Looking back at the recent Kentucky Oaks Winners
With the Kentucky Derby and its fillies-only counterpart, the Kentucky Oaks, fast approaching, let’s take a look back at some of the past winners of the Kentucky Oaks. The Kentucky Derby is always so hyped-up that sometimes the fillies become overshadowed in their race.
So, a quick overview of the race. Run on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby – which is always run on the first Saturday in May – it is a 1 1/8 mile race on the dirt course at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Like the Derby, it is restricted to three-year-olds and has been run at multiple distances since its inauguration in 1875. It has been run at 1 1/8 miles since 1982. The winner of the Kentucky Oaks receives a garland of lilies, a counterpart to the garland of roses the winner of the Kentucky Derby receives.
Over the past decade we have seen some remarkable fillies win the race, including one filly who went on to win that year’s Horse of the Year Eclipse Award and another who went on to beat the colts in the Belmont Stakes. Without further ado…
2016: Cathryn Sophia, by Street Boss and out of Sheave, was initially not pointed to the Oaks. Her connections had her scheduled to run in the Eight Belles Stakes, a seven-furlong race on the same day, not wanting to face the top filly Songbird. When Songbird scratched due to a training setback, they put her in the Oaks and it paid off. After her Oaks victory, she won the ungraded Princess of Sylmar Stakes before placing third in the grade 1 Cotillion Stakes behind Songbird and Carina Mia in the final race of her career.
2015: Lovely Maria (by Majesticperfection and out of Thundercup) won the 2015 Oaks in a surprising victory over a field steeped in class. Her rivals included Stellar Wind (who later finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and won the Eclipse Award for Champion Three-Year-Old Filly) and I’m a Chatterbox (winner of the grade 1 Cotillion Stakes later in the year). Unfortunately, the Oaks was the highlight of Lovely Maria’s career, as she never won again.
2014: Untapable (by Tapit, out of Fun House) claimed victory in the 2014 edition, stamping herself as a filly to be reckoned with. Later in the year, she won the grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes, the grade 1 Cotillion Stakes, and the grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. The victories earned her the Eclipse Award for Champion Three-Year-Old Filly in a unanimous decision by the voters. Her four-year-old career was respectable, earning top-three finishes in all her races, including a victory in the grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap.
2013: Princess of Sylmar (Majestic Warrior, out of Storm Dixie) snatched victory in 2013, finishing just half a length ahead of Beholder. In the rest of her three-year-old season, Princess of Sylmar won the grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks, and the grade 1 Alabama Stakes, the grade 1 Beldame Stakes, the Beldame being against older fillies and mares including Royal Delta.
2012: Believe You Can (Proud Citizen, out of El Fasto) produced the best race of her career in the Kentucky Oaks of 2012, it being her first and only win in a grade 1 race. She finished third in the grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes later in her three-year-old season, won a couple of ungraded stakes races as a four-year-old, and earned a third-place finish in the grade 2 La Troienne before her eventual retirement.
2011: Plum Pretty (Medaglia D’Oro, out of Liszy) won her first of two career grade 1 stakes wins when she was victorious in the 2011 Kentucky Oaks, a day before Animal Kingdom won the Derby. Plum Pretty went on to do fairly well in the rest of her racing career, chalking up victories in the Cotillion Stakes and the Apple Blossom Handicap in the process.
2010: Blind Luck, a filly by Pollard’s Vision and out of Lucky One, was the favourite going into her Oaks. After her victory in the Oaks, she went on to earn herself a rival in the formidable Havre de Grace with two victories over her in the Delaware Oaks and Alabama Stakes. Blind Luck went on to face Havre de Grace four more times in her career, finishing ahead of her two of those times.
2009: Rachel Alexandra (Medaglia D’Oro, out of Lotta Kim) burst onto the scene with her victory in the 2009 Oaks, earning herself a record for the largest winning margin by beating her next closest rival by 20 ¼ lengths. Following the Oaks Rachel Alexandra was sold and switched trainers; her new connections decided to take a risk and enter her in the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the Triple Crown series. Facing colts for the first time, the risk paid off when Rachel Alexandra won, beating Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. Rachel Alexandra went on to become only the second filly to win the Haskell Invitational and the first filly or mare to win the Woodward Stakes, the latter against older males. These victories against males earned her the 2009 Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. Her four-year-old season saw her win two of her five races, placing second in the other three before her retirement.
2008: Proud Spell, a filly by Proud Citizen and out of Pacific Spell, was one of two stellar fillies trainer J. Larry Jones had in contention for the Oaks. The other filly in contention was Eight Belles. A day after Proud Spell’s five-length victory, Eight Belles ran against the boys in the Kentucky Derby and finished second to Big Brown. Tragically, Eight Belles suffered catastrophic injuries in the gallop out and was humanely euthanized on the track. A race on the same day as the Oaks was renamed to commemorate her. As for Proud Spell, she won two of her four post-Kentucky Oaks races as a three-year-old, and was retired early in her four-year-old year.
2007: Rags to Riches (A.P. Indy, out of Better Than Honour) decisively beat the previous year’s Champion Two-Year-Old Filly, Dreaming of Anna, in her 4 ¼ length victory in the Oaks. For Rags to Riches, the Kentucky Oaks was the first of two incredible performances by this filly. Following her Kentucky Oaks win, she was entered in the Belmont Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown. Run at a mile and a half, the Belmont is nicknamed the “Test of the Champion” because of the difficulty of the distance. In the 2007 Belmont, Rags to Riches became the first filly in over a century to win the Belmont after a fierce duel down the stretch with Preakness winner Curlin. Sadly, injury-plagued Rags to Riches and she was retired from racing after only one more race. In her honour, a new race was created, the first running held in 2016 on the Friday before the Belmont Stakes. It was named the Rags to Riches Invitational Stakes, and is run at 1 ½ miles, the only dirt race in the U.S. for fillies and mares to be run at the distance.
The past decade has seen some phenomenal fillies emerge into the spotlight after victories in the Kentucky Oaks; what will happen this year? All we can do is wait and see.