04/30/2009 11:00PM

Catch Rachel Alexandra if you can

Barbara D. Livingston
Rachel Alexandra could be the heaviest Kentucky Oaks favorite since Silverbulletday won at 1-10 in 1999.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - An influx of out-of-towners is here, and yet Friday is called "Louisville's Day at the Races" as a tribute to the locals. Hal Wiggins feels as if he belongs with either group.

"We've lived here since 1993, and now we tell people we're from Louisville," Wiggins said in his soft Texas drawl. "You bet."

Most racing fans, whether local or national, will be fully expecting Wiggins to realize the apex of his training career Friday, when the 66-year-old trainer will give jockey Calvin Borel a leg up on Rachel Alexandra, the odds-on favorite for the 135th running of the $500,000 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. For his part, Wiggins is trying to suppress the excitement of being on the threshold of something so meaningful and historic.

"There are a few fillies in there against us that are really nice," he said. "I'm not about to take anything for granted."

Nonetheless, Rachel Alexandra has been so impressive in recent months for Wiggins and her owners, L and M Partners LLC, that she figures to be the heaviest Oaks favorite since Silverbulletday won the 1999 running at 1-10. Rachel Alexandra captured the Nov. 29 Golden Rod Stakes over the Churchill main track to end her 2-year-old season and has been untouchable in reeling off three more stakes wins this year. Moreover, she has wowed morning observers with her recent training here, most notably when she sizzled through back-to-back workouts on April 16 and 27.

"I am a little concerned she's gone too fast in her works," said Wiggins. "But Calvin keeps reassuring me that she's doing it real easy."

The race shape of the 1 1/8-mile Oaks strongly suggests Rachel Alexandra will make the early lead, unless Gabby's Golden Gal, Be Fair, or Justwhistledixie are sent up to challenge. Either way, Borel said he isn't worried.

"She'll do anything I ask her," said Borel, who is looking for a Churchill bookend to match his 2007 Kentucky Derby victory aboard Street Sense. "And I haven't even asked her for her best yet."

Rachel Alexandra will leave from post 6 in the Grade 1 Oaks, with the most accomplished of her seven opponents, Justwhistle-dixie, breaking alongside from post 5. Justwhistledixie enters off five straight victories, including terrific runs in the Davona Dale and Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream Park.

Barbara D. Livingston
Rachel Alexandra's chief challenge is expected to come from Justwhistledixie, who comes in riding a five-race winning streak.

Justwhistledixie, conditioned by Kiaran McLaughlin, had trained over the Polytrack surface at Keeneland for most of April until being sent to Churchill for her final preparations. She will be ridden by Julien Leparoux, the 25-year-old Frenchman who has been exceptionally hot in recent weeks.

Other potential players in the Oaks include Flying Spur (post 8), an improving filly who was second to Rachel Alexandra in the Fair Grounds Oaks in March, and Gabby's Golden Gal (post 4), a 13-length winner of the Sunland Park Oaks last out. Flying Spur is trained by Bill Mott, the all-time winningest trainer in Churchill history, and Gabby's Golden Gal by Bob Baffert, whose many standout runners included Silverbulletday.

The Oaks field also includes a trio of longshots trained by four-time Oaks winner D. Wayne Lukas: Tweeter, Be Fair, and Stone Legacy, who will line up in the first three post positions, respectively. One more longshot, Nan (post 7), rounds out the field.

Post time for the Oaks, the 11th of 12 races is 5:45 p.m. Eastern. First post is 10:30 a.m.

The Oaks leads off a pair of two-day wagers: the Oaks-Derby double, and the Oaks-Woodford-Derby pick three.

After years of being telecast on ESPN or ESPN2, the Oaks is being shown this year on the Bravo cable network for the first time.

Five other stakes will be run on the Friday card, led by the $350,000 Louisville Distaff (race 7), featuring undefeated Zenyatta. The other races are the Aegon Turf Sprint, Edgewood, Alysheba, and American Turf.

Another ontrack crowd of 100,000-plus is expected to turn out Friday, when there is a 60 percent chance of thundershowers and a high temperature of 77 in the forecast. Churchill has asked fans to wear pink attire in honor of their partnership with the Susan G. Komen foundation in heightening awareness of the fight against breast cancer.

:: (DRF Plus)