Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Pretty as Plum: Kentucky Oaks Card full of Thrills

Posted by Brian Appleton on May 6, 2011

Oaks day graded stakes racing got off to a rousing start this afternoon in the La Troienne Stakes (gr.2) as Champion Blind Luck engaged in a stretch battle for the ages with Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic winner Unrivaled Belle. After stumbling badly coming out of post number seven, Blind Luck was taken up sharply by jockey Garett Gomez to avoid getting pinched between fillies and fell well back of the field around the first turn. Down the backside Gomez edged Blind Luck closer to the field as Unrivaled Belle sat just behind the pace in a perfect stalking position.

Entering the far turn Blind Luck began to make her move, making her way around fillies to reach mid pack as the front runners spread out to cover the track four wide. Unrivaled Belle on the outside swung into the turn about five wide as Blind Luck charged under a full head of steam from behind, flying into the turn six paths wide. Down the stretch Unrivaled Belle quickly gained a slight advantage over the field before Blind Luck engaged to her outside, under a vigorous ride from Gomez. Stride by stride Blind Luck proved just how much of a champion she was, refusing to quit as Unrivaled Belle proved equally game on the inside. The pair flashed under the wire to the roar from thousands of ramped up fans, Blind Luck winning by a thrilling head over her game rival.

It was the champions first start at Churchill Downs since winning the 2010 Kentucky Oaks over Evening Jewel by a head after a similar sensational stretch run.

The Edgewood Stakes:

Diva Ash turned the Edgewood Stakes into an absolute runaway today over Churchill Downs turf course, taking the lead at the first jump and never looking back. Smart Sting and Niji’s Grand Girl broke ran just to her outside approaching the first turn but  into the backside Diva Ash opened up by a length and a half with ears pricked. Entering the far turn the field began to close on Diva Ash, closing the gap to half a length but with just a shake of the reins the talented filly drew off again and flew into the homestretch four wide, leading the field by a length. Down the stretch Diva Ash continued to pour it on with jockey Kent Desourmeux, inching away to win by 1 ½ lengths.

The Eight Belles Stakes (gr.3):

Kent Desormeaux captured his second consecutive graded stakes race on the Churchill Downs Kentucky Oaks undercard when he guided Victoria’s Wildcat to a skillful victory in the Grade 3 Eight Belles Stakes. Breaking out of the gate in the 7 furlong race Home Sweet Aspen was fastest into stride while holding a narrow advantage over Holiday Flare, Mysterious Chimes and Formal Plan all spread out across the track. The opening quarter went in a rapid :22.02 with Arienza in behind the leaders on the rail with Pomeroy’s Pistol racing just a length behind. Rounding the far turn Honey Chile moved into contention and raced head and head with Home Sweet Aspen as Pomeroy’s Pistol  began to move up from behind and Victoria’s Wildcat came under a full drive by Desormeaux, picking off fillies with tremendous momentum.

Off the turn Honey Chile was now under a full drive to overcome Sweet Home Aspen who was still running strong after running the half mile in :44.57. Along the rail Arienza was spent and continued to fade badly as Victoria’s Wildcat exploded from between horses and charged down the center of the track to win going away by more than two lengths. It looks like Churchill is playing kindly to closers today!

The Alysheba Stakes (gr.3):

If the La Troienne stretch run didn’t get your blood boiling, then the Alysheba certainly must have, as it came down to a photo finish that separated First Dude by a hair from Regal Ransom with a blanket of horses finishing in behind. Breaking fastest from the gate were Regal Ransom and Wise Dan from posts eleven and one who shot straight out to the lead with Wise Dan taking a slight edge going into the first turn. Onto the backstretch Mission Impazible ran in third with First Dude and Equstrio just behind. Behind those came Caracortado with Awesome Gem another 1 ½ lengths behind in seventh. Giant Oak and Demarcation took up the rear as the field began to spread out down the backside.

Approaching the far turn First Dude began to slowly move up outside of horses as Regal Ransom moved closer to the leader in second. Into the stretch Regal Ransom rushed up on the outside to seize the lead as First Dude swung seven wide and came flying at the leader. Caracortado shot to the inside behind leaders as Awesome Gem turned on a terrific late rally and switched to the outside. Down the stretch the field now fanned out across the track, Regal Ransom still held onto a narrow lead as First Dude continued to close relentlessly, inch by inch. Under the line it was impossible to separate First Dude and Regal Ransom by a head bob in a tight photo finish, with Equistrio finising half a neck back in third between those two while Awesome Gem and Caracortado turned in strong runs to finish less than a length behind the top three.

The American Turf Stakes (gr.2):

Banned turned in a brilliant stretch run to win the American Turf Stakes (gr.2) over a large field of sophomore runners on Churchill’s turf course. Sitting well behind the pace set by Great Mills, Banned rated about twelve lengths behind Great Mills under jockey Garett Gomez fourth from last. The opening quarter was run in a easy :23.53 while the half went in :47.56. As the field entered the turn Banned began to kick it into high gear while Great Mills slowly pulled away from the field, looking like a serious front-running threat. Down the stretch Banned moved so fast from far back that I missed his initial move until he was almost in the lead. Exploding down the center of the track Banned flashed under the line a winner by about five lengths while being eased in the final few strides.

Last year Banned finished fifth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf as the favorite behind Pluck and Soldat and looks poised to return to the head of his division.

The 137th Kentucky Oaks (gr.1):

Staying true to form in the biggest race of the day the Kentucky Oaks stole the show with another thrilling close finish. As the field of thirteen talented fillies surged from the gate it was Summer Soiree who took the lead from the three hold as Plum Pretty came rocketing out of the twelve hold under Martin Garcia to run a close second. Into the first turn Summer Soiree opened up while Daisy Devine settled in behind the top two with Lilacs and Lace to her inside. Joyful Victory ran half a length behind with Kathmanblu directly behind her. Zazu raced third last as the field raced down the backstretch while Rosie Napravnik held St. John’s River dead last.

Entering the far turn Plum Pretty began to move up on Summer Soiree with Joyful Victory, Lilacs and Lace and Daisy Devine all in a close striking position. Into the stretch and Plum Pretty took the lead with Garcia still sitting chilly, behind her Joyful Victory got in the clear while Zazu came from far back to swing into the stretch eight wide. Napravnik had meanwhile guided St. John’s River around fillies in the turn before switching to the inside rail and setting her down for the drive. Halfway to the wire Plum Pretty began to really pour it on, now under a vigorous ride while St. John’s River shifted outside and drove with all her might to catch the leader. It appeared for just a moment that Plum Pretty might win by open lengths, but St. John’s River continued to close with a frenzy. Blazing past the finish Plum Pretty just managed to hold off St. John’s River by a neck as Zazu closed from well back to take third by a half length over Joyful Victory with Bouquet Booth another hose back in fifth.

This marks the second Oaks winner Medaglia d’Oro has sired in the last three years after Rachel Alexandra’s record setting romp in 2009. Trainer Bob Baffert was visibly very pleased with his fillies effort. Plum Pretth entered the Oaks off a 25 length romp in the Sunland Park Oaks and came into the race training very well at Churchill Downs. Second place finishing jockey Rosie Napravnik was very disappointed with the tough loss but was very proud of the run her filly made after her poor start when she veered sharply toward the outside rail.

The Oaks lived up to its billing as a wide open affair but the best filly of the day clearly won. Kathmanblu finished 6th, Street Storm  7th, Daisy Devine 8th, Suave Voir Faire 9th, Summer Soiree 10th, Her Smile 11th, Lilacs and Lace 12 and Holy Heavens 13th.

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