Churchill May Review Kentucky Oaks Conditions After Flute Controversy

Even though Flute made it into the Kentucky Oaks, Churchill Downs probably will review the race's conditions to see if there is a better way to handle an oversubscribed field, according to the track's vice president of racing communications.

"It would have been a ticklish situation" if Flute had been excluded, said John Asher. "It raised a red flag. I don't know whether or not anything will change, but we'll definitely take a look at it."

The Oaks field is limited to 14 starters, with preference given to the 3-year-old fillies with the highest career earnings. With only $96,200, Flute was in danger of not getting a berth. She was "in" after the connections of Serena's Tune announced over the weekend that she would not run. Then Flute was "out" again on Monday when trainer Mark Hennig revealed to the Daily Racing Form that he was entering three fillies -- Raging Fever, Mystic Lady, and Tap Dance--instead of two as originally planned. The defection of Scoop just prior to Tuesday's entry deadline left a spot open for Flute.

The situation was particularly disturbing because Flute was widely considered one of the favorites for the Oaks. Churchill's oddsmaker, Mike Battaglia, made her the second favorite on the morning line. The filly has raced only five times, but she finished second in the Santa Anita Oaks on March 10 to the highly-regarded Golden Ballet.

When the Kentucky Derby is oversubscribed, preference is given to the horses with the highest earnings in graded stakes, and Flute's trainer, Bobby Frankel, would like to see a similar rule for the Oaks.

"Of course, I would have been upset" if Flute hadn't gotten in, Frankel said. "In these big races, they should leave room for invitees because you never know when you'll have a late bloomer. I also think it should be based on graded stakes earnings because a California claiming horse, running for $40,000 or $50,000, could get in ahead of a horse that is grade I-placed if she had won enough races."

Added Frankel: "I feel like a deserve to win now because all of the aggravation I've been through."

Frankel accused Hennig of entering Raging Fever at the last minute to keep Flute out. But Flute's trainer said there were no hard feelings.

"He's not doing anything wrong; he's just playing the game," Frankel said. "But he's playing it tight."

This is the second year in a row that the Oaks has had a full field of 14. Last year, two fillies, Dignify and Farrfesheena, were excluded because of lack of earnings. Last year also marked the first time that earnings had become an issue in finalizing the race's field, according to Churchill officials. This year, only 14 fillies ended up being entered even though several more were listed by Churchill as serious candidates in the last days leading up to the deadline. They included Steiners Baby Girl, who had only $18,100 in earnings, but was not entered.

"The most common question people have asked is why isn't it the same for the Oaks as it is for the Derby?" Asher said.