Unlike last year, when the powerhouse Rachel Alexandra intimidated the Oaks field down to seven horses, there is a full cast in 2010, and several look capable of threatening the luck of Blind Luck. The April 30 race, which is slated for 5:45 p.m. at Churchill Downs, carries a purse of $500,000.
"I think (Blind Luck) is the horse to beat but in a 14-horse field, that can change things," said trainer Todd Pletcher, who has four entrants in the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), and will saddle the relatively unknown filly Ailalea (by Pulpit ) in the Oaks. While Ailalea was a graded stakes winner last year, she has failed to hit the board in two starts in 2010. But based on a recent impressive work over the Churchill surface, Pletcher believes his filly may just have what it takes.
Blind Luck on the other hand boasts a record of 6-1-2 from nine starts, and has by far the most earnings in the field with $1,069,050 in the bank. Installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite and breaking from post 5 in the Oaks, Blind Luck is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, who co-owns her with Mark DeDomenico, John Carver, and Peter Abruzzo.
Bred in Kentucky by Fairlawn Farm, Blind Luck will enter the Oaks off a victory in the Fantasy Stakes (gr. II) over the Wayne Lukas-trained Tidal Pool, who is also looking for a chance to capture the lilies.
Hollendorfer, who is aiming for a third career Oaks score, is confident in jockey Rafael Bejarano riding Blind Luck in the Oaks, in spite of the jockey being widely criticized for the filly’s only loss this year, a troubled third in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I).
“He’s ridden this filly a lot of times so he knows this filly well and he knows the track and he’s a very good rider so you couldn’t ask for much more than that,” Hollendorfer said. “She’s been training well. She went through the mud pretty nice (April 27) and it didn’t look like it bothered her at all.”
Seeking a record-tying fifth Oaks victory is Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. He will saddle Westrock Stables’ Tidal Pool, who will break from post position 8 under jockey Calvin Borel. The jockey won last year’s Oaks on Rachel Alexandra by 20 1/4 lengths.
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Tidal Pool (by Yankee Gentleman ), runner-up to Blind Luck in the Fantasy (gr. II), is 8-1 on the morning line and co-second choice with other Oaks contenders Crisp and Amen Hallelujah.
“I think (Tidal Pool) is on an upward spiral; she’s doing a little bit better,” said Lukas of his filly, who had a bullet work at Churchill April 20 when covering six furlongs in 1:12 3/5. “She was second in the Fantasy to the likely favorite, and we don’t feel like she was quite as tight as we could have had her. This should be the best race of the spring for her; we’re hoping it is anyway.
“She’s very push-button. She’s got a real good demeanor about her. There’s not anything special about her; she’s just getting more talented as she gets older and she’s maturing in the right direction.”
Trained by James Cassidy, Evening Jewel is the best horse ever owned by Tom and Marilyn Braly, who campaign the filly in the name Braly Family Trust.
“Whoever thought back when we bought this horse that we’d be here? She’s just been unbelievable…she’s done everything right,” said Tom Braly. “Since her first race, she’s never been worse than second. She just gives you everything she has. You look at her out here today, she looked great. She’s going to run well.
“On Friday, we’ve got the extra distance—we’ve got to go a mile and an eighth. That’s the question…but we won’t be on the lead, I’ll tell you that. We’ll let someone else do the work out there…we’ve got to come from the 11 hole and claim the position. I think we can do that; she’ll start picking up horses going down the backside and if we get a jump on some of them, we might be out there in front of them.”
One of the longshot fillies poised to threaten Blind Luck is the Eric Guillot-trained Champagne d'Oro. The 30-1 shot filly, who is campaigned by Guillot and Mike Moreno’s Southern Equine Stables in partnership with Mike Smith, will enter the Oaks with a record of 1-2-1 from eight starts and earnings of $107,822. Bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm, Champagne d’Oro is a daughter of Medaglia d'Oro , who sired last year’s Oaks winner and reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra.
Champagne d’Oro, who drew the 10 post for the Oaks, will be ridden by Martin Garcia, who has piloted the filly in half of her starts.
“(Champagne d’Oro) is doing great, and she’s run two big races this year (most recently finished second to Quiet Temper in the Fair Grounds Oaks, gr. II), and we’re expecting this to be the best effort of her racing career,” said Moreno of Champagne d’Oro, who has never won a graded stakes. “She’s really doing fantastic; she had two good works after her big effort in the Fair Grounds Oaks, and we think she’s going to be extremely competitive. She’s going to beat her odds for sure.”
Rounding out the field for the Oaks are Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) winner Crisp; other graded stakes winners Quiet Temper, Amen Hallelujah, Jody Slew; stakes winners Age of Humor and Joanie's Catch; and graded stakes-placed It’s Tea Time, Bella Diamante, and Beautician.
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