Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Caressing, the Eclipse Award winner as the champion 2-year-old filly of 2000, and rising California-based star Golden Ballet head a roster of 167 fillies nominated to the 127th running of the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks.The total number of fillies nominated to the Oaks is highest since 1989, when 181 fillies were nominated, and the eighth largest total in the history of the race. An Oaks record 191 fillies were nominated in 1986 and 1987 and 158 were nominated last year. The 1 1/8-mile Oaks, which is scheduled for Friday, May 4, is restricted to 3-year-old fillies and is the sister race to the famed Kentucky Derby. The Oaks, like the Derby, dates to 1875 and has been contested annually without interruption since its inaugural running. Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs has experienced explosive growth in popularity in recent years and a record crowd of 106,156 witnessed the 2000 running. It marked the second consecutive year that Oaks crowd had cracked the 100,000 mark and continued a growth trend that has seen attendance for the event more than double since it attracted 49,556 in 1980. The most significant growth has occurred since 1989, when Churchill Downs opened its Infield on Oaks Day for the first time and drew a crowd of 67,115. The 126th Oaks trailed only the Kentucky Derby, which attracted a crowd of 153,204, in single-day attendance in American racing in 2000.If she competes in the Oaks, Caressing will attempt to become the third juvenile filly champion to win the race since 1990. Eugene Klein's Open Mind (1990) and Mike Pegram's Silverbulletday (1999) were champions in their division at two and returned to win the Oaks the following spring.Caressing, a daughter of Honour and Glory, is trained by David Vance and owned by Carl Pollard, the president of Hermitage Farm LLC in Goshen, Ky. and a member of the board of directors of Churchill Downs Incorporated.Golden Ballet, a California-bred daughter of Moscow Ballet owned by Team Valor and William Heiligbrodt, recently made the $200,000 Las Virgenes (GI) at Santa Anita her fourth consecutive stakes victory. Trained by Jenine Sahadi, Golden Ballet is unbeaten in two starts this year after returning from a seven-month layoff. A victory by Golden Ballet would make Sahadi only the second woman to train an Oaks winner in the 127-year history of the race. She would join Mary Keim, who saddled Amerivan to win the Kentucky Oaks in 1965. Other top fillies on the list of Kentucky Oaks nominees include: multiple stakes winners Raging Fever and Gold Mover, both owned by Edward P. Evans and trained by Mark Hennig; Brian Griggs and Mike Goetz's She's A Devil Due, winner of the Walmac Alcibiades at Keeneland; Jan, Mace and Samantha Siegel's Miss Pickums, winner of the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs; Roger Devenport's Unbridled Elaine, winner of the Pocahantas Stakes at Churchill Downs; and M375 Thoroughbreds' Platinum Tiara, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
D. Wayne Lukas, who has trained four Kentucky Oaks winners, nominated 10 fillies to the race's 2001 renewal. Todd Pletcher and Hennig, both former assistant trainers under Lukas, each nominated seven fillies. The list of Oaks nominees also has an international flavor as it includes four fillies owned by Dubai-based Godolphin Racing and trained by Saeed bin Suroor.The 127th Kentucky Oaks will be televised nationally by ESPN.