Friday, May 1, 2009

KY Oaks: Everyone Chasing Rachel Alexandra

By Esther Marr

Prior to the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) post position draw the morning of April 28, Mike Rutherford, owner/breeder of Flying Spur, and Michael Lauffer, co-owner of Rachel Alexandra, discussed the chances of their fillies in the 1 1/8-mile, $500,000 race May 1.

It was ironic that the two men were sitting next to each other, talking casually about the industry, considering the fact Rachel Alexandra and Flying Spur finished one-two, respectively, in the March 14 Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II). But there was a feeling of mutual respect between them as they conversed about their fillies’ rematch in the run for the lilies.

“Do you think I did the right thing by entering Rachel in the Oaks instead of the (Kentucky) Derby (gr. I)?” Lauffer asked Rutherford.

“Well, I would have liked to see her run in the Derby, but I wouldn’t have run her in the Derby,” Rutherford said with a laugh.

After Rachel Alexandra drew the six post, and Flying Spur drew the eight, Lauffer and Rutherford rested easy and they both seemed satisfied with their respective positions.

“I think she’s going to be tough,” said Lauffer of Flying Spur, a daughter of Giant's Causeway —Lakeway, by Seattle Slew, who has won just once in six starts, a Jan. 5 maiden event at Fair Grounds. “She likes to run long distances, and I think a mile and an eighth is going to help her.”

In regards to her most impressive race, in which she was runner-up to Rachel Alexandra by 1 3/4 lengths, Rutherford noted, “(Flying Spur) was closing in at the end…Rachel Alexandra is obviously the big filly in this race, but they all go down sometimes. Maybe we’ll get lucky; we’re going to have to get lucky.”

Trained by Bill Mott, Flying Spur will be ridden by jockey Garrett Gomez.

Said trainer Hal Wiggins of Rachel Alexandra's post position: “It’s OK; it probably doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. I’d just as soon be on the outside…with eight horses (in the field), and going a mile and an eighth, you’ve got a long run up to the first turn, so I’m very satisfied (with her post).”

Rachel Alexandra, a daughter of Medaglia d'Oro —Lotta Kim, by Roar, who has won her last four starts by more than a combined margin of 23 lengths, will be ridden by jockey Calvin Borel. She was bred by co-owner Dolphus Morrison, who named her after his granddaughter.

Justwhistledixie, who has the second most impressive record in the field, will break from post five. Owned by West Point Thoroughbreds, Lakland Farm, and R. Dee Hubbard, she is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who had not yet traveled to Churchill Downs as of April 28.

Justwhistledixie, a daughter of Dixie Union —General Jeanne, by Honour and Glory , has won five consecutive starts, including the March 1 Davona Dale Stakes (gr. II) and the March 27 Bonnie Miss Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park. Bred in Kentucky by Hermitage Farm, she has career earnings of $337,927.

Julien Leparoux gets the mount on Justwhistledixie, who will be facing Rachel Alexandra for the first time at Churchill. Rachel Alexandra has one major advantage over Justwhistledixie in that she has already won under the Twin Spires in last year’s Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II). This will be Justwhistledixie’s Churchill debut.

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Trainer Bob Baffert will saddle Gabby's Golden Gal, one of the horses trainer Hal Wiggins said could pose a threat to Rachel Alexandra. Also a daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, Gabby’s Golden Gal has never finished worse than third in four lifetime starts, and she won her last race, the March 29 Sunland Park Oaks, by an impressive 13 lengths.

“(The Oaks) is a big step up for her, but the way she ran at Sunland Park, we felt like she deserved a shot at the big event,” said Baffert of the Arnold Zetcher homebred, who has raced exclusively on the West Coast circuit. “She’s trained well, and looks fantastic. This filly isn’t very big, but she’s very aggressive and will be one to be near the lead. She’ll be up on the pace. I just can’t see Rachel (Alexandra) getting beat…after watching her work, she’s just amazing. But Gabby’s tough. She’s little, but she’s a strong filly and she’s doing really well.”

Gabby’s Golden Gal drew the four post and will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.

Nan, one of the probable longshots in the field, drew post seven and has been prepared by trainer Wally Dollase’s daughter, Amy. Craig Dollase, son of Wally and brother of Amy, trains Nan, but will be unable to attend to Oaks due to a prior engagement in California.

“(Nan) has galloped really well over this dirt, and she’s worked really well,” said Amy Dollase of the filly by High Yield—Trip Around Heaven, by Halo, who has been winless in her last four starts, including an off-the-board finish in the April 4 Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.

“You always like to see them come into a big race off a good performance, but she had an excuse that day, and she seems to have recovered well,” said Dollase of Nan, who had a slight bleeding problem in the Ashland.

Nan, who is owned by J. Paul Reddam and was bred in Kentucky by De Savino Stable, enters the Oaks off a record of 1-2-2 from 10 starts at tracks across the country. Corey Nakatani will ride.

D. Wayne Lukas, a four-time Kentucky Oaks-winning trainer, will saddle three of the longest shots in the field: Tweeter, Be Fair, and Stone Legacy. Ironically enough, the horses drew the respective positions of 1, 2, 3.

Post positions, trainers and jockeys for the May 1 Kentucky Oaks:

Pgm. # Horse Trainer Jockey Morning Line
1 Tweeter D. Wayne Lukas Miguel Mena 30-1
2 Be Fair D. Wayne Lukas Rafael Bejarano 15-1
3 Stone Legacy D. Wayne Lukas Kent Desormeaux 30-1
4 Gabby's Golden Gal Bob Baffert Victor Espinoza 10-1
5 Justwhistledixie Kiaran McLaughlin Julien Leparoux 5-2
6 Rachel Alexandra Hal Wiggins Calvin Borel 3-5
7 Nan Craig Dollase Corey Nakatani 20-1
8 Flying Spur Bill Mott Garrett Gomez 8-1

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