04/29/2010 11:00PM

Blind Luck heavy favorite in Oaks

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
Blind Luck would be trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's third Kentucky Oaks winner and his first since 1996.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Jerry Hollendorfer knows the feeling of saddling a Kentucky Oaks winner, having already done it twice. "It's very nice," he said in knowing understatement.

But it's been a long time between drinks, and Hollendorfer, an iconic trainer on the Northern California circuit, would like nothing more than to see his 2010 Oaks favorite, Blind Luck, race into the Churchill Downs history books Friday to join Lite Light (1991) and Pike Place Dancer (1996) as winners of the filly classic.

"We're coming into the race in real good shape," said Hollendorfer. "But this is a deep field, and we're going to need some luck, like every horse winning a big race needs."

Blind Luck, with Rafael Bejarano to ride, will be a heavy favorite in a full field of 14 fillies set for the 136th Oaks, which will be run before the usual festive crowd of 100,000-plus and a huge television audience watching on the Bravo cable network. The Grade 1 Oaks is carded as the 11th of 12 races, with first post set for 10:30 a.m. Eastern and the Oaks going at 5:45 p.m.

Privately purchased after her first race by a partnership led by Mark DeDomenico, Blind Luck has ascended to the head of the 3-year-old filly division by winning three Grade 1 races and by prepping for the Oaks with an impressive score in the four weeks ago. A Kentucky-bred daughter of Pollard's Vision, she has utilized a mid-pack style and steady late kick to capture 6 of 9 starts and more than $1 million.

Bejarano, who emerged as a rising star on the Kentucky circuit in 2004 before moving to Southern California several years later, will need to keep Blind Luck out of the traffic trouble that led to her being upset two starts back in the Santa Anita Oaks.

"I'd just like to see her get in good position and finish up, because if she does that we should be right there," said Hollendorfer.

Blind Luck will start from post 5 in the Oaks, which is run at 1 1/8 miles and will have a total purse of $584,300 if all 14 fillies start.

If Blind Luck stubs her toe, there is no shortage of capable runners to step into the void.

Amen Hallelujah emerged as a major factor in the division this winter by winning the Grade 2 Santa Ynez at Santa Anita and the Grade 2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park. Trainer Rick Dutrow, who won the Kentucky Derby two years ago with Big Brown, has been quietly confident with how the Florida-bred filly has trained in recent days at Churchill.

"I'm under the impression that she's going to run a real big race," said Dutrow.

Crisp was good enough to defeat Blind Luck in the March 6 Santa Anita Oaks and was purposely withheld from a subsequent prep "because I'd run her four or five times fairly quick there, and I didn't think she needed the one more race," said trainer John Sadler. "I'm very satisfied with how she's coming into this."

Evening Jewel and It's Tea Time were the one-two finishers in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland earlier this month, and both approach the Oaks in terrific fashion, according to their respective connections.

"We won't know until Friday if we're good enough to win, but I do know this is a top filly," said Rusty Arnold, trainer of It's Tea Time.

Other Oaks possibilities include Tidal Pool, second to Blind Luck in the Fantasy, and Quiet Temper, winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks last out.

Jody Slew, Age of Humor, Beautician, Bella Diamante, Champagne d'Oro, Ailalea, and Joanie's Catch complete the lineup.

The race shape figures to have Champagne d'Oro setting the pace, with any of a number of fillies tracking closely, including Quiet Temper, Crisp, Tidal Pool, Evening Jewel, and Amen Hallelujah. Blind Luck could be right behind that group, just waiting to make her move, while closers such as It's Tea Time, Jody Slew and Ailalea probably will need a pace meltdown to render their kicks effective.

"It should be an interesting race, the way it all unfolds," said Dale Romans, trainer of Quiet Temper. "Any way you look at it, it's a great race to be a part of. It's the Oaks."

The Oaks has been a gateway to greatness for many fillies, with its list of champions including such revered equines as Alcibiades (1930), Cicada (1962), Susan's Girl (1972), Princess Rooney (1983), Silverbulletday (1999), and Rags to Riches (2007).

Last year, Rachel Alexandra might have surpassed all of those greats with her record 20 1/4-length Oaks victory and a perfect season that led to her being voted the 2009 Horse of the Year. The superstar filly surely will get a hero's welcome Friday when she makes her second 2010 start in the sixth race of the day, the La Troienne Stakes.

Thousands of people in the Churchill crowd will be attired to fit a "Pink Out" theme tied to a Churchill partnership with the Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer awareness. The one-hour Bravo telecast (5-6 p.m.) also will highlight the promotion.

The Oaks will lead off a pair of two-day wagers: a daily double linked with the Derby, and a pick three with the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and Derby.

The Friday forecast calls for the warmest day of the week, with mostly sunny skies and a high of 82.