A strong mix of accomplished stars headed by major stakes performers Grace Hall and On Fire Baby and exciting newcomers led by the Bob Baffert-trained trio of Eden’s Moon, Princess Arabella and Mamma Kimbo comprise the list of 94 3-year-old fillies nominated to compete in the 138th running of the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) on Friday, May 4 at Churchill Downs.
America’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies is run each year on the eve of the $2 million-guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), its companion race for 3-year-old Thoroughbreds. Both have been run annually without interruption since 1875, the year that their world famous home track opened. The 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks is the richest event in the 3-year-old filly division and offers a purse of $1 million-guaranteed for the second consecutive year. The purse was doubled last year from its previous value of $500,000-added.
The Kentucky Oaks will be televised live on the new NBC Sports Network from 5-6 p.m. (Eastern).
Missing from the list of 2012 Kentucky Oaks nominees is unbeaten 2-year-old filly champion My Miss Aurelia, who has not raced since capping her championship season with a victory in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) at Churchill Downs. But the talented collection of fillies nominated to this spring’s running of the Kentucky Oaks is impressive in its depth and overall level of accomplishment.
Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and The Elkstone Group’s Grace Hall chased My Miss Aurelia home as the runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, but had become an established star earlier in her 2-year-old season when the Tony Dutrow-trained daughter of Empire Maker won the Spinaway (GI) at Saratoga. She opened her 3-year-old season with a narrow loss to fellow Oaks nominee Yara as the heavy favorite in the Davona Dale (GII) at Gulfstream Park. Grace Hall has a career record of 3-2-0 in five races with earnings of $629,000.
A filly with glittering credentials at Churchill Downs is Anita Cauley’s homebred On Fire Baby, winner of the Pocahontas (GII) and Golden Rod (GII) last fall at the Louisville track. The gray daughter of Smoke Glacken started her 3-year-old season with a third-place finish to Junebugred when she faced males in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Trained by Churchill Downs-based veteran Gary Hartlage, On Fire Baby’s career slate stands at 3-0-1 in five starts with earnings of $237,329.
Trainer Bob Baffert, who collected his second Kentucky Oaks victory when he saddled Peachtree Stable’s Plum Pretty to win last year’s running, nominated six fillies in a bid for a second consecutive victory in the race. That group is headed by three fillies that were wagering interests in Churchill Downs’ 2012 Kentucky Oaks Future Wager: Kaleem Shah Inc.’s Eden’s Moon, winner of Santa Anita’s Las Virgenes (GI) on March 3 in her stakes debut; Peachtree Stable’s unbeaten Princess Arabella, the favored individual filly in the Oaks Future Bet who is also nominated to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown races; and Mamma Kimbo, another Peachtree filly who scored a dazzling victory at Santa Anita in her lone career start.
Baffert also won the Kentucky Oaks in 1999 with multiple champion and Hall of Famer Silverbulletday.
Todd Pletcher – a two-time Kentucky Oaks winner with champion 3-year-old fillies Rags to Riches (2007) and Ashado (2004) – led all trainers with eight nominated fillies. The Pletcher brigade is led by Glencrest Farm’s Disposablepleasure, winner of last year’s Demoiselle (GII) at Aqueduct, and E. Paul Robsham Stable LLC’s Broadway’s Alibi, winner of Gulfstream Park’s Forward Gal (GII).
Other stakes stars nominated to compete in the 2012 Kentucky Oaks include Daniel Borislow, Gillian Campbell, Steve Melen and Jerry Hollendorfer’s Hollywood Starlet (GI) winner Killer Graces; Sagamore Farm’s Millionreasonswhy, winner of Laurel Park’s Wide Country in her 3-year-old debut following a juvenile season in which she won Belmont Park’s Matron (GII) and was a close runner-up to My Miss Aurelia in Saratoga’s Adirondack (GII); Live Oak Plantation’s Yara, who upset Grace Hall in the Davona Dale; Gillian Campbell, R Group Management Ltd. and Greenwood Lodge Farm’s Summer Applause, winner of the Rachel Alexandra (GIII) at Fair Grounds for trainer Bret Calhoun; the Lanni Family Trust’s Santa Ynez (GII) winner Reneesgotzip; Brereton C. Jones’ Silverbulletday (GIII) winner Believe You Can; Darley Stable’s Captivating Lass, winner of the Busanda; John C. Oxley’s Dixie Strike, winner of the Florida Oaks; Mike Walker and Lou Sutterfield’s Martha Washington winner Amie’s Dini; Mrs. John Oxley’s Sweet Seventeen, winner of the Busher; and Helen K. Groves’ Pocahontas (GII) runner-up And Why Not.
This year’s early nomination total is well below the 2011 count of 117, but owners and trainers still have an opportunity to make their fillies eligible for the Kentucky Oaks during its late nomination period. Late nominations require a $1,500 fee and must be made by 11:59 p.m. (Eastern) on Wednesday, April 11. Three fillies, including eventual Kentucky Oaks runner-up St. John’s River, were made eligible during last year’s late nomination period. Supplemental entries to the Kentucky Oaks will be accepted at the time of entry, but require a fee of $30,000.
Blind Luck, who took the race in 2010, was the fourth consecutive Kentucky Oaks winner to earn the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly – a streak that also included champions included Rachel Alexandra (2009), Proud Spell (2008) and Rags to Riches (2007). Rachel Alexandra and Rags to Riches defeated males in Triple Crown races in their subsequent starts, with the former defeating Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the 2009 Preakness (GI) on her way to Horse of the Year honors, and Rags to Riches edged eventual two-time Horse of the Year Curlin in a dramatic renewal of the Belmont Stakes (GI) in 2007.
Other stars who won the Kentucky Oaks on their way Eclipse Award 3-year-old filly championship honors include Ashado (2004), Bird Town (’03), Farda Amiga (’02), Silverbulletday (’99), Open Mind (’89), Tiffany Lass (’86), Davona Dale (’79) and Susan’s Girl (’72). Fillies that failed to win the Oaks but earned championship honors at the conclusion of their 3-year-old seasons include Wait A While (3rd in ’06), Banshee Breeze (2nd in ’98), Go for Wand (2nd in ’90) and Wayward Lass (3rd in ’81).