Willis D. Horton’s reigning juvenile champion Take Charge Brandi is the brightest star among 154 horses on the roster of early nominations to the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (Grade I), America’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies scheduled for its 141st running on Friday, May 1 at Churchill Downs Racetrack (“CDRT”).
The nominated fillies are bidding to succeed Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred Untapable, who won the 2014 Kentucky Oaks under history-making, two-time Kentucky Oaks-winning jockey Rosie Napravnik before 113,071 onlookers at Churchill Downs. Untapable’s Oaks for trainer Steve Asmussen was a highlight of a 2014 season that earned the daughter of Tapit an Eclipse Award that honored her as America’s champion 3-year-old filly. She was unbeaten in races against her gender in 2014, with her only loss being a fourth-place finish to eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) winner Bayern in Monmouth Park’s Haskell Invitational (GI). Untapable completed her championship season with a victory in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI), in which she became only the third Kentucky Oaks winner to also win that race.
This year’s early nomination total is a 27.3% increase from the 121 fillies made eligible during the early nomination total in 2014, and it’s the highest total since 170 fillies were nominated in 2009. The Oaks early nomination record is 192 from 2007.
A late nomination phase is open and will continue through Wednesday, April 8. Late nominations require payment of a $1,500 fee. After the closing of late nominations, there will be a final opportunity to make a filly eligible for the Kentucky Oaks through the race’s supplemental nomination process, which requires payment of $30,000 at the time of entry to the race on Tuesday, April 28.
The Oaks field is limited to 14 starters and up to four fillies designated as “also-eligible” to start. Eligibility to compete in the Oaks is determined by points amassed during the “Road to the Kentucky Oaks” series. If one of more horses should scratch from the Longines Kentucky Oaks before 9 a.m. on the morning of the race, fillies from the “also-eligible” list with the highest respective point totals would be allowed to compete.
The 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks is run each year on the eve of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI) and, like the Derby, has been run annually with interruption since Churchill Downs’ first racing meet in 1875, when the track was known as the Louisville Jockey Club. The race is the centerpiece of a celebration of fashion, food, celebrity and fun that is focused on women’s health issues and outreach. Churchill Downs and national charity partner Bright Pink® join forces on Oaks Day to promote breast cancer and ovarian health outreach. Along with the running of the main event, Kentucky Oaks Day will feature the seventh annual Survivors Parade Presented by Kroger and will continue the tradition of the “Pink Out,” with all attendees being urged to incorporate the color pink into their Oaks Day attire.
The 2015 Longines Kentucky Oaks will be telecast live on NBCSN.
Take Charge Brandi launched her Eclipse Award championship run with a front-running victory at odds of 61-1 in the $2 million 14 Hands Winery Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. She followed that triumph with victories in the Grade III Delta Princess at Delta Downs and the Grade I Starlet at Southern California’s Los Alamitos. Lukas’ star opened her 3-year-old campaign with a victory in the $100,000 Martha Washington at Oaklawn Park to improve her career record to 4-1-0 in eight races with earnings of $1,620,126.
A Longines Kentucky Oaks victory by Take Charge Brandi would provide the 79-year-old Lukas his fifth Kentucky Oaks victory, but first triumph since a win in the 1990 Oaks by Seaside Attraction. Lukas is tied with Calumet Farm’s Ben Jones for second place in career Kentucky Oaks victories and trails only fellow Hall of Fame conditioner Woody Stephens, who had five career victories in the Kentucky Oaks. Lukas’ other Oaks winners were Blush With Pride (1982), Lucky Lucky Lucky (1984) and eventual 3-year-old filly champion Open Mind (1989).
The strong list of early Kentucky Oaks nominees also includes Fletcher and Carolyn Gray’s I’m A Chatterbox, winner of Fair Grounds’ Rachel Alexandra (GIII) and Silverbulletday in her two races since she joined the stable of two-time Kentucky Oaks winning-trainer Larry Jones, and Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables LLC and The Elkstone Group LLC’s Condo Commando, a dazzling winner of Saratoga’s Spinaway (GI) and Aqueduct’s Demoiselle (GII) at two. Condo Commando opened her 3-year-old season for trainer Rudy Rodriguez with a victory in Aqueduct’s Busher.
Other prominent fillies who are taking aim on the Oaks include Spendthrift Farm LLC’s Callback, winner of Santa Anita’s Las Virgenes (GI), Siena Farm’s Angela Renee, winner of Santa Anita’s Chandelier (GI); Forum Racing LLC’s Forward Gal (GII) winner Birdatthewire; GSN Racing’s Cristina’s Journey, winner of the Pocahontas (GII) at Churchill Downs; Phaedrus Stable LLC’s Ekati’s Phaeton, winner of the Davona Dale (GII) at Gulfstream Park; Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Starlet runner-up Feathered; Cheyenne Stables LLC’s Light the City, runner-up in the Las Virgenes; Treadway Racing Stable’s Wonder Gal, runner-up in the Frizette (GI) at Belmont Park; Regis Racing’s Santa Ynez (GII) winner Seduire; Gary and Mary West’s Golden Rod (GII) winner West Coast Belle; and Charles E. Fipke’s Forever Unbridled, a daughter of 2006 Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever who ran third in Rachel Alexandra.
Two-time Kentucky Oaks winning-trainer Jerry Hollendorfer nominated 17 fillies to lead all trainers in early Kentucky Oaks nominations. Todd Pletcher, also a two-time Oaks winner, nominated 14 fillies, and was followed by Kiaran McLaughlin (10), Dale Romans (six), Bob Baffert (five) and Chad Brown (five).
Godolphin Racing LLC made nine fillies eligible to compete in the Kentucky Oaks to lead all owners during the early nomination phase. Charles Fipke has the second most nominations by an owner with seven.
Untapable was the second consecutive Eclipse Award 3-year-old filly champion to emerge from the Kentucky Oaks. Spendthrift Farm LLC’s Beholder, runner-to King of Prussia Stable’s Princess of Sylmar in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks, earned that year’s championship in her age and gender division. Beholder secured her Eclipse Award with three consecutive Grade I victories following her loss in the Oaks. Beholder’s championship season concluded with a dominant triumph over two-time champion Royal Delta and Princess of Sylmar in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (GI) at Santa Anita.
Prior to the championships by Untapable and Beholder, four consecutive Kentucky Oaks winners earned championship honors from 2007-2010. That streak included Kentucky Oaks triumphs by champions Blind Luck (2010), 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 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). Rachel Alexandra was named Horse of the Year following her brilliant 3-year-old season that also included Grade I victories over males in the Haskell Invitational and the Woodward at Saratoga.
Other Kentucky Oaks winners who were named champions of the in their age and gender division include Ashado (2004), Bird Town (2003), Farda Amiga (2002), Silverbulletday (1999), Open Mind, Tiffany Lass (1986), Davona Dale (1979) and Susan’s Girl (1972). Kentucky Oaks participants who went on to secure 3-year-old championship honors include Wait a While (3rd in in the Kentucky Oaks in 2006), Banshee Breeze (runner-up in 1998), Go for Wand (runner-up in 1990) and Wayward Lass (3rd in 1981). Believe You Can, winner of the 2012 Oaks, and 2011 winner Plum Pretty were among three finalists for the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old filly in their respective 3-year-old seasons.