A year ago, it was Barbaro’s 6 1/2-length margin in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) that had everyone talking. While something may still happen in this year’s Derby to equal that performance, if it doesn’t, they can talk about Friday's $589,200 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) (VIDEO) .
Oaks winner Rags to Riches, making just her fifth lifetime start, left the crowd gasping with a spectacular 4 1/4-length tally.
Sent off the overwhelming 3-2 favorite in a field of 14, Rags to Riches sat patiently behind the pacesetters under Garrett Gomez and then exploded the stretch, leaving no doubt as to her dominance. They were strung out down the stretch, with Octave in second and another 3 1/4 lengths to Fantasy (gr. II) winner High Heels in third.
Rags to Riches, by A.P. Indy, is trained by Todd Pletcher, who on Saturday will saddle five horses in the Derby. Rags to Riches is owned by Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, and among those Pletcher will send out in the Derby is Circular Quay, who is owned by Tabor and Smith. Tabor and Smith also own Derby starter Scat Daddy in partnership with James Scatuorchio.
"We'll savor this one," Pletcher said. "But tomorrow's THE one."
Pletcher sent out two other Oaks starters as well, Octave and Cotton Blossom.
Cotton Blossom made an easy lead out of the gate in the Oaks, with last year’s juvenile filly champion, Dreaming of Anna, in second. By the time they went a quarter in :23.25 and a half in :47.89, Dreaming of Anna had taken the lead, Mistical Plan was running a close second, and longshot Sealy Hill was third. Cotton Blossom had dropped back to fourth along the inside.
Gomez never had Rags to Riches far back, the chestnut filly sitting just a couple of lengths from the lead while between horses three to four paths off the rail down the backstretch.
They went six furlongs in 1:12.69 and a mile in 1:37.80, by which time Gomez had Rags to Riches in full flight. The result was never in doubt, really, as Octave emerged from the pack under John Velazquez to loom as a threat on the inside mid-stretch, but she was no match. The final time for the nine furlongs was 1:49.99 on a track rated muddy and sealed. The time was the sixth fastest in the 48 years the Oaks has been run at 1 1/8 miles. This year's Kentucky Oaks was the first contested over a sloppy track since 1989.
"I put her in position, but she was in a spot she never had been in before and that was between horses," Gomez said. "She didn’t like it early on, but once I was able to move her out and get her in position, I could almost feel her take a deep breath, a sigh of relief, and she was very comfortable. When I turned for home and I picked her up, she gave me an acceleration that I didn’t really expect because of the simple fact that she had been in such a different situation earlier. A lot of times they don’t really give you that burst, plus she had never been on an off racetrack. She was having to overcome a lot of things.”
Rags to Riches paid $5, $3.80, and $2.80, while Octave returned $5.20 and $3.60. High Heels returned $3.60. The winner earned $332,428, increasing her bankroll to $692,528.
The attendance was 100,075, down from last year’s 108,065. There was threatening weather all day, and it rained in the morning and started pouring about 10 minutes after the Oaks was run.
“She hadn’t been in these conditions before, and was between horses, so you are concerned. I was also concerned about the sloppy conditions. We know she is a very good filly and we were hopeful,” Tabor said.
“She’s something extra special,” Pletcher said. “It was an unbelievable performance. To think she was a maiden at the beginning of the year.”
Rags to Riches has lost only once, and that, ironically, was her first start last June at Churchill Downs. She then reeled off three wins in California, a year in which Pletcher had a string at Santa Anita for the first time. She broke her maiden and then came back to win the Las Virgenes (gr. I) and Santa Anita Oaks (gr. I) on March 11.
"I wasn’t concerned about the layoff," Pletcher said. "Like I’ve said all along about that, we’ve had good success doing it this way. Bringing them in fresh has worked well for us so there wasn’t much doubt about doing it with her. Besides, there weren’t a whole lot of choices for us. There was the Fantasy or the Ashland (gr. I), but either the timing or the track condition wasn’t what we wanted.
“But I was worried about the track condition," he added. "You hate to think about being beat with the best horse because of the track. I was worried about it all day long. I was worried about the outside post, too. It looked like the inside and the speed had all the edge today, so I was concerned about her situation for sure. But she took care of all of that. There was lots of adversity out there today, but she overcame it all."
Rags to Riches was bred in Kentucky by Stanley Gumberg’s Skara Glen Stables from the graded stakes winning Deputy Minister mare Better Than Honor. The half-sister to 2006 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Jazil was a high-priced yearling, purchased for $1.9 million at the 2005 Keeneland September sale.
“When you spend that money you always have high hopes but they don’t always materialize,” Tabor said.
Dawn After Dawn rallied for fourth, followed by Mistical Plan, Dreaming of Anna, Tough Tiz's Sis, Autobahn Girl, Cotton Blossom, Swift Temper, Cash Included, Sealy Hill and High Again. Grace Happens was pulled up entering the far turn after her saddle slipped on the backstretch.
Rene Douglas, aboard 11-2 second choice Dreaming of Anna, last year's juvenile filly champion, said, "I was happy with the way she was going. Turning for home, I thought I had a chance, but all of a sudden, she started struggling. I didn’t keep after her because she’s too nice a filly for that. She gave it all she had today.”