Before a crowd of 100,523, Marylou Whitney's homebred Bird Town stumbled out of the gate but recovered to pull an upset at 18-1 in the $573,800 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs.
It was the fifth largest attendance for the Oaks, the traditional warm-up for the Kentucky Derby Day festivities.
Bird Town drew away in the stretch to win by 3 ¼ lengths in a stakes-record time of 1:48.64. It was the fastest Oaks time in history at the 1 1/8-mile distance. The race was run at 1 1-16 miles from 1942-81.
Santa Catarina was second, with Yell a head back in third. The Oaks win was the first for New York-based trainer Nick Zito.
Bird Town, who won her first graded stakes race, returned $38.40 to win, $14.20 to show, and $9.20 to place. Santa Catarina retuned $8.60 and $6.20, with Yell returning $6.00.
Zito said his first Kentucky Oaks winner was just as sweet as either of his Kentucky Derby victories.
``To me, I have the same feeling. Honestly,'' the trainer said.
``What heart this filly has,'' Zito said. ``She never runs a bad race. Consistency makes you great.''
After stumbling at the start under jockey Edgar Prado, Bird Town stayed off the early pace set by 5-2 favorite Elloluv.
She was 11th as the 12-horse field rounded the first turn, but Zito credited Prado with settling the filly into a comfortable pace.
``Great jockeys have a way with horses. He didn't let her get away,'' Zito said.
Elloluv set stakes-record fractions of :23.09 for the quarter-mile and :46.08 for the half, hitting the three-quarter marker in 1:10.15 while under strong pressure from Tempus Fugit. Elloluv faded in the stretch to finish fourth.
Bird Town and Santa Catarina were content to remain off the stretch until nearing the final turn, where Santa Catarina made a sweeping three-wide move rounding the final turn to pull a head clear in the stretch.
Bird Town emerged from the pack under a hard left-handed whip from Prado and pulled away for the victory.
``She showed a lot of determination and courage and will to win,'' said Prado, who will ride Peace Rules in Saturday's Derby.
The last jockey to win both races in the same year was Jerry Bailey, with Dispute in the Oaks and Sea Hero, in 1993.
``It's a great feeling to win any kind of a race,'' Prado said. ``It's even better to win the great races.''
Bird Town is by Cape Town, out of the Storm Bird mare Dear Birdie. She ran her career record to 8-3-4-1 while earning $355,756 for the win. She has bankrolled $498,751.
It was the first Oaks victory for Mrs. Whitney, the widow of the late C.V. Whitney, who won four Oaks between 1936-75.
``As Nick knows, I love my homebreds,'' Whitney said. ``We buy horses, too. But homebreds mean so much to me.''
``It was a roughly run race,'' said jockey Gary Stevens, who was aboard the runner-up Santa Catarina. ``A couple of horses almost went down.''
My Boston Gal was fifth, followed by Lady Tak, Island Fashion, Holiday Lady, Atlantic Ocean, In Case of Wind, Tempus Fugit and Go for Glamour.