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Kentucky Derby Contenders
Owner Michael Tabor leads Garrett Gomez and Rags to Riches to the Kentucky Oaks winner's circle
The $500,000 Kentucky Oaks (G1) is the filly counterpart to the Kentucky Derby. A full field of fourteen 3-year-old fillies went to the gate in this prestigious 1 1/8 mile event over the muddy, sealed main track at Churchill Downs before an announced crowd of 100,075. Rags to Riches was sent off as the 3-2 favorite off her 3-race win streak including the Santa Anita Oaks and the Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita. In to challenge was 5-1 second choice Dreaming of Anna, winner of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and 6-1 third choice High Heels, winner of the Fantasy at Oaklawn in her last start.
There were five other stakes races on the card with the Oaks. Full results for all of them with more photos are here.
Although I was not able to get a photo credential this year, I was able to join Jane Dempsey's Kentucky Derby Junket to get photos. Many thanks to her help so I could still cover the Derby and Oaks as in the past.
First time by with Dreaming of Anna, Mistical Plan, and Cotton Blossom out front
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 11 Rags to Riches Gomez 5.00 3.80 2.80 4 Octave Velazquez 5.20 3.60 3 High Heels Johnson 3.60 Winning Time: 1:49.99 $2 Exacta 11-4 30.00 $2 Trifecta 11-4-3 131.00 $2 Superfecta 11-4-3-1 1,830.60
Rags to Riches starts to draw away from second place finisher Octave in the stretch. Winning jockey Garrett Gomez said, "When I turned for home and I picked her up, she gave me an acceleration that I didn't really expect because of the simple fact that she had been in such a different situation earlier. A lot of times they don't really give you that burst plus she had never been on an off racetrack. She was having to overcome a lot of things. She's a really good filly and she proved it today. She took a lot of things that she had never been faced with."
Trainer Todd Pletcher with Rags to Riches after winning the Oaks. Pletcher said, "It was an unbelievable performance. To think she was a maiden at the beginning of the year. She's a true superstar, an extremely special filly. My biggest concern was just the conditions: outside post, the track looked like it was a little inside favoring today, and first time in the mud. She's trained well, and we were very confident she would run well."
Rags to Riches' owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith celebrate in the winner's circle. Tabor said, "She hadn't been in these conditions before, and was between horses, so you are concerned. I was also concerned about the sloppy conditions. We know her breeding said she could handle it, but until they do it, you never know. When you spend that money ($1.9 million Keeneland September yearling purchase) you always have high hopes but they don't always materialize." Co-owner Derrick Smith added, "She did everything we hoped for and more. Garrett was pushing her a little on the turn. She just accelerated and quickened and her class showed in the end."
Rags to Riches during the walk over before the race. Her handlers looked awfully confident. Trainer Todd Pletcher said, "I was worried about the track condition. You hate to think about being beat with the best horse because of the track. I was worried about it all day long. I was worried about the outside post, too. It looked like the inside and the speed had all the edge today, so I was concerned about her situation for sure. But she took care of all of that. There was lots of adversity out there today, but she overcame it all. The really good ones will do that – overcome all adversity."
Rags to Riches in the post parade. Winning jockey Garrett Gomez said, "From the 11 hole, we just wanted to make sure she got away in good shape. Hopefully some of the speed would clear right away and I could find a spot. I had to let her run away from there and I did find a spot. I put her in position, but she was in a spot she never had been in before and that was between horses. She didn't like it early on, but once I was able to move her out and get her in position, I could almost feel her take a deep breath, a sigh of relief, and she was very comfortable."
Second place finisher Octave, also trained by Pletcher, in the post parade, looking less than pleased with the sloppy track. Her jockey John Velazquez said, "She ran really well. The other one is just a really good filly."
Third place finisher High Heels in the post parade. Her trainer Gary Hartlage said, "The winner was the best horse. Our filly ran a great race. She had a little trouble, but nothing to make an excuse out of. This was a top, top Grade I and our filly proved she's one of the top five in the country. I'm very satisfied with the race. We'll sit down later and talk about her next start." Jockey Joe Johnson added, "She ran a good race. I had a little trouble at the three-eighths pole, but we weren't going to beat the winner. She showed up today and showed she could run with these kind of fillies. We will take it from here and go on to the next one."
Left: The field for the Oaks heads into the clubhouse turn with mud flying everywhere.
Right: Fourth place finisher Dawn After Dawn in the post parade.
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