05/06/2016 7:29PM

Cathryn Sophia scores impressively in Kentucky Oaks

Barbara D. Livingston
Cathryn Sophia and jockey Javier Castellano win the Kentucky Oaks by 2 3/4 lengths Friday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – She wasn’t even supposed to be in this race.

Yet there she was on a brilliant May afternoon at Churchill Downs, a Maryland-bred filly named Cathryn Sophia dominating the 142nd Kentucky Oaks before a record crowd in a manner that another filly presumably would have done if not for an untimely hiccup.

“It’s funny how these things work,” said John Servis, who trains Cathryn Sophia for the Cash Is King partnership based out of Philadelphia.

Before a throng of 124,589, Cathryn Sophia got a perfect trip and ride under Javier Castellano in winning the Grade 1, $1 million Oaks by 2 3/4 lengths over the late-closing Land Over Sea. Lewis Bay was another neck back in third, with Go Maggie Go another head behind in fourth in a field of 14 3-year-old fillies.

The winner paid $11.40 as the second choice after finishing 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.53 over a fast track.

Without equivocation, Servis ruled Cathryn Sophia out of the Oaks shortly after the filly incurred her first career defeat April 9 in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. Expressing doubts about her abilities around two turns, Servis said he would instead run Cathryn Sophia in the Grade 2 Eight Belles, a seven-furlong race on the Oaks undercard.

But after Songbird – who had dominated this division in winning all seven career starts – was declared out of the Oaks on April 17 because of an untimely fever that has since subsided, Servis and Chuck Zacney of Cash Is King reconsidered their options.

Amid perfect weather, Terra Promessa set the pace after breaking sharply from the inside post, with Rachel’s Valentina, the 5-2 favorite, giving closest chase to her outside and Lewis Bay getting a perfect trip when saving ground from just behind them. In the meantime, Cathryn Sophia had settled into a beautiful tracking trip from just outside the top trio.

At the quarter pole, Lewis Bay and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. got through along the rail and appeared to have an edge, but when Castellano let Cathryn Sophia loose while widest of the four front-runners, it was all over. She had about five lengths on Lewis Bay leaving the eighth pole.

“What a filly,” said Castellano.

“It was a flawless ride,” said Servis. Castellano “sat on her patient and got her to run her race, absolutely.”

Land Over Sea was up in the final jumps to wrest second from Lewis Bay. Go Maggie Go was fourth, followed by Mo d’Amour, Rachel’s Valentina, Weep No More, Dream Dance, Paola Queen, Terra Promessa, Royal Obsession, Venus Valentine, Mokat, and Taxable. The lone also-eligible, Dothraki Queen, was an early scratch.

Servis said he was unsure of a next start for Cathryn Sophia, saying the Oaks “opens up a whole new world for us.”

Servis, best known for his work with 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, spoke at length at a post-race media conference about the situation that led him and Zacney to reconsider their initial decision to bypass the Oaks.

“I mean, if she had won the Ashland, we would have run in the Oaks for sure,” he said. “The way things work out … this is unbelievable.”

Servis, who grew up in West Virginia and has been based primarily in Philadelphia, has run just one horse in the Derby and Oaks – and has won both.

“Oh my God, to have the Derby and Oaks on my résumé … it’s fantastic,” he said.

Servis said he always maintained confidence in Cathryn Sophia but wanted to be realistic.

“How far she would go was always in question,” he said. But after the Ashland, and with Songbird out, “she’d just made the turn for the better in her training. She’d improved so much … we thought this was the right decision.”

Cathryn Sophia, by Street Boss and out of Sheave, by Mineshaft, was bred by Bob Manfuso, a former partner in the Maryland Jockey Club tracks. The bay filly now is 5 for 6, with the Oaks being her third graded stakes victory.

She came to prominence over the winter at Gulfstream Park in winning the Grade 2 Forward Gal and Grade 2 Davona Dale prior to the Ashland, and she was so impressive that she was the 5-1 second choice behind odds-on Songbird in the lone Kentucky Oaks Future Wager pool offered by Churchill in mid-March.

Cash Is King is best known for winning the 2005 Preakness and Belmont Stakes with Afleet Alex, who was trained by Tim Ritchey.

The $2 exacta (12-13) paid $74.60, the $1 trifecta (12-13-3) returned $222.20, the $1 superfecta (12-13-3-4) paid $1,717.40, and the $1 super high five (12-13-3-4-7) was worth $22,304.60.

The former record for an Oaks crowd (123,763) was set last year.