Fox Hills Farms’ Joyful Victory, runaway winner of Oaklawn Park’s Honeybee (gr. III) and Fantasy (gr. II) in her past two starts, tops a stellar cast of 13 3-year-old fillies entered in the 137th running of the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs May 6.
The Oaks, run at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, will be the centerpiece of a 12-race program beginning at 10:30 a.m. (all times Eastern) that also features the Churchill Downs return of 2010 Kentucky Oaks winner Blind Luck in the $300,000-added La Troienne Presented by Blackberry/RIM (gr. II) and the eighth running of the $300,000 Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables (gr. III) earlier on the card. The Oaks will go as the 11th race May 6 with a 5:45 p.m. post time.
The Kentucky Oaks, which carries a $1 million purse for the first time, will be televised live on VERSUS from 5-6 p.m.
Joyful Victory, who is trained by Larry Jones for Rick Porter’s Fox Hill Farms, comes into the Oaks off a 7-length victory in the Fantasy and an 8 3/4-length score in the Honeybee in her only 2011 starts. Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith, who was aboard for those two triumphs, has the call May 6 as he seeks his first Kentucky Oaks victory.
Bred in Ontario by William Graham, the gray daughter of Tapit —Wild Lucy Black, by Wild Again was fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) at Churchill last fall in her lone appearance at the Louisville track. She drew the rail post and was made the 5-2 morning line favorite. All Oaks fillies will carry 121 pounds.
“She’s an off-the-pace kind of horse,” said Jones of Joyful Victory, who turned in a bullet work at Churchill May 1 when she covered five furlongs over a sloppy track in :59 1/5. “She lays up close…in this race she may be a little farther back. It looks like there’s going to be a lot of pace, so she may get shuffled back mid-pack, and if she does we’re okay with that.
“This is a little bit longer of a race than she’s been running in, so the longer she waits, the better,” continued Jones, who will be seeking his second Oaks victory to go with the 2008 triumph by Proud Spell. “(Joyful Victory) is a great horse to train, great around the barn, she’s a people horse, and she loves the crowd, so we’re not expecting any difficulty with a large crowd that day. We did take her to the paddock and let her stand and look around a little bit. Of course, she was here for the Breeders’ Cup last year, so she’s done this before. We’re not expecting any issues.”
Trained by John Sadler, Zazu is the only grade I winner on dirt in the Oaks field, having taken the Las Virgenes in February at Santa Anita. Joel Rosario, who has been aboard Zazu in her past three starts, has the Oaks riding assignment on the daughter of Tapit —Rhumb Line, by Mr. Greeley, who will break from post position six. Zazu was bred in Kentucky by Summerhill Equine.
“She’s training really well--I’m looking forward to (the Oaks); we’re excited about running her a mile and an eighth,” said Sadler of Zazu. “She finished so well in her last race (second by a neck in the March 5 Santa Anita Oaks, gr. I). The weather won’t hurt us; if we got a little rain, I think she would like it, so we’re looking forward to Friday.”
When asked what other filly he felt posed the biggest threat to Zazu in the Oaks, Sadler said, “Probably the other Tapit filly (Joyful Victory). I was kidding Larry Jones this morning that they look like sisters. They’re both gray fillies, and they look very similar.”
Trained by Ken McPeek, Kathmanblu romped to an 8 1/2-length victory at Churchill Downs last fall in the Golden Rod (gr. II) and is coming off a troubled third-place finish in the Central Bank Ashland (gr. I) over Polytrack at Keeneland. Julien Leparoux, who was aboard for the Golden Rod triumph, will ride Kathmanblu May 6 and will break from post position four. The daughter of Bluegrass Cat --Abba Gold, by Devil's Bag was bred in Kentucky by Five D Thoroughbreds.
In addition to Jones, two other trainers will be seeking a second Kentucky Oaks victory: Bob Baffert, who won the race in 1999 with Silverbulletday and Todd Pletcher, who won the race in 2007 with Rags To Riches.
Baffert will send out Peachtree Stable’s Plum Pretty, a 25-length winner of the Sunland Park Oaks in her most recent start on March 27. Martin Garcia, who was aboard for that victory at 1-20 odds, has the return call May 6. Listed at 5-1 on the morning line, Plum Pretty will break from post position 12.
"She's very lightly raced but her last race in Sunland was pretty amazing,” said Baffert. “I don't think I've had a horse win by 25. She's been training really well here (at Churchill). It's a big field so she still needs to be up there close, I think."
Pletcher will saddle Bobby Flay’s Her Smile, second in the Comely (gr. III) at Aqueduct April 9 in her most recent start. Garrett Gomez, who won the Oaks in 2007 on Rags To Riches, has the mount on Her Smile, who will break from post position seven and open at morning line odds of 20-1.
Also seeking a second Oaks victory is Gabriel Saez. Saez, winner of the 2008 Oaks on Proud Spell, has the assignment on Team Valor International’s Summer Soiree, who will break from post position 3. Also trained by Larry Jones, Summer Soiree is 5-1 on the morning line.
"I just don't know if she'll be able to run that far, that's the only question,” said Barry Irwin, CEO of Team Valor of the daughter of War Front , who has never been tested at 1 1/8 miles. “She's fast as hell and anytime you have a horse who is that fast, you wonder how far they're going to go. We're going to try and get her to relax and go as slow as she possibly can. But she's a friggin monster."
The other grade I winner in the field is Lilacs and Lace, who captured the Ashland at Keeneland April 9. Owned by James Covello, Judy Hicks and Kathryn Nikkel, Lilacs and Lace is trained by John Terranova and will be ridden by Javier Castellano. Lilacs and Lace, 12-1 on the morning line, will break from post position 2.
$100,000,000 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I, Race 11, 5:45 p.m.), 3YO fillies, 1 1/8 miles (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Joyful Victory, ME Smith, 121, JL Jones, 5-2
2. Lilacs and Lace, J Castellano, 121, J P Terranova, II, 12-1
3. Summer Soiree, G Saez, 121, HG Motion, 5-1
4. Kathmanblu, JR Leparoux, 121, KG McPeek, 4-1
5. Suave Voir Faire, M Mena, 121, DM Smithwick Jr., 50-1
6. Zazu, J Rosario, 121, JW Sadler, 4-1
7. Her Smile, GK Gomez, 121, TA Pletcher, 20-1
8. Bouquet Booth, R Albarado, 121, S Margolis, 20-1
9. Daisy Devine, J Graham, 121, A McKeever, 20-1
10. Street Storm, S Bridgmohan, 121, S Margolis, 50-1
11. Holy Heavens, KJ Desormeaux, 121, B Chatters, 50-1
12. Plum Pretty, M Garcia, 121, B Baffert, 5-1
13. St. John’s River, R Napravnik, 121, A Leggio Jr., 30-1