05/02/2017 3:30PM

Vexatious ready to introduce herself to the racing world

Barbara D. Livingston
Vexatious was third in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks and in the Grade 3 Fantasy at Oaklawn.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks contenders, all wearing keepsake saddle towels printed with their names, had long since cleared the Churchill Downs track last Sunday, taking the crowds with them, when an unmarked, unimposing bay filly walked to the gap in a plain yellow saddle towel bearing no identification. Her identity was only revealed by the man walking at her head – Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale, a quiet, deliberate horseman who prefers to let his horses do the talking.

“We fly under the radar,” Drysdale said of sending his Kentucky Oaks entrant Vexatious out with no fanfare.

Early on, it was hard for Vexatious to fly under the radar – much was expected of the Calumet Farm filly, a full sister to Grade 1 winner Creative Cause and Grade 2 winner Destin. But the multiple graded-placed filly is a 20-1 longshot on the morning line for Friday’s filly classic, headlined by Paradise Woods.

Vexatious has already knocked heads with solid company. The filly finished third on debut behind subsequent Grade 3 winner Shane’s Girlfriend. Drysdale stretched her out to a mile next out in late November, and she came on to win by a head, despite being steadied on the first turn and forced to rally from fourth in the lane. Runner-up Majestic Quality is now graded placed.

Vexatious was then away from the races for more than three months, which Drysdale attributed to poor weather disrupting her schedule. Again looking for distance, he started her in a 1 1/16-mile optional-claimer against colts, and she acquitted herself well by splitting foes when in tight on the turn and finishing third. The top two finishers were Kentucky Derby-bound Battle of Midway and Reach the World, who went on to finish second and fourth in the Santa Anita Derby. (Reach the World subsequently was euthanized after sustaining an injury while training.)

“I felt the distance would help her,” Drysdale said. “She’s had a lot of troubled trips. Her second race when she broke her maiden was very troubled, so that’s when we kind of realized she was a good filly.”

Vexatious then graduated to graded stakes company. She was third in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks won by Farrell, beaten only a nose by fellow Oaks hopeful Wicked Lick for second and 7 1/2 lengths clear of the rest of the field. Just 13 days later, she was third in the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park – beaten less than two lengths for the win by Ever So Clever.

“She’s been doing well” at Churchill, said Drysdale, who saddled Kentucky Oaks winners Bold ’n Determined (1980) and Princess Rooney (1983). “We just did a maintenance work the other day. I timed her in – it doesn’t matter. She’s run twice in the last month, so she doesn’t need much.”

Drysdale took Vexatious for a lazy graze after her bath, and the trainer and filly unhurriedly meandered along a path of grass along Longfield Avenue in the humid morning. Their time under the radar may come to an end Friday evening.

“She’s been a little bit unlucky, but her day will come,” Drysdale said.