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Hovdey: Shah has sights on Kentucky Oaks with Eden's Moon
By Jay Hovdey
There is a filly on the also-eligible list for Friday’s $1 million Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs named Oaks Lily. Don’t ask what her owners were thinking. It’s pretty obvious, and good for them. Every actor fights the temptation to name their son Oscar, their daughter Emmy, and their Irish setter Golden Globe.
If Oaks Lily happens to draw into the race and takes a shot at wearing the traditional Oaks lilies, she will be facing a very salty bunch that includes the winners of the Fair Grounds Oaks, the Ashland, the Comely, the Rachel Alexandra, the Honeybee, the Martha Washington, the Forward Gal, and the Davona Dale, along with the runner-up in the Fantasy and the beaten favorite from the Santa Anita Oaks.
These are the races in which fillies are supposed to shine to be taken seriously on the first Friday in May (or last Friday in April, depending on how the calendar falls). The Kentucky Oaks is an old race, but has become the Oaks on the American racing landscape by sheer force of modern promotion, just as the Kentucky Derby muscled its way to the top of the heap after Matt Winn began to pump up the volume more than a century ago.
Only since 1978 has the Oaks been a Grade 1 event. Only since 1989 has there been enough reason to open the infield to accommodate Oaks Day customers. Those lilies? It’s a custom dating all the way back to 1991. And the million-dollar purse, in place so as not to embarass the Oaks in front of the $2 million Derby, was offered for the first time in 2011.
Once a filly wins the Kentucky Oaks, as long as she’s not too far off the wall, the championship of the division is pretty much hers to lose. Over the last 13 years Blind Luck, Rachel Alexandra, Proud Spell, Rags to Riches, Ashado, Bird Town, Farda Amiga, and Silverbulletday have done enough after winning the Oaks to take the Eclipse Award. Plum Pretty, Lemons Forever, Summerly, Flute, and Secret Status did not, but they still won the Oaks.
To win the 138th running of the Kentucky Oaks, the winner will need to run faster than On Fire Baby, winner of both the Pocahontas and Golden Rod at Churchill Downs last fall. They must out-finish Summer Applause, a quality grinder who gets Garrett Gomez aboard for the first time, as well as Grace Hall, who was last seen at Churchill Downs closing hard for second to champ My Miss Aurelia in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Even then, having done all that, they still must catch Broadway’s Alibi, who led every step of Aqueduct’s one-mile Comely, and Believe You Can, who wired both the Fair Grounds Oaks and the Silverbulletday.
That’s a full mile and one-eighth’s work any way you cut it. And if Kaleem Shah is right about his Malibu Moon filly Eden’s Moon, she could be in the thick of the mix at the end.
After winning a maiden race at Santa Anita by more than 11 lengths in January, Eden’s Moon seemed destined for a Kentucky Oaks date. Alas, she had to be scratched from the subsequent Santa Ysabel Stakes when she spiked a fleeting fever. She picked up where she left off March 3 in the Las Virgenes Stakes, winning the Grade 1 event by 3 1/4 lengths and looking for more. Then came another bump in the road when she missed a work and came up 1 1/2 lengths short in the Santa Anita Oaks, finishing third to Willa B. Awesome.
Just like that, the buzz stopped. Proven mortal, Eden’s Moon was lost in the conversation dominated by her stablemates in the Bob Baffert barn, Sunland Oaks winner Princess Arabella and Fantasy Stakes winner Mamma Kimbo. Shah kept the faith.
“To compete in these stakes races a horse must be at their best,” Shah said. “And to miss a work is significant. But at least we got that race into her.”
Princess Arabella was subsequently injured and retired, while Mamma Kimbo is awaiting races down the road. In the meantime, since the Santa Anita Oaks, Eden’s Moon has not missed a beat, with four works at six-day intervals, topped by six furlongs last Saturday at Churchill Downs.
“Bob liked that work very much,” Shah noted. “He was pleased with the way she handled the track. Obviously, the Kentucky Oaks is a wide-open race, but I think we have a reasonable chance, without being overly optimistic. If she runs to her recent works, I think she could be right there.”
Winning an American classic would fit neatly with Shah’s personal history. Born in the southern India city of Bellary, his father, the retired trainer Majeed Shah, enjoys a reputation on a par with Charlie Whittingham when it comes to older runners, or Wayne Lukas in terms of 3-year-olds. Among his many achievements, Majeed Shah won the Indian Triple Crown twice.
His son Kaleem ventured to America and earned advanced degrees in computer engineering at Clemson and an MBA from George Washington University, then founded the communications company CalNet in 1989. CalNet’s principal clients include a number of U.S. government agencies concerned with intelligence and defense.
On Wednesday afternoon, Shah and his family were on their way from Louisville to Lexington to visit some of the horses of his growing domain, including the Tapit stallion Concord Point at Hill ’n Dale Farm. It was Concord Point who put Shah on the map in 2010 with victories in the West Virginia and Iowa derbies.
Since then Shah’s silks with the all-American theme have been carried to stakes wins and a number of solid placings by May Day Rose, Irrefutable, Tweebster, American Story, and Brigand, who finished second in the recent Jerome Stakes in New York.
“Earlier this year, I thought we’d have two live horses for this weekend,” Shah said. “Unfortunately, Fed Biz got hurt.”
Fed Biz, a son of Giant’s Causeway, ran one of the most impressive 3-year-old races of the Santa Anita winter meet with a fast mile in early February. Shah’s Derby hopes justifiably rose and then fell, but having a shot at the Oaks helps ease the pain.
“I’m a horse racing fan first,” Shah said. “I love to watch good horses run, and especially mine. Hopefully, Eden’s Moon can put on a show.”
If Eden's Moon wins, Shah will be over the moon. If not, you can hope he won't moon over it. At least he was willing to shoot for the moon. Whether she wins or not, they could try her at Moonie Racecourse in Aussieland. Or they could fly Moon over Miami on her way to race in Florida. What do ya want? It's late.
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