The top 3-year-old fillies from all corners of the country, headed by Dreaming of Julia, the 21 ¾-length winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII), and Eclipse Award winner Beholder passed the entry box Tuesday morning for Friday’s 139th running of the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (Grade I).
The Oaks, to be contested at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, highlights a 12-race program Friday that includes five other stakes. First post time is 10:30 a.m. (all times Eastern) with the Oaks going as the 11th race at 5:45 p.m.
The Kentucky Oaks – the Derby’s sister race – is the nation’s most lucrative race for 3-year-old fillies. The winner receives a silver trophy plus an estimated $564,200 payday and a garland of pink lilies (first awarded in 1991). Preference to start is given to fillies that earned the most points in 35 designated races that comprise the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks.”
The weather forecast for Friday calls for temperatures in the low 70s with a 40 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms.
The Oaks will be televised nationally from 5-6 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.
In addition to Dreaming of Julia, the best of Florida and 3-1 morning line favorite, and Beholder (7-2), the best of the West, the Oaks has attracted the likes of the undefeated Unlimited Budget (7-2), who dominated fillies at Fair Grounds; the undefeated Close Hatches (6-1), whose victory in the Gazelle (GII) stamped her as the top filly from New York; Rose to Gold (15-1), who ruled the fillies at Oaklawn Park; and, the undefeated Midnight Lucky (9-2), winner of two starts by a combined 15 ¼ lengths and the best of the Southwest.
Todd Pletcher, a two-time Oaks-winning trainer, will send out four starters including Dreaming of Julia and Unlimited Budget. Pletcher won the Oaks in 2004 with Ashado and in 2007 with Rags to Riches.
Stonestreet Stables’ homebred Dreaming of Julia has won four of six starts with one of her setbacks coming to Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. John Velazquez, who won the 2004 Oaks on Ashado, has the mount Friday and will break from post position eight.
Owned by Spendthrift Farm and trained by Richard Mandella, Beholder is a three-time Grade I winner at Santa Anita. She capped off her championship campaign in 2012 by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) and in her past two starts has won the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks by a combined 6 ½ lengths.
Garrett Gomez, who won the 2007 Oaks on Rags to Riches, has the mount on Beholder who will break from post position three.
Repole Stable’s Unlimited Budget, one of three undefeated fillies in the field, took the Rachel Alexandra (GIII) and Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) in her two starts of 2013. Unlimited Budget will break from post position four and be ridden by Javier Castellano.
Pletcher’s other starters are Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Tanourin Stable’s Silsita and King of Prussia Stable’s Princess of Sylmar. Two-time Oaks-winning rider Gary Stevens (Silverbulletday in 1999 and Tiffany Lass in 1986) has the call on Silsita who will break from post position one and Mike Smith will ride Princess of Sylmar, who breaks from post position six.
Juddmonte Farms’ Close Hatches, trained by Bill Mott, won her first two starts at Gulfstream Park before jumping into stakes company and winning the Gazelle. Close Hatches, who will break from post position 11, will be ridden by Joel Rosario, who has been aboard for all of her starts.
Kathleen Amaya and Raffaele Centofanti’s Rose to Gold won the Honeybee (GIII) and Fantasy (GIII) in her past two starts under Calvin Borel for trainer Sal Santoro. Borel, who won the 2009 Oaks on Rachel Alexandra, has the call Friday on Rose to Gold, who will break from post position nine.
Bob Baffert, a two-time Oaks-winning trainer (Plum Pretty in 2011 and Silverbulletday in 1999), will send out Midnight Lucky for the ownership of Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. Winner of the Sunland Park Oaks by eight lengths in her most recent start, Midnight Lucky will break from post position two and be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, winner of the 2010 Oaks on Blind Luck.
The roster of Oaks winners reads like “Who’s Who” of outstanding 3-year-old fillies, including 26 victors that would be named Champion 3-Year-Old Filly at year’s end.
Nine Oaks champs are enshrined in horse racing’s Hall of Fame: Bold ‘n Determined (1980), Cicada (1962), Dark Mirage (1968), Davona Dale (1979), Princess Doreen (1924), Princess Rooney (1983), Real Delight (1952), Silverbulletday (1999) and Susan’s Girl (1972).
The field for the Kentucky Oaks, from the rail out, is as follows with jockey and morning line odds: Silsita (Gary Stevens, 20-1), Midnight Lucky (Rafael Bejarano, 9-2), Beholder (Garrett Gomez, 7-2), Unlimited Budget (Javier Castellano, 7-2), Seaneen Girl (Rosie Napravnik, 20-1), Princess of Sylmar (Mike Smith, 20-1), Pure Fun (Julien Leparoux, 30-1), Dreaming of Julia (John Velazquez, 3-1), Rose to Gold (Calvin Borel, 15-1), Flashy Gray (Junior Alvarado, 15-1) and Close Hatches (Joel Rosario, 6-1). All starters will carry 121 pounds.
Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ: CHDN). Churchill Downs will conduct the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 4, 2013 and its 2013 Spring Meet is scheduled for April 27-June 30. The track has hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships a record eight times. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at www.ChurchillDowns.com.