Dreaming of Julia may be the freshest on the minds of most leading up to the Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) due to her extraordinary 21 3/4-length victory in the Gulfstream Oaks (gr. II), but the rest of the 11-horse field for the May 3 race at Churchill Downs is certainly not lacking in credentials.
The Oaks, to be contested at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, highlights a 12-race program Friday that includes five other stakes. First post time is 10:30 a.m. (all times Eastern) with the Oaks going as the 11th race at 5:45 p.m. The Oaks will be televised nationally from 5-6 p.m. on NBC Sports Network.
Installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite, Stonestreet Stables' homebred Dreaming of Julia enters the Oaks with a resume that includes an additional score in the 2012 Frizette Stakes (gr. I) and on-the-board efforts in last year's Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and the Feb. 23 Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II).
Bred in Kentucky, the daughter of A.P. Indy is out of the Wild Rush mare Dream Rush and holds a record of 4-1-1 from six starts, for earnings of $787,000.
Trainer Todd Pletcher is confident his filly will bounce back from the Gulfstream Oaks effort March 30 for a big run in the Kentucky Oaks. "The remarkable thing about (the Gulfstream Oaks) was she seemed to do it effortlessly," said Pletcher, who won the Oaks in 2004 with Ashado and in 2007 with Rags to Riches.
"She didn't seem hard pressed at the end ... John Velazquez was riding her hard into the lane and she kept opening up.
"But it's good to be at five weeks since that effort," Pletcher added. "She ran the fastest Thoro-Graph figure of all time in that race and she might be able to bounce four or five points (in the Oaks) and still win. Every indication she's given us is that she's trained just as well if not better for this race than she has for anything else she's ever done. She's coming up to the race in great shape and we just hope we can have a good trip with her."
In her most recent work, Dreaming of Julia covered four furlongs in :51 flat at Churchill April 27. She will be piloted once again by Velazquez, who has been aboard for all of her starts. The pair will leave from post 9.
Dreaming of Julia's biggest competition appears to be 2012 champion juvenile filly Beholder, who prevailed over her in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
The co-second choice at morning line odds of 7-2 in the 1 1/8-mile race, the daughter of Henny Hughes also captured this year's Las Virgenes (gr. I) and Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I). Beholder is trained by California-based Richard Mandella and campaigned in the name of B. Wayne Hughes' Spendthrift Farm.
Garrett Gomez, who won the 2007 Oaks on Rags to Riches, has the mount on Beholder, who will break from post position 3.
The Oaks will mark Beholder's first race outside California, but that doesn't faze Mandella, who said the bay filly out of the Tricky Creek mare Leslie's Lady has settled in nicely at Churchill. While she has galloped several times over the track, Beholder's last work was a seven-furlong drill April 25, which she covered in 1:27 4/5 at Santa Anita Park.
"We'll get some good gallops in her (this week) and that's enough," Mandella said. "She's had plenty of racing already.
"We don't need to invent anything; just keep her happy. She's done terrific. I couldn't ask for anything better," Mandella said.
The other co-second choice is undefeated Unlimited Budget, who dominated fillies this year in the Feb. 23 Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr. III) and March 30 Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II).
Also trained by Pletcher, the daughter of Street Sense —Unlimited Pleasure, by Valid Appeal, is owned by Mike Repole, who admitted he was thinking about the Oaks as soon as he signed the $475,000 ticket for the filly at the 2012 Ocala Breeders' Sale Co.'s 2-year-olds in training sale.
"She's a big Street Sense filly, bred to go long. As soon as the hammer dropped, I was thinking Oaks," Repole said. "This is what makes the game so great ... you dream about being in races like this and having the opportunity to have moments like this, and then when they happen, you don't lose sight of how lucky and blessed you are. You never know if this is the last great horse you'll have or there will be one after it. You just never know."
Repole said the path Unlimited Budget took to get to the Oaks made the most sense considering the way she was training.
"It was a no-brainer to take her to the Fair Grounds Oaks," he said. "Her numbers are getting better after every race—whether they're Beyers or Ragozin (speed figures). "I don't think we've seen the best of her. She's not only Unlimited Budget; I think she's 'Unlimited Potential' too."
Bred in Florida by Ocala Stud, Unlimited Budget will break from post 4 under jockey Javier Castellano, who was aboard for her last victory in the Fair Grounds Oaks.
Other leading Oaks contenders include the undefeated Juddmonte Farms filly Close Hatches (6-1), whose victory in the Gazelle (gr. II) stamped her as the top filly from New York; Karen Amaya and Raffaele Centofanti's speedy Rose to Gold (15-1), who ruled the fillies at Oaklawn Park in this year's Fantasy and Honeybee Stakes (both gr. III); and Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman's undefeated Midnight Lucky (9-2), winner of two starts by a combined 15 1/4 lengths including an eight-length victory in the Sunland Park Oaks.
Pletcher's additional Oaks starters are Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Tanourin Stable's Silsita and King of Prussia Stable's Princess of Sylmar. Two-time Oaks-winning rider Gary Stevens (Silverbulletday in 1999 and Tiffany Lass in 1986) has the call on Silsita (20-1), who will break from the rail. Mike Smith will ride Princess of Sylmar (20-1), who breaks from post 6.
Flashy Gray, from the Bill Mott barn, has been scratched with a bruised right heel after being entered April 30.
$1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (gr. I, approximate post time 5:45 p.m. EDT), 3YO fillies, 1 1/8 miles (dirt)