Grade I winner Grace Hall is one of the 94 fillies on the early nomination list for the Kentucky Oaks.

Grade I winner Grace Hall is one of the 94 fillies on the early nomination list for the Kentucky Oaks.

Coglianese Photos/NYRA

Grace Hall, On Fire Baby Head Oaks Nominees

Kentucky Oaks attracts 94 early nominees this year compared to 117 in 2011.

A strong mix of accomplished stars headed by major stakes performers Grace Hall and On Fire Baby and newcomers led by the Bob Baffert-trained trio of Eden's Moon, Princess Arabella, and Mamma Kimbo comprise the list of 94 3-year-old fillies nominated to compete in the 138th running of the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) Friday, May 4, at Churchill Downs.

This year’s early nomination total is well below the 2011 count of 117, but owners and trainers still have an opportunity to make their fillies eligible for the Oaks during its late nomination period. Late nominations require a $1,500 fee and must be made by 11:59 p.m. (EDT) on Wednesday, April 11. Three fillies, including eventual Kentucky Oaks runner-up St. John's River, were made eligible during last year’s late nomination period. Supplemental entries to the Kentucky Oaks will be accepted at the time of entry, but require a fee of $30,000.

America’s premier race for 3-year-old fillies is run each year on the eve of the $2 million Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), its companion race for 3-year-olds. Both have been run annually without interruption since 1875, the year Churchill opened. The 1 1/8-mile Oaks is the richest event in the 3-year-old filly division and offers a purse of $1 million guaranteed for the second straight year. The purse was doubled last year from its previous value of $500,000.

The Oaks will be televised live on the new NBC Sports Network from 5-6 p.m. (EDT).

Missing from the list of 2012 Oaks nominees is unbeaten 2-year-old filly champion My Miss Aurelia, who has not raced since capping her championship season with a victory in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.

Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and The Elkstone Group’s Grace Hall chased My Miss Aurelia home as the runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, but had become an established star earlier in her 2-year-old season when the Tony Dutrow-trained daughter of Empire Maker  won the Spinaway (gr. I) at Saratoga. She opened her 3-year-old season with a narrow loss to fellow Oaks nominee Yara as the heavy favorite in the Davona Dale (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park. Grace Hall has a career record of 3-2-0 in five races with earnings of $629,000.

A filly with glittering credentials at Churchill Downs is Anita Cauley’s homebred On Fire Baby, winner of the Pocahontas (gr. III) and Golden Rod (gr. II) last fall at the Louisville track. The daughter of Smoke Glacken started her 3-year-old season with a third-place finish to Junebugred when she faced males in the Smarty Jones  Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Trained by Churchill Downs-based veteran Gary Hartlage, On Fire Baby has a career slate of 3-0-1 in five starts with earnings of $237,329.

Baffert, who collected his second Kentucky Oaks victory when he saddled Peachtree Stable’s Plum Pretty to win last year’s running, nominated six fillies in a bid for consecutive victories in the race. That group is headed by Kaleem Shah’s Eden’s Moon, winner of Santa Anita’s Las Virgenes (gr. I) on March 3 in her stakes debut; Peachtree Stable’s unbeaten Princess Arabella, the favored individual filly in the Kentucky Oaks Future Bet who is also nominated to the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown races; and Mamma Kimbo, another Peachtree filly who scored a dazzling victory at Santa Anita in her lone career start. Baffert also won the Kentucky Oaks in 1999 with multiple champion and Hall of Famer Silverbulletday.

Todd Pletcher, a two-time Kentucky Oaks winner with champion 3-year-old fillies Rags to Riches (2007) and Ashado (2004), led all trainers with eight nominated fillies. The Pletcher brigade is led by Glencrest Farm’s Disposablepleasure, winner of last year’s Demoiselle (gr. II) at Aqueduct, and E. Paul Robsham Stable’s Broadway's Alibi, winner of Gulfstream Park’s Forward Gal (gr. II). 

Other stakes stars nominated to compete in the 2012 Oaks include Daniel Borislow, Gillian Campbell, Steve Melen, and Jerry Hollendorfer’s Hollywood Starlet (gr. I) winner Killer Graces; Sagamore Farm’s Millionreasonswhy, winner of Laurel Park’s Wide Country in her 3-year-old debut following a juvenile season in which she won Belmont Park’s Matron (gr. II); Live Oak Plantation’s Yara, who upset Grace Hall in the Davona Dale; Gillian Campbell, R Group Management Ltd., and Greenwood Lodge Farm’s Summer Applause, winner of the Rachel Alexandra (gr. III) at Fair Grounds for trainer Bret Calhoun; the Lanni Family Trust’s Santa Ynez (gr. II) winner Reneesgotzip; Brereton C. Jones’ Silverbulletday (gr. III) winner Believe You Can; Darley Stable’s Captivating Lass, winner of the Busanda; John C. Oxley’s Dixie Strike, winner of the Florida Oaks; Mike Walker and Lou Sutterfield’s Martha Washington winner Amie's Dini; Mrs. John Oxley’s Sweet Seventeen, winner of the Busher; and Helen K. Groves’ Pocahontas (gr. II) runner-up And Why Not.