Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds is looking forward to simply enjoying the ride in the May 1 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs. And even though the pressure will be high on his filly Justwhistledixie, who will try to measure up against the heavy morning line favorite Rachel Alexandra, Finley is refusing to let himself get anxious about something he can’t control.
“(Rachel Alexandra) is not really a concern of mine, because if she runs her race and she’s better than us, she deserves to win,” said Finley, who owns Justwhistledixie in partnership with Lewis Lakin’s Lakland Farm and Breeders’ Cup board member R. Dee Hubbard. “I think too many times owners and trainers get fixated and threatened about whether they have the best horse, and it kind of takes away the fun and excitement of being in a race like the Oaks.”
While Rachel Alexandra has won her last four straight races, Justwhistledixie has won her last five, including the March 1 Davona Dale Stakes and March 27 Bonnie Miss Stakes (both gr. II) at Gulfstream Park. And although Rachel Alexandra has the advantage of already having a grade II Churchill Downs victory under her belt, Finley believes his filly could still come out in front on Friday.
“Certainly on paper, I probably think (Justwhistledixie) is a little closer to Rachel than a lot of other people do,” he said of the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee. “I’m certainly biased in that respect…but her sheet numbers are very similar. It’s not like Rachel Alexandra is on another planet. I know Rachel is a quality filly, and I know she’s been managed very well and she’s been very impressive, and I respect her a lot.”
Finley, who watched Justwhistledixie gallop a mile and a quarter at Churchill the morning of April 29 said the filly will have no excuses come Oaks Day.
“It was a wet racetrack, and she looked like she was very comfortable,” he said of Justwhistledixie, who is the second choice in the Oaks at odds of 5-2. “Everything looks very good. She’s not a filly that has shown she’s going to go right to the lead. I don’t think she’s going to outrun Rachel Alexandra in the first turn. I think we’ll be third or fourth and just hope there’s a legitimate pace up in front of us.
“We just hope we’re good enough, that’s all. We just hope everybody’s safe and gets a chance to run their race.”
Justwhistledixie is the first horse Finley has bought in partnership with Hubbard. The two men became friends through mutual connections in the industry and had dinner the night before the 2007 Keeneland September yearling sale, where they discussed going into partnership together on a horse.
“The next day we bought Justwhistledixie, and I called (Hubbard), and he said, ‘I’m in,’” Finley remembered.
Bred in Kentucky by Carl Pollard’s Hermitage Farm, the daughter of Dixie Union—General Jeanne, by Honour and Glory was purchased for $425,000 by Buzz Chace, agent on Finley’s behalf.
Finley said Justwhistledixie’s other part-owner, Lakin, is also a vital part of the ownership group. Two of the four other horses Finley and Lakin have owned together in the past, Dream Rush and Irish Smoke, are grade I winners.
“We’ve been really lucky together,” said Finley. “We really enjoy each other’s company, and I think we both bring different things to the table. He’s a really great partner and a great man.”