05/04/2016 8:26AM

Rachel's Valentina gets chance to shine in wide-open Kentucky Oaks

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Barbara D. Livingston
Rachel's Valentina is likely to improve over her second in the Ashland at Keeneland, which was her first start since last year's Breeders' Cup.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The silver lining to the disturbing news that Songbird would not run in the Kentucky Oaks is what shimmers before racing fans Friday.

Instead of having, say, just 10 3-year-old fillies with a 2-5 favorite, this renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Oaks became one of the most competitive in years, with at least half the capacity field of 14 meriting legitimate chances. Songbird, the juvenile filly champion last year, was declared from the Oaks on April 17 because of a lingering fever.

Rachel’s Valentina, second to Songbird in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall, is the lukewarm 7-2 program choice in this 142nd running of the 1 1/8-mile filly classic at Churchill Downs, but Land Over Sea, Cathryn Sophia, Weep No More, and Lewis Bay all figure to garner their share of wagering support.

Rachel’s Valentina figured to need the race when she finished second in a three-horse photo at Keeneland in the April 9 Ashland Stakes, and that may compel bettors to make her the favorite in the Oaks. Making her first start since the Breeders’ Cup, the only daughter of the legendary Rachel Alexandra became part of a protracted speed duel and was beaten a neck by the late-running Weep No More.

“She bounced out of it well and has really trained forwardly for this,” said trainer Todd Pletcher.

Weep No More bounded from left field to upset the Ashland at 30-1, with Cathryn Sophia incurring her first defeat when settling for third.

Land Over Sea chased Songbird in five consecutive races before finally going her separate way and winning the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks by 4 1/2 lengths.

“That race confirmed our belief that she’s one of the top fillies around,” said Land Over Sea’s trainer, Doug O’Neill, who has the Kentucky Derby favorite in Nyquist and is one of a handful of trainers this year trying to become the first to sweep both races since Ben Jones did it with Real Delight and Hill Gail in 1952.

Other preps that produced Oaks starters include the April 9 Gazelle at Aqueduct, where Lewis Bay, Royal Obsession, and Mo d’Amour ran one-two-three; the April 9 Fantasy at Oaklawn, where Terra Promessa and Taxable went one-two for trainer Steve Asmussen; and the April 2 Gulfstream Oaks, where Go Maggie Go outran Paola Queen.

First post Friday is 10:30 a.m. Eastern, with the Oaks going at 5:49 as the 11th of 13 races and the focus of a live NBCSN broadcast. The Oaks is the last of six straight graded stakes on a sensational Friday card, with races 6-10 being the Grade 1 La Troienne, Grade 2 Eight Belles, Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint, Grade 2 Alysheba, and Grade 3 Edgewood.

The Oaks is the leadoff race in the $1 Oaks-Derby double and the 50-cent Oaks-Woodford Reserve Turf Classic-Kentucky Derby pick three.

More than 100,000 ontrack fans are expected Friday, with mostly sunny skies and a high around 70 in the forecast.

KEY CONTENDERS

Rachel’s Valentina, by Bernardini

Last 3 Beyers: 92-90-81

◗ Prior to the Breeders’ Cup and Ashland, this Stonestreet Stables homebred opened her career with back-to-back Saratoga wins in a maiden race and the Grade 1 Spinaway.

◗ She will be trying to give Pletcher his fourth Oaks win, following Ashado (2004), Rags to Riches (2007), and Princess of Sylmar (2013).

Land Over Sea, by Bellamy Road

Last 3 Beyers: 88-88-77

◗ Her five straight tries against Songbird resulted in three seconds and a third, a creditable record in view of just how dominant Songbird has been.

Cathryn Sophia, by Street Boss

Last 3 Beyers: 91-98-91

◗ No doubt a bit of luster was lost when she was defeated as the odds-on favorite in the Ashland, but trainer John Servis said this week that the Maryland-bred filly “is moving forward” in her training.


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 12 Cathryn Sophia. Trainer John Servis is 21-1-4-3 with a $0.11 ROI over the past five years in dirt route graded stakes; lone win was Cathryn Sophia’s Gulfstream Oaks at odds of 1-5.  Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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Lewis Bay, by Bernardini

Last 3 Beyers: 86-85-71

◗ From the powerhouse Chad Brown stable, this Alpha Delta homebred has never been worse than second in five starts and comes well drawn in post 3 with Irad Ortiz Jr. riding.

Weep No More, by Mineshaft

Last 3 Beyers: 92-75-58

◗ Chestnut filly figures to be closing stoutly once again when ridden by Corey Lanerie, who has been the leading jockey at Churchill at 10 of the last 11 race meets.

Terra Promessa, by Curlin

Last 3 Beyers: 81-81-77

◗ A winner of four straight races after finishing third in her debut last fall, she is one of three fillies (with Royal Obsession and Taxable) in here for Asmussen, who won the Oaks in 2005 with Summerly and in 2014 with Untapable.


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 4 Go Maggie Go. Trainer Dale Romans is 96-15-7-10 with a $3.74 ROI over the past five years in graded stakes at Churchill. Click for more details. Mike Hogan

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