Since 2000, only four winners of the Kentucky Oaks (G1) were not named champion three-year-old filly. That puts the odds squarely on the side of this year's winner to be honored with an Eclipse at the end of the year, but first the race needs to be run. Just two weeks remain until we find out who will be crowned Queen of the Lilies.
The final prep for the Kentucky Oaks was run last Sunday, if one can even call it a prep. No one in the about seven-furlong Beaumont S. (G2) is expected to line up in the nine-furlong Oaks, but I'll give a brief recap of the race anyway.
Jess Stonestreet Jackson, a pioneering architect of the ascendant American wine industry, and more recently famed as the owner of Horses of the Year Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, died Thursday at his Geyserville, California, home after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He was 81.
The proprietor of Kendall-Jackson winery, Jackson campaigned his horses under the banner of Stonestreet Stables. Those silks are due to be carried by former Kentucky Derby (G1) hopeful ASTROLOGY (A.P. Indy) in Saturday's Jerome H. (G2) at Aqueduct.
EAST (Maryland, New York) / POSSIBLE OAKS FAVORITE R HEAT LIGHTNING SHARP IN FINAL NEW YORK WORK, HEADS TO CHURCHILL DOWNS ON MONDAY – E. Paul Robsham Stables’ R Heat Lightning, the possible favorite for the 137th and richest running of the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) on May 6 at Churchill Downs, turned heads with a “bullet” half-mile work on Saturday at Belmont Park.
Three new shooters have added their names to the Kentucky Oaks (G1) after the late nomination period closed on Wednesday. ARIENZA (Giant's Causeway), ST. JOHN'S RIVER (Include) and STREET STORM (Stormy Atlantic) were all made eligible to run on the first Friday in May after their connections paid the $1,500 fee.
A trio of 3-year-old fillies headed by Robert and Lawana Low’s Arienza, runner-up to Joyful Victory in Oaklawn Park’s Fantasy (Grade II), and Dede McGehee’s Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) runner-up St. John’s River make up the roster of late nominees that are now eligible to compete in the 137th running of the $1 million guaranteed Kentucky Oaks (GI) on Friday, May 6 at Churchill Downs.
MIDWEST (Illinois, Kentucky) / GRADE I WINNERS TURBULENT DESCENT, TELL A KELLY RETURN SUNDAY IN KEENELAND’S BEAUMONT – Sunday’s $150,000 Beaumont Stakes (Grade II) at Keeneland attracted a power-packed field of six 3-year-old fillies headed by Grade I winners Turbulent Descent and Tell a Kelly, but the race is not expected to generate any starters for the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) at Churchill Downs.
Wednesday, April 13 is the deadline for the first late nominations to Churchill Downs’ 137th running of the $1 million guaranteed Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) and the 25th running of the $500,000-added Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (GI).
MIDWEST (Illinois, Kentucky) / CALIFORNIA EXPORT LILACS AND LACE STUNS ASHLAND FIELD AT 48-1 – Lilacs and Lace, dismissed at odds of 48-1 despite stakes success in Northern California, led most of the way and held off Wyomia in the stretch to score a major upset in Keeneland’s 74th running of the $400,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (Grade I) and earned a start in Churchill Downs’ $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI).
Fox Hill Farm's JOYFUL VICTORY (Tapit) patiently bided her time in third on the backstretch of Sunday's $285,000 Fantasy S. (G2) at Oaklawn Park, put in a three-wide rally rounding the turn and easily drew off from the highly regarded Arienza (Giant's Causeway) to take her second straight graded contest for trainer Larry Jones. With Mike Smith aboard, the gray dynamo cruised under the wire seven lengths the best while finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:44 3/5 over the fast dirt.
When James Covello bought a majority interest in LILACS AND LACE (Flower Alley), trainer John Terranova said they "wanted to get a good filly to bring back east."
Consider it mission accomplished.
Lilacs and Lace scored a front-running victory in Saturday's Ashland (G1) and earned the right to move on down the road to Louisville, Kentucky, and a shot in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) on May 6.
In her first start for Terranova, Lilacs and Lace finished fourth in the Bourbonette Oaks (G3) at Turfway Park on March 26 after a nearly three-month layoff.
James Covello, Judy Hicks and Kathryn Nikkel's LILACS AND LACE (Flower Alley) dueled for the early lead in Saturday's $400,000 Ashland S. (G1) at Keeneland, took over prior to the backstretch and held the late runs of both Wyomia (Vindication) and 2-1 favorite Kathmanblu (Bluegrass Cat) to score by one-length on the wire. Jockey Javier Castellano guided the John Terranova pupil through 1 1/16 Polytrack miles in a final time of 1:42 3/5.
Harold L. Queen's HOT SUMMER (Malibu Moon) tracked the pace while saving ground on the rail in Saturday's $150,000 Comely S. (G3) at Aqueduct, scooted through coming into the stretch and pulled away to record a 2 1/4-length victory under jockey Luis Saez. The David Fawkes trainee was sent off the 6-1 fourth choice and returned $14, $6.90 and $4 for earning her first stakes victory.
Since 2000, only four runnings of the Kentucky Oaks (G1) have featured full 14-horse fields. In fact, Rachel Alexandra only faced six rivals in her record-setting Oaks victory in 2009. When the year opened, the 2011 edition of the "Run for the Lilies" appeared destined not to fill all the stalls on the first Friday in May.
Sunday's $300,000 Fantasy S. (G2) is far from a compelling wagering affair with only four betting interests, but the sporting aspect of the 1 1/16-mile test for three-year-old fillies at Oaklawn Park should still give hard-core players a reason to watch as the Kentucky Oaks (G1) prep pits Honeybee S. (G3) winner JOYFUL VICTORY (Tapit) against the blue-blooded stakes newcomer ARIENZA (Giant's Causeway).
MIDWEST (Illinois, Kentucky) / KATHMANBLU THE EARLY CHOICE IN ASHLAND – Five D Thoroughbreds and Wind River Stables’ Kathmanblu carries a three-race winning streak and the role of morning line favorite into Saturday’s 74th running of the $400,000 Central Bank Ashland Stakes (Grade I) at Keeneland.
KATHMANBLU (Bluegrass Cat) arrived at Keeneland on Wednesday afternoon from Florida, four days after turning in a bullet work at Gulfstream Park in preparation for Saturday's $400,000 Ashland (G1). A victory in the 1 1/16-mile stakes on Keeneland's Polytrack would give the filly her first Grade 1 score in front of a hometown crowd for her connections, a key factor in the decision to run her in the race.
Robert and Lawana Low's royally-bred ARIENZA (Giant's Causeway) now seems poised to take on the challenge of Sunday's Fantasy S. (G2), according to trainer Danny Peitz.
"It almost seems like we have to do it," Peitz said Thursday morning. "She's doing fine and I wouldn't do it if she wasn't, and with just a couple horses going, it seems like the right move."
The other newsmaker already lined up for the Fantasy is JOYFUL VICTORY (Tapit), an 8 3/4-length winner of the Honeybee S. (G3) at this track and 1 1/16-mile distance on March 12.
Grade 2 heroine KATHMANBLU (Bluegrass Cat) will seek to solidify her status as one of the favorites for the May 6 Kentucky Oaks (G1) when she lines up in the $400,000 Ashland S. (G1) on Saturday during Keeneland's opening weekend. The Kenny McPeek charge, who was last seen taking the Rachel Alexandra S. (G3) at Fair Grounds, will be making her synthetic Polytrack debut in the 1 1/16-mile test, but is a multiple stakes winner over the turf.
Keeneland racing secretary Ben Huffman is anticipating a field of eight three-year-old fillies for Saturday's 74th running of the Ashland, the first of the meet's four Grade 1 races.
Topping the list of probables is Five D Thoroughbreds and Wind River Stables' KATHMANBLU (Bluegrass Cat), a four-time stakes winner trained by Ken McPeek. Scheduled to arrive at Keeneland on Wednesday, Kathmanblu worked a bullet five furlongs in :59 on Saturday at Gulfstream Park.