Plum Pretty holds off St. John's River to win the 2011 Kentucky Oaks.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Plum Pretty holds off St. John's River to win the 2011 Kentucky Oaks.
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Anne M. Eberhardt

Plum Pretty Pulls Out Kentucky Oaks Thriller

Daughter of Medaglia d'Oro holds off late charge of St. John's River to win Ky. Oaks.

John Fort’s Peachtree Stable’s Plum Pretty fought off a late charge by St. John's River to win the May 6 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) by a neck. Zazu rallied for third in the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-old fillies under the Twin Spires of Churchill Downs (VIDEO).

The Oaks crowd was reported by Churchill Downs to be 110,122, the third largest in Oaks history behind last year’s 116,046 and a crowd of 111,243 that was on hand in 2005.

The blossoming Pennsylvania-bred daughter of Medaglia d'Oro  earned her first graded stakes win at 6-1 odds and covered the trip in the $1 million race in 1:49.50 with Martin Garcia in the irons for trainer Bob Baffert.

Breaking well from the post 12 slot, Plum Pretty sat just off the early pace that was set by Summer Soiree. Summer Soiree was the leader the first time by the wire and hit the opening quarter mile in :23.65. She was followed by Plum Pretty, Daisy Devine, and Lilacs and Lace. Joyful Victory, the 2-1 favorite in the 13-horse field, broke from the rail and settled into a mid-pack position.

St. John’s River, with Rosie Napravnik aboard, took back after breaking outward and striking the gate from post 13 and angled all the way over the rail and was in last position.

Summer Soiree opened up a clear advantage on the first turn and carried the lead down the backstretch, getting the half in :46.99 and six furlongs in 1:11.25. On the far turn, the leader was inhaled by Plum Pretty who struck the front as the field turned for home. She had the lead by three lengths at the eighth pole after a mile in 1:36.41 and drove for home, just holding off the quickly-closing St. John’s River, who rallied down the middle of the track.

“Great trip," said Garcia. "Great filly. I couldn’t have asked for more.”

It was 2 1/2 lengths to Zazu, ridden by Joel Rosario, in third. Joyful Victory closed mildly to finish fourth, with Bouquet Booth finishing fifth.

The winner came to Churchill Downs off a 25-length win in the Sunland Oaks March 27 in New Mexico, her only previous stakes win. She has now won three of her five starts and run third twice.

“That was awesome," said Baffert. "We hoped she'd run like that. She thought she was at Sunland Park.”

Baffert can become the first trainer since Ben Jones in 1952 to win the Oaks and Kentucky Derby in the same year if Midnight Interlude can prevail in the Run for the Roses May 7.

Plum Pretty broke her maiden first time out going six furlongs at the Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meet Oct. 27. She didn’t surface again until Jan. 15 where she ran third in Santa Anita’s seven-furlong Santa Ynez Stakes (gr. II) behind California Nectar and Zazu. She shipped to Sunland Park after another third-place finish, this time finishing behind Zazu and Turbulent Descent in the Feb. 5 Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. I) at a mile.

It’s the second win in the last three Kentucky Oaks for stallion Medaglia d’Oro, the sire of 2009 winner and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. It’s the second Oaks win for Baffert. The Hall of Fame trainer also won the Oaks in 1999 with Silverbulletday.

The Oaks winner, bred in Pennsylvania by Silent Indy Stables and DDS Stables, is out of the A.P. Indy mare Liszy. She was a $130,000 sale purchase out of last year’s Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s March sale of 2-year-olds in training from Kip Elser’s Kirkwood Stables, agent. She was entered in the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic October yearling sale and was RNA’d for $75,000 from the Walnut Green consignment.

Plum Pretty is the fourth foal out of Liszy, who was bred by Hickory Tree Farm and was winless in two starts on the track. She is out of Silent Account, winner of the Alcibiades Stakes (gr. II) at Keeneland in 1985. Liszy is a half sister to stakes winner and sire Gold Case.

“The last half-hour has been both emotional and most gratifying,” said Peachtree's Fort after the race. “To set your sights on something with the limited tools and skills 25  years ago….I took what little knowledge I had with polo and put into racehorses. That was the foundation of what I have now.”

There’s a lot of mutual respect (with Fort), and anytime you have that, good things can happen,” Baffert said.

Plum Pretty, with Martin Garcia aboard for trainer Bob Baffert, paid $14.60, $7, and $4.60 as the fourth choice. The bay filly earned $570,400 for the victory and has now banked $761,200.

Napravnik nearly became the first female jockey to win the Oaks with St. John's River, sending her mount to the rail to save ground at the rear of the pack before the two roared into contention in the stretch. It wasn't quite enough, however, and St. John's River paid $13.20 and $7.20 to place. The 12-13 exacta paid $163.

“To me she felt like she was standing good, but she must not have been square because it was just an awkward step first out," Napravnik said. "Not having that good break, I decided to angle over and see what we could do from there. We got such a perfect trip down on the rail. She’s a very, very talented filly."

Zazu, owned by Jerry and Ann Moss -- who also own retired superstar mare Zenyatta -- paid $4 to show.

Joyful Victory came in unbeaten in two starts this year at Oaklawn Park for trainer Larry Jones, who won the Oaks three years ago with Proud Spell. Jockey Mike Smith put her in prime position after steadying early, but the gray filly never fired.

“Mike said she was kind of cramped up down in there on the rail when he really wanted to get that old long stride of hers to start going," Jones said. "We don’t have any major excuse that we see right now. We just didn’t win the race."

Following Joyful Victory and Bouquet Booth were Kathmanblu, Daisy Devine, Street Storm, Suave Voir Faire, Summer Soiree, Her Smile, Lilacs and Lace and Holy Heavens.