Blind Luck, the 6-5 favorite in a full field of 14 fillies for the $584,300 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) (VIDEO), rallied from last to nose Evening Jewel in the last jump. The daughter of Pollard's Vision covered the nine furlongs in 1:50.70 in front of a record Oaks day crowd April 30.
At the break, jockey Rafael Bejarano took Blind Luck back as Ailalea, Tidal Pool, and Age of Humor flashed by the wire for the first time. Tidal Pool took over as the field hit the bend and she set the pace with splits of :23.95 and :48.15.
Down the backstretch, Tidal Pool cruised along by about a length under Calvin Borel with Ailalea, Age of Humor, and Evening Jewel following. The first six furlongs were run in 1:12.50.
Turning for home, Tidal Pool was joined by Evening Jewel with a host of others bunching up. Blind Luck came widest of all out into the stretch, but still had plenty to do. Evening Jewel, with Kent Desormeaux aboard, pulled away from Tidal Pool as Blind Luck continued to gain ground inside the eighth pole.
They hit the wire together and it took a photo finish to determine the winner.
''I knew my filly, right at the wire she pulled ahead,'' Bejarano said of the breathtaking finish. ''I was not for sure 100%, but I was 99%.''
“I knew she was going to kick in for me and show me that run, she always does," he added. "She tries so hard. The stretch here is very long but she kept trying hard until the end and never stopped trying. She’s amazing.”
“That stings," Desormeaux said of the result. "This race has eluded me; I really wanted to win it. And I knew turning for home I was a winner. And I got beat. Really stings.”
The last time Blind Luck and Evening Jewel met, in the Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita Feb. 10, the result was the same with Blind Luck nipping her rival by a nose at the wire.
"This horse does this over and over," said co-owner Mark Dedomenico after the race. "She nearly gives me heart failure. I always ask Rafael, 'Don't make it that close.'"
Blind Luck paid $4.60, 3.60, and $2.80.
Evening Jewel, impressive in defeat, paid $9.40 and $7.20.
Jim Cassidy, trainer of Evening Jewel, took the defeat hard.
“Oh, man, that was hard," he said. "We had the same result in the Las Virgenes and I thought we had won that one, too. Everyone around us today thought she had won; we did, too.
"She’s a game, game filly. When she saw (Blind Luck) she dug in and came back at her again. Toughest beat of my career, no question.”
Tidal Pool returned $5 to show.
"We ran a hell of a race," her trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, said. "We just weren’t good enough."
Blind Luck scored her fourth grade I victory in the Oaks for an ownership group that is headed by Dedomenico and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. The chestnut filly won the Oak Leaf Stakes (gr. I) and Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) as a 2-year-old before the Las Virgenes. In all, Blind Luck has won seven of 10 starts. The winning purse, $329,662, boosted the diminutive filly's career bankroll to $1,398712.
Hollendorfer hardly brimmed with the confidence, particularly after his horse lagged behind the field when it zipped past the packed grandstand for the first time.
''I was real concerned,'' Hollendorfer said. ``But there was no panic button pushed.''
He said it was tense waiting for the result, "but I thought we got it on the head-bob and we were right. A great ride by Rafael got her there."
Hollendorfer sounded dubious when asked if Blind Luck would follow the same path as last year's record-breaking Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra, taking on the boys in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) in two weeks.
''I would say we probably wouldn't do that,'' Hollendorfer said. "It's too soon and the Oaks was our goal. It was our goal all along."
The Oaks winner was bred in Kentucky by Dr. William Baker's Fairlawn Farm. Out of the Best of Luck mare Lucky One, she was sold to Omega Farm, agent, for $11,000 at the 2008 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale. Entered in last year’s Ocala Breeder’s Sales Co.’s April sale, she was bought back on a bid of $10,000.
Hollendorfer purchased Blind Luck privately following her 13 1/4-length debut win against $40,000 maiden claimers at Calder Race Course last June 21.
"When I bought her, I paid way more than the $40,000 claiming price, so we always anticipated she would be a stakes horse," he said. "She’s delivered.”
Hollendorfer wins his third Oaks, having taken the race in 1991 with Lite Light and in 1996 with Pike Place Dancer, a filly he also co-owned with Dr. George Todaro. The other co-owners of Blind Luck are John Carver and Peter Abruzzo.
The attendance for the Oaks, 116,046, was a record crowd, topping the 2005 mark of 111,243. The attendance for the Oaks has now topped 100,000 in 11 of the last 12 years. It first hit six figures in 1999.