While the striking bay Grace Hall has the favored 5-2 morning line status in the May 4 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), there are plenty of other fillies in the full field of 14 that deserve much more than a passing glance.
Grade I winners Eden's Moon and Karlovy Vary, plus the added presence of local favorite On Fire Baby also highlight the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs, which has a post time of 5:45 p.m. EDT.
Grace Hall, owned by Michael Dubb, Mike Caruso’s Bethlehem Stables, and Stuart Grant’s The Elkstone Group, won the Spinaway (gr. I) last summer at Saratoga and in her lone Churchill start finished second in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I).
Trained by Tony Dutrow, Grace Hall comes into the Oaks off an impressive 6 1/2-length victory in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (gr. II).
“Class (makes her stand out),” said Dutrow. “In her last race, she walked on the court like Michael Jordan did.
“When you look at her numbers, you’re not going to see a sensational fast horse, but she runs against the best there is and she’s always a handful to compete with.”
Javier Castellano has the mount on Grace Hall, who will break from post 2. The filly has won four times and placed second twice in her six-start career, for earnings of $809,000. Bred in Kentucky by Darley, she is by Empire Maker , out of the Ezzoud mare Season’s Greetings.
On Fire Baby and Broadway's Alibi are the co-second choices on the line at 4-1.
On Fire Baby, winner of the Pocahonas (gr. II) and Golden Rod (gr. II) at Churchill last fall, is the half-sister of High Heels, who finished third in the 2007 Kentucky Oaks behind Rags to Riches for owner/breeder Anita Cauley, trainer Gary Hartlage, and jockey Joe Johnson.
Winner of the Honeybee (gr. III) at Oaklawn Park in her most recent start, On Fire Baby will break from post 1.
“Me and (jockey) Joe met her when she was coming off the van (as a 2-year-old) and from that day on, she was something special,” said Hartlage. “From the first time we took her to the racetrack, she was just so professional and athletic.”
Bred in Kentucky, On Fire Baby is by Smoke Glacken, out of Cauley’s Gilded Time mare Ornate.
E. Paul Robsham Stables’ Broadway’s Alibi, 16 3/4-length winner of the Forward Gal (gr. II) as well as the Comely (gr. III) this year, is trained by Todd Pletcher, who sent out Ashado (2004) and Rags to Riches (2007) to Oaks victories.
“There is a lot of speed (in the Oaks) and I think we’ll be a part of that,” said Pletcher. “Our filly is very forward and she’s a good gate horse. I think she’ll be very close on the first turn, if not on the lead.
“(The distance) is the question,” added Pletcher of Broadway’s Alibi, who has never raced further than a mile. “Everything that she’s done so far—stretching out from six, to seven, to a mile—she keeps going and going and going. The way she trains she gave us every indications that she needs to be in here trying it."
John Velazquez, who won the 2004 Oaks on Ashado, has the call on Broadway’s Alibi, who will break from post 6.
Kaleem Shah’s Eden’s Moon won the Las Virgenes (gr. I) at Santa Anita before finishing third four weeks later in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I). She is trained by two-time Oaks-winning conditioner Bob Baffert, who will also saddle the graded stakes-placed filly Jemima's Pearl in the Run for the Lilies.
“So far (Eden’s Moon) looks great here…she has a lot of energy and goes over the track well,” said Baffert. “We’re pretty optimistic about running her, but it’s a tough field.”
Martin Garcia, who has been aboard Eden’s Moon in all four of her starts, has the mount and will exit from post 4.
Alex Campbell Jr.’s Karlovy Vary enters the Oaks off a front-running victory in the Central Bank Ashland (gr. I) at Keeneland April 7. Trained by Rusty Arnold, Karlovy Vary will break from post 11 under James Graham.
There are two others in the field that are grade II winners, including one with connections to a previous Oaks winner.
Brereton Jones’ Believe You Can won the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II) for trainer Larry Jones. The same owner-trainer combination claimed the 2008 Kentucky Oaks with Proud Spell. Rosie Napravnik will have the mount on Believe You Can, who will break from post 9.
“We’ve liked this filly all along; we could tell she was one of our best prospects,” said Larry Jones. “We just brought her along slow. There have been a couple of disappointments along the way, but we tried to figure out what we did wrong and decided not to do it again.”
The other grade II winner in the field is Peras International’s Yara, who pulled a 64-1 shocker in the Davona Dale, in which she defeated Grace Hall by a neck Feb. 25. Trained by Jose Garoffalo, Yara will be ridden by Jesus Castanon and break from post 14.
Gillian Campbell, R Group Management, and Greenwood Lodge Farm’s Summer Applause, trained by Bret Calhoun, won the Rachel Alexandra (gr. III) at Fair Grounds before a runner-up finish in the Fair Grounds Oaks to Believe You Can. Garrett Gomez will be aboard Summer Applause for the first time and break from post 3.
“She’s trained and developed well, but she’s really trained better here than at Fair Grounds,” noted Calhoun’s assistant Dennis "Peaches" Geier. “Every work she gets more aggressive. She’ll probably be mid-pack (in the Oaks), 10 lengths off of (the pace), and then make a run.”
$1 Million Kentucky Oaks (gr. I, Race 11, 5:45 p.m.) 3YO Fillies, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. On Fire Baby (KY), JM Johnson, G G Hartlage 121, 4-1
2. Grace Hall (KY), J Castellano, A W Dutrow,121, 5-2
3. Summer Applause (KY), G K Gomez, W B Calhoun, 121, 15-1
4. Eden’s Moon (FL), M Garcia, 121, B Baffert, 12-1
5. Hard Not to Like (ON), R ALbarado, 121, G Cox, 20-1
6. Broadway’s Alibi (KY), J R Velazquez, 121, TA Pletcher, 4-1
7. Sacristy (KY), M E Smith, W M Catalano, 121, 50-1
8. Jemima’s Pearl (KY), J Talamo, 121, B Baffert, 10-1
9. Believe You Can (KY), R Napravnik, J L Jones, 121, 10-1
10. And Why Not (KY), J R Leparoux, 121, M R Matz, 15-1
11. Karlovy Vary (KY), J Graham, 121, G R Arnold, 20-1
12. Colonial Empress (VA), C S Nakatani, 121, D W Lukas, 50-1
13. Amie’s Dini (KY) J K Court, 121, R Moquett, 10-1
14. Yara (FL), J L Castanon, 121, J Garoffalo, 30-1
Oaks Lily (KY), R Bejarano, 121, T A Hills, 50-1