaks.

That race, one of eight stakes races on Fair Grounds’ Saturday card, offers 100-40-20-10 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points to the top four finishers. Finish in the exacta and your connections can book travel plans to Churchill Downs for the April 30 Kentucky Oaks.

For 2/1 favorite Travel Column and 5/2 Clairiere, however, the Fair Grounds Oaks provides a third consecutive race against each other. This is the rubber match, since each owns a victory over the other.

Travel Column 1, Clairiere 1

Travel Column won Round 1, taking the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs by a length last November in only her second start. Bottled up at the top of the stretch, Florent Geroux guided Travel Column to an outside gap, then ran down Clairiere in deep stretch.

Clairiere returned the favor last month, beating even-money favorite Travel Column by a neck in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra. After those two, it was 6 ½ lengths back to third-place Moon Swag.

“Rubber match, right, with two quality fillies,” Steve Asmussen, Clairiere’s trainer, told Fair Grounds’ Brian Nadeau. “The trip worked out perfectly for us in the Rachel Alexandra. At a mile-and-a-sixteenth, I think the fillies are competitive.”

They are, especially when you look at their pedigrees and connections. Asmussen’s Clairiere is a product of standout sire Curlin and multiple Grade 1 winner Cavorting. She is a dead closer, rallying from near the back of the field in all three of her starts. That style produced two victories and that second in the Golden Rod. Her best Equibase Speed Figure is the 100 from the Rachel Alexandra.

Running styles may decide this race

Travel Column, a Frosted offspring out of Swingit, owns two victories, that second in the Rachel Alexandra, and a third. That show finish came in the Grade 1 Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland last October. A remarkably consistent stalker, Travel Column’s Equibases run between 90 and 99.

Where Travel Column could hold the edge in the Fair Grounds Oaks has little to do with Clairiere and more to do with the lack of early speed in this field. Trainer Brad Cox had to smile after looking at the eight-filly field and seeing no real threats to Travel Column’s ability to dictate matters.

“There’s no pace in this race,” Cox said. “We’re not going to sit back there and give someone the race. We didn’t win (the Rachel Alexandra), but we were very, very pleased with the comeback, and we expect her to move forward off that return. She’s a very, very good work horse, and she’s been training great since that race.”

Fair Grounds Oaks familiar territory for two trainers

Clairiere comes in with 54 Oaks points, good for second on the ladder. Travel Column brings 32 into the gate. That’s sixth. Clairiere closed as the 7/2 overall favorite in the lone Kentucky Oaks Future Wager pool. Travel Column checked in as the 6/1 second favorite among individual choices. “All Other 3-Year-Old Fillies” was the 5/1 second choice.

The two standouts come in with such reputations that even rival trainers, like Moon Swag’s Brendan Walsh, know what they’re up against.

“She hasn’t done anything wrong this winter and it’s another chance to get some valuable black type,” Walsh said about Moon Swag. “Realistically, we are looking at running for a placing, but who knows.”

Along with the two fillies comes a bit of history from their trainers. Six of the last 16 Fair Grounds Oaks winners captured the Kentucky Oaks as well, the last being Asmussen’s Untapable in 2014. He owns three Fair Grounds Oaks titles. Cox won this race last year with Bonny South – along with two of the last three Kentucky Oaks.