05/02/2016 12:46PM

Kentucky Oaks a wide-open race

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Barbara D. Livingston
Rachel's Valentina is one of several fillies who could be the morning line favorite in the Kentucky Oaks.

Ever since the evening of April 17, when the connections of Songbird dropped the bombshell that they were declaring her out of the Kentucky Oaks as the heavy favorite, the filly classic has been a real scramble.

A half-dozen fillies in what is sure to be an oversubscribed field can now be considered favorites, with Rachel’s Valentina a likely lukewarm program choice after entries were drawn here Tuesday. Lewis Bay, the winner of the Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct in her most recent start for Chad Brown, is part of that top flight of contenders.

“When I handicap the race, I see a handful of horses that can win it, but she is one of that handful,” said Brown. “I’ve been impressed with several of the Oaks fillies this week watching them train here. It’s a wide-open race.”

As many as 18 fillies can be listed on the program for the Oaks, although only 14 can start. An also-eligibles list of as many as four horses is live until scratch time of 9 a.m. Eastern on Friday, which is the same scratch time for the Kentucky Derby.

The Oaks is one of six graded stakes here Friday, the others being the Grade 1 La Troienne, Grade 2 Alysheba, Grade 2 Eight Belles, Grade 3 Edgewood, and Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint.

Business up at opener

Despite steady rain, business figures were up substantially for the Downs After Dark opener Saturday night at Churchill.

Attendance was 19,296, up nearly 12 percent over the comparable date for 2015, while all-sources handle of $6.28 million on an 11-race card was up 35 percent.

Toews On Ice got an 84 Beyer Speed Figure in winning the featured William Walker Stakes, giving David Lopez his first victory as a journeyman rider, while Julien Leparoux rode four winners on the card, including a sweep of the last three races.

The all-time marks for a spring opener – and any of 37 Downs After Dark cards run here since 2009 – was set in 2011, when a crowd of 38,142 contributed to an all-sources handle of $8.86 million.