Lovely Maria powered to a dominant victory under Kerwin Clark in the Kentucky Oaks on Friday at Churchill Downs. (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire)
Winning the Kentucky Oaks for the third time in eight years, this time with Lovely Maria, the partnership of owner Brereton Jones and trainer Larry Jones are gunning to have the trophy named in their honor.
Sent off at odds of 6.30-to-1, Lovely Maria broke from post position seven and almost immediately took her spot in the leading group, racing no more than two lengths behind pacesetter Condo Commando through fractions of :23.51 for the first quarter-mile and 47.26 for the half-mile.
As the field entered the turn, Angela Renee took over up front with Lovely Maria following her lead. By the time they hit the top of the stretch, Lovely Maria was ready to challenge and Angela Renee had to battle to fight her off, but it was no use. With a little more than a furlong remaining, Lovely Maria drove past and then pulled away to win by 2 ¾ lengths, even with Shook Up making a determined rally behind her.
Larry Jones had an amazing Oaks, as his other entrant, I’m a Chatterbox, closed from 11th to take third, only a length behind Shook Up. Race favorite Stellar Wind rounded out the superfecta with a fourth-place finish, but the spotlight clearly was on Lovely Maria and her connections.
“In the Ashland she really touted herself to me,” winning jockey Kerwin Clark said of her 3 ¼-length romp in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes on April 4. “She relaxed in the Ashland, and she did the same thing today. And the exact same horse that was in front of me in the Ashland was in front of me again today turning for home.
“I don't want to say I was overly confident, but I was pretty confident that I could run that other filly down, especially if she gave me the same kick she did in the Ashland. And she did today.”
2015 KENTUCKY OAKS SLIDESHOW
To say that Lovely Maria’s Kentucky Oaks win is special would be a vast understatement.
Named after a disabled girl whose godmother was Mother Teresa, Lovely Maria entered the stable soon after trainer Larry Jones suffered a life-threatening injury that occurred right before Easter 2014. Jones is back to running his operation full time again, but the trainer credits the power of prayer and his faith for helping him recover from the bleeding on the brain that he was suffering from after the accident.
“In five weeks I was back to riding the pony. And they actually showed me where my truck was, because they had that hidden from me for five weeks. Slowly but surely, we’ve come back and it’s good,” Jones said. “It has all been a God thing. God does work. I don't know why he loves cowboys and horsemen and all the things he does, but he does. And just, believe me, it's a blessing. And I'm glad he showed me the blessing that it was.”
But possibly the most interesting part of the story to racing fans is that “underdog” component for both Lovely Maria and Clark.
Even though she is a well-bred filly from the first crop of Brereton Jones’ stallion Majesticperfection, Lovely Maria went through the sales ring as a yearling and didn’t sell when she brought a closing bid of $5,000.
Throughout the Kentucky Oaks trail, Lovely Maria was considered kind of the “second stringer” from Larry Jones’ entries with I’m a Chatterbox getting most of the attention. Lovely Maria won the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland on April 4, but even on Oaks day, she went off at slightly higher odds than her stablemate.
Clark has been aboard Lovely Maria since her career began last September and his loyalty to the filly has paid off. Riding for 40 years, Clark has enjoyed the best month of his career. He was still searching for an elusive first Grade 1 victory when he rode Lovely Maria in the Ashland Stakes. He knocked the Grade 1 win off his bucket list in the Ashland, turned 56 on April 18, and now is a Kentucky Oaks-winning rider. Not too shabby for a jockey who was on the cusp of retiring 15 years ago.
“For me to get this opportunity at this time in my life, when 15 years ago I had decided I was just going to stay in Louisiana and finish my career out there and just disappear quietly into the sunset, I got lucky and I got blessed to be connected with Larry Jones and Brereton Jones,” Clark said. “They just kind of grabbed me by the collar and said, ‘Here, look what I got for you. Go do something.’ So, I mean, I am just blessed to be here with some great people. Like Larry said, it is just a blessing all around. I couldn't be happier.”
Lovely Maria won the Kentucky Oaks in front of the largest crowd in the race’s history with 123,763 people turning out for Friday’s card at Churchill Downs. For those who put their faith in her to win, they were rewarded with a payout of $14.60 on a $2 win ticket.
For an Equibase chart, click here.
2015 KENTUCKY OAKS
Courtesy of Kentucky Derby