05/06/2016 6:41PM

Servis savors Kentucky Oaks victory after disappointment in Ashland

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Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer John Servis and jockey Javier Castellano celebrate their victory in the Kentucky Oaks with Cathryn Sophia.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – John Servis admitted that he had some reservations about Cathryn Sophia’s ability to get the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Kentucky Oaks.

But the trainer saw a maturation process in the filly culminating in a superlative workout at Keeneland on April 23. That work, combined with the earlier announced defection of the super-filly Songbird from the race, convinced Servis to run Cathryn Sophia in Friday’s 142nd Kentucky Oaks.

What Servis saw from his filly in the morning played out before a Kentucky Oaks-record crowd of 124,589 Friday at Churchill Downs as Cathryn Sophia dominated the $1 million Oaks by 2 3/4 lengths.

“The way she settled down the backside, the way she was galloping along, I knew she was going to be tough,” Servis said. “One of the reasons we elected to go a mile and an eighth too [was] with her work, she was so relaxed in the breeze. She worked so good and galloped out tremendous, and with Songbird being out, how could we not? This is a race we pointed to since the first of the year. We got to go.”

Servis, 57, won the Oaks 12 years after he won the Kentucky Derby with Smarty Jones. He became the 26th trainer to win both races, a list that includes Hall of Famers Bob Baffert, Neil Drysdale, Ben Jones, D. Wayne Lukas, Shug McGaughey, Woody Stephens, Charlie Whittingham, and Nick Zito. Todd Pletcher, though not in the Hall of Fame, will be someday.

What makes Servis somewhat unique among the group is that he’s won each race with the only horses he’s brought to each race.

“To come here twice and win the Derby and the Oaks – it probably will sink in later,” said Servis, who has trained horses for 32 years. “I dreamt about this; I dreamt about the Derby since I was a little kid. To accomplish it, it’s been tremendous.”

There was a time when Servis thought about skipping the Kentucky Oaks with Cathryn Sophia. After winning her first four starts by a combined 41 1/2 lengths – all in one-turn races – Cathryn Sophia suffered her first defeat in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland on April 9, her first start around two turns.

In hindsight, Servis blamed himself for that defeat, saying he only had his filly at 80 percent but thought she could win the race anyway.

“I knew where she was coming into the Ashland,” said Servis, who trains Cathryn Sophia for Chuck Zacney’s Cash Is King Stable. “I could have done a little bit more with her. I elected not to because I didn’t want her peaking too soon, and I thought she was good enough to win in spite of that. Shame on me for that.”

If he hadn’t run her in the Oaks, Servis would have run Cathryn Sophia in the Eight Belles Stakes, a seven-furlong race on the Oaks undercard, and then in the Grade 1 Acorn at Belmont on June 11.

Now, Servis might be thinking about longer races. For the short term, Servis will savor this victory.

“To have everybody put her on a pedestal and then have her get beat and watch everybody bail on her, it was very self-satisfying,” Servis said.

With his main base of operations, Parx, under a quarantine due to equine herpesvirus, Servis said that Cathryn Sophia will be shipped to Delaware Park.