Tom Pedulla presents five major takeaways from the 143rd running of the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks, the premier race for 3-year-old fillies, on Friday at Churchill Downs.
Baffert’s Third Oaks
Bob Baffert won his third Oaks to go with four Kentucky Derby triumphs with yet another example of his brilliance as a trainer. His ability to lead a horse to a peak performance on a given day is nothing short of phenomenal. In the case of newly crowned Oaks victor Abel Tasman, that meant the addition of blinkers to aid focus. It also meant two workouts timed to the instant: four furlongs in :46.60 on April 16, the fastest of 53 timed workouts that morning at Santa Anita and seven furlongs in 1:25.20 six days later to ensure that she was plenty fit for the 1 1/8-mile contest. Jockey Mike Smith was correct when he referred to Baffert as “Big Money Bob.”
“Big Money” Mike Strikes Again
The world saw why Baffert refers to Smith as “Big Money” Mike when a poor start led Arrogate to be last in the early going of the $10-million Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airlines. His willingness to stay cool and confident in his mount led to a stunning come-from-behind triumph. Not to say that Abel Tasman has the potential of superstar Arrogate, but Smith displayed the same nerveless qualities with her. After another slow start, he worked his way to the rail, believing that was the best part of a sloppy track. When he discovered that his filly was unhappy there, he weaved his way back toward the center. Once there, they rocketed.
Daddys Lil Darling would be perceived in an entirely different way if her second-place finishes had been victories. Her mad dash to the Oaks finish line with Julien Leparoux aboard marked her fourth runner-up finish in nine lifetime starts. In her previous effort, she and Robby Albarado missed overtaking Sailor’s Valentine by a mere half-length in the Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. Trainer Kenny McPeek’s comment immediately after the Oaks reflected his mixed emotions. “I like winning races,” he said, “but she ran fantastic.”
Mark down Lockdown as a 3-year-old filly that bears watching. She acquitted herself well to run third in only her second start in a graded stakes following a distant second-place finish to Miss Sky Warrior in the Grade 2 Gazelle Stakes on April 8 at Aqueduct. She is in ideal hands with trainer Bill Mott and was seemingly born to succeed. She is a full-sister to Close Hatches, the 2014 Eclipse Award winner as champion older female for Mott.
Parading in Triumph
The sight of 143 survivors of breast and ovarian cancer marching in the ninth annual Survivors Parade provided the warmest moment on a raw and rainy afternoon. Some walked in triumph, having been declared by their doctors to be cancer free. Others walked with heads held high as they continue to battle the disease with all of the determination they can muster. Participants and spectators alike understood the need for contributions to aid research that has contributed to many advances yet with much work left to do.