04/22/2011 12:08PM

Kentucky Oaks has 18 possible starters to date

Bob Coglianese
R Heat Lightning, with John Velazquez up, wins the Gulfstream Oaks.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Churchill Downs is listing as many as 18 3-year-old fillies as possible for the $1 million Kentucky Oaks on May 6, with R Heat Lightning and Joyful Victory topping a prospective lineup that will be limited to 14 starters.

R Heat Lightning, a sensation in Florida this winter for trainer Todd Pletcher, arrived here Monday and was scheduled to work Saturday at Churchill, weather permitting. A steady rain was forecast to hover over the Louisville area for much of Friday and perhaps into Saturday.

Joyful Victory, trained by Larry Jones, has crashed the top echelon of the division by virtue of impressive triumphs in the Honeybee and Fantasy at Oaklawn Park.

The other known prospects for the Grade 1 Oaks, which goes at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, include Kathmanblu, Daisy Devine, Lilacs and Lace, Delightful Mary, Zazu, St. John’s River, Arienza, Summer Soiree, Holy Heavens, and Plum Pretty.

In addition, trainer Steve Margolis said he could run one, but not both, of his duo of Bouquet Booth and Street Storm, while Ken McPeek, who already has a major contender in Kathmanblu, might save both Harlan’s Ruby and Niji’s Grand Girl for other races. Inglorious, trained by Josie Carroll, also is on the Churchill list of candidates but shows no workouts since running in the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks.

One newcomer to the divisional elite is Royal Delta, an eye-catching, three-length winner of a first-level allowance April 15 over Polytrack at Keeneland. A daughter of Empire Maker trained by Bill Mott, she has no graded earnings, the criterion for making the Oaks field in case it oversubscribes.

“I’d actually kind of like to run her in the Oaks, but if not, we’d probably just wait for the Black-Eyed Susan,” to be run May 20 at Pimlico, said Mott. “The timing might suit us better that way anyhow.”

This will be the 137th running of the Oaks. The purse has been doubled for this year from the customary $500,000. Entries will be taken Tuesday, May 3.

For the third straight year, a “Pink Out” theme will be in effect for Oaks Day in what has become an enormous success in raising awareness and funds for breast-cancer research.

◗ With Keeneland dark Sunday because of the Easter holiday, the last three-day stretch of the meet runs Wednesday through Friday, with twin turf marathons serving as the final highlights. The Grade 3 Bewitch, for fillies and mares, goes Thursday, with the Grade 2 Elkorn, for older males, closing out the meet Friday. Both are $150,000 races at 1 1/2 miles around three turns.

DRF MORNING LINE: Get out of the gate fast every day - sign up for DRF's free newsletter