In 2007 a beautiful chestnut filly by A. P. Indy broke from the gates in the third leg of the Triple Crown, stumbled badly and almost fell to her knees. Barely missing a beat she picked herself right up and went on to become the first filly in more than 100 years to win the Belmont Stakes. She defeated future 2-time Horse of the Year Curlin in a furious head-to-head battle that waged the length of Belmont Park’s long homestretch to earn the victory.
In 2009 a striking daughter of Medaglia d’Oro led a merry chase around the Pimlico race strip to win the Preakness Stakes over a field of 12 talented colts, becoming the first filly in 85 years to win the race and the first horse of either sex to win from the 13th post position.
In 2010 a Pollard’s Vision filly, slight in stature but endowed with an indomitable spirit, traveled across the nation multiple times, winning five races in five different states including four Grade 1’s. In nine 2010 starts she never finished worse than third.
You most likely know the names of all three fillies I am talking about: Rags To Riches, Rachel Alexandra and Blind Luck. Together they represent three of the decade’s most powerful Champion Three Year Old Fillies in history and they all have one thing in common: they each won the Kentucky Oaks (gr.1).
Since its inception in 1875 as the counterpart to its more famous sibling, the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks has become one of the most fabled, coveted and prestigious races a filly can win or compete in during her lifetime. In the past decade seven Kentucky Oaks winners have gone on to capture the Eclipse Award as outstanding Three Year Old Filly. The last four years alone have resulted in four consecutive champions, further cementing the Oaks as a career defining race.
Starting in 1981 the Kentucky Oaks has been run at a 1 1/8 miles distance after bouncing around from 1/ ½ miles down to 1 1/16 miles. Offering a rich $500,000 purse since 1996, Churchill Downs officials made a bold decision this year to double the purse to a lucrative $1 million for the 137th running of the Oaks, making it the second richest race in the commonwealth behind only the $2 million Kentucky Derby.
Already this year the search is on for the next winner of the Kentucky Oaks and instead of creating an Oaks Dozen, I decided to create a “The Novel Nine”, a compilation of my top nine current Kentucky Oaks contenders. Three fillies will get honorable mention each week as well.
So without further ado here is the rundown of the top nine 137th Kentucky Oaks contenders.
The Novel Nine:
1) Kathmanblu won the Sweetest Chant Stakes on turf fresh off a win in the Golden Rod Stakes where she romped by more than 10 lengths over the Churchill Downs dirt strip. Her latest two performances appeared effortless not to mention powerful, if she continues running at her current level you could be looking at the Kentucky Oaks favorite.
2) Dancinginherdreams may not be undefeated after her second place finish in the January 30th Forward Gal Stakes, but she closed like an express train from second last, came off the turn 8 wide and still made up about 10 lengths on the winner to lose by less than a length. She will be a force to be reckoned with in the Davona Dale, that you can be sure of.
3) Zazu is the new filly on the block after taking down the previously undefeated Turbulent Descent in the Las Virgenes Stakes. She showed a tremendous closing kick to rally from far back in the Las Vigenes and plenty of courage to stave off a run from Turbulent Descent in the stretch. She should keep improving as the year goes on.
4) Turbulent Descent is talented, tested and went undefeated in 3 starts as a juvenile. She may have finished second in her 2011 debut in the Las Virgenes Stakes but hard fought runner up finish should get some solid condition into her for her next start.
5) Tell A Kelly won the Grade 1 Debutante in September before finishing 2nd in the Oak Leaf Stakes and 7th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Not exactly the kind of progression you like to see in an Oaks contender but her last start came in the form of a very promising fast-closing third in the Hollywood Starlet behind Turbulent Descent.
6) Royal Delta has run and won just once, at Belmont Park on October 30th, but that one victory was the most overpowering juvenile filly performance that was run last year by far. After waiting behind horses down the backside, Royal Delta swung around horses coming off the turn and exploded down the stretch to win going away by 12 lengths with absolutely no encouragement from jockey Jose Lezcano. She’s got the talent and the pedigree, now let’s see her run against some tougher competition.
7) Alec’s Moon was a very impressive winner of the Portland Oaks on January 29th, winning the 1 mile race by 6 ½ lengths. She employed a perfect pace-stalking trip in the Portland Oaks and accelerated with ease in the stretch, crossing under the wire with ears pricked. She’ll need to face a deeper field before she moves up the list but the potential is there.
8) Delightful Mary finished a good third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last year behind a victorious Awesome Feather and R Heat Lightning. After starting out her career with a maiden win and allowance victory, Delightful Mary entered the Juvenile Fillies off a second place finish in the Mazarine Stakes. There’s a lot of room for improvement with this filly.
9) A Z Warrior is from the first crop of red-hot young sire Bernardini. She won the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes in October before finishing a dull 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies after bruising her foot. She has been training extremely well in 2011 for her sophomore debut whenever that might be.
Gran Lioness, Rigoletta and Pomeroy’s Pistol.
Thank you to everyone for your support and encouragement as I start this blog and special thanks to the Horse Racing Nation team for giving me this chance. Don’t forget to add Kentucky Oaks Runner to your favorites and bookmarks. I’ll be back on Tuesday with more news and rankings, until then please share your Kentucky Oaks thoughts and feedback.