The year 2009 will best be remembered as it pertains to the Kentucky Oaks by Rachel Alexandra’s jaw-dropping 20 ¼ length victory, but one other very significant ritual was inaugurated for the 135th running of the Kentucky Oaks. The Survivors Parade: a heartwarming march down the homestretch and past the stands filled with thousands of cheering supporters, this march consists of more than 100 pink-clad women all having one thing in common; they all have survived breast cancer.
Starting in 2009 the Susan G. Komen for the Cure
and Horses and Hope
charity foundations have partnered with Churchill Downs every year on Kentucky Oaks day to raise money and awareness for millions of people around the world in order to prevent breast cancer. This year Churchill Downs has pledged to give $1 for every Oaks attendee to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation and $1 for every Oaks Lily Beverage sold to the Horses and Hope foundation. Last year a record attendance of more than 116,000 fans was numbered for the Kentucky Oaks, with $1 for every person in attendance going to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation. Here’s to hoping an even bigger number of fans shows up for Kentucky Oaks 137.
This year 137 breast cancer survivors will be selected to participate in the march, a number matching the amount of times the prestigious race has been run. Last year 136 courageous survivors marched past legions of well-wishing supporters, the stands dotted every couple of feet with fans decked out in brilliant hues of pink, making the grandstand look like a sea of pink confetti. Pink is the official color of the Kentucky Oaks and the official color of Breast Cancer Survivors so naturally the two go hand in hand on Oaks day like bread and butter.
The Martha Washington Stakes has gained prestige in recent years after Eight Belles and Rachel Alexandra won the race in 2008 and 2009 respectively before launching very successful sophomore campaigns that included wins for both fillies in Oaklawn Park’s Fantasy Stakes (gr.2). Holy Heavens certainly looks nothing like an Eight Belles or Rachel Alexandra at this point but she turned in a very solid performance in Saturday’s Martha Washington, coming from dead last to win in a very commanding style.
The Holy Bull filly started her career in 2010 with a 6th place finish in a 5 furlong maiden special weight at Arlington Park after bobbling at the break. After that she finished second in another 5 furlong maiden special weight at Arlington over the turf and less than a month later returned to finish a dull 7th over the turf going a mile. After another uninspiring off the board-run where she finished 5th on September 24th on the turf she was switched back to the dirt and quickly turned things around. At Delta Downs on November 17th she raced three wide into the turn and drew off to win, finally breaking her maiden and proving her surface of preference was dirt. She next finished 3rd in the My Trusty Cat Stakes to Gran Lioness after mounting a bid that failed to catch the two leaders. In the Martha Washington Holy Heavens stepped it up a notch, biding her time at the rear of the pack in the 1 mile race before flying around the turn and angling off the rail for a clear shot at the lead. She continued to close strongly down the homestretch to defeat Scarlet Mist by a length.
Next up for the progressing filly could be the Honeybee Stakes (gr.3) on March 12th. She may not have beat much in the Martha Washington but she seems to be improving at the right time and has shown consistency in all three of last starts.
Later this week Kathmanblu and Gran Lioness are set to line-up against each other in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds. The obvious favorite will be Kathmanblu but until the race in run anything can happen. Check back on Friday for a review of the Rachel Alexandra.
This weeks’ Novel Nine list hasn’t changed that much since last week with the lack of high profile Kentucky Oaks preps but the next few weeks will have a major impact on the way these fillies are ranked.
The Novel Nine:
1) Kathmanblu - The Sweetest Chant and Golden Rod Stakes winner remains in the top spot as she prepares for her second race of the year in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes this weekend. She turned in a nice easy five furlong breeze on Saturday in preparation for the Rachel Alexandra and unless she somehow loses on Saturday her position at the #1 will only get stronger.
2) Dancinginherdreams – Her Forward Gal loss looks better and better to me the more I see it. Trainer John T. Ward is simply exuding confidence in his charge and was very pleased with her performance in the Forward Gal after she proved that she could run down a target on the front end. The Davona Dale on February 26th could be an absolute rout if her works are any indication. If she wins the Davona Dale the top spot is hers hands down.
3) Zazu - The Las Virgenes Stakes winner turned in a four furlong work in 50.80 on Monday in preparation for a possible start in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr.1) on March 5th. She showed a rare ability to produce a lengthy sustained drive in the Las Virgenes and the guts to draw away from the talented Turbulent Descent at the head of the stretch.
4) Turbulent Descent – She lost the race and her glitzy undefeated record in the Las Virgenes but lost very little respect with her hard fought second place finish. There have been no recorded works for the daughter of Congrats since the Las Virgenes but a start in the Santa Anita Oaks where a rematch with Zazu would take place is her next probable start. She should improve with the tough conditioning she received in the Las Virgenes.
5) Royal Delta – Her single start at Belmont Park on October 30thlast year was one of the best juvenile performances of the season. The Empire Maker filly launched a devastating rally around the turn in her debut to win by 12 lengths, doing it all on her own with absolutely no encouragement. She recorded her first work of the year on Sunday at the Payson Park Training Center, going an easy four furlongs in 51.80. Her next start is still to be determined but if she comes back with even a fraction of the performance ability she showed before she’s going to generate a huge buzz.
6) A Z Warrior – The Grade 1 Frizette Stakes winner turned in the sixth work of the year last Wednesday, going six furlongs in 1:12.80. She went the same distance the week before in 1:12.00. Before that she registered two four furlong moves that were progressively faster than the other. Her 12th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies was most likely due to her bruising her foot during the race. She keeps improving with each work and her first race back will tell a lot about where she is mentally and physically. She is nominated to the Grade 3 La Habra Stakes on the turf at Santa Anita on February 21st.
7) Alec’s Moon – A 6 ½ length winner of the Portland Oaks on January 29th, Alec’s Moon has to come back against much stronger competition next time out and prove that she can step up her game a notch to retain her spot on the list. She showed beautiful acceleration in the Portland Oaks after employing the perfect stalking trip, a style that should serve her very well if she seeks richer fields to harvest.
8) Delightful Mary – The third place finisher in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies has posted three works so far this year. Her latest work was a five furlong move in 1:01.80, before that she went four furlongs in 47.40. A target hasn’t been set yet for her 2011 debut but when it comes you can bet she’ll be in tip-top shape.
9) Rigoletta – Rigoletta finished fifth in her career debut behind A Z Warrior and then proceeded to break her maiden next out at Del Mar before finishing third to Tell A Kelly and Wickedly Perfect in the Grade 1Darley Debutante Stakes. In her next start she turned the tables on Tell A Kelly, winning the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes on October third. Her workout regimen this year has shown steady improvement and her next probably start could see her facing A Z Warrior once again in the Febraury 21st La Habra Stakes at Santa Anita. She appears to improve each time out and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see her finish much closer to A Z Warrior if they both show up in the La Habra.
Gran Lioness, Holy Heavens and Inglorious.
Grade 1 winner Tell A Kelly still has not started her 2011 training, for what reason I’m not sure, but for the time being I’ve dropped her off the list.