Here’s how the Grade 1, $1 million Kentucky Oaks–the premier early season race for three year old fillies–was supposed to go. It was supposed to be a ‘highlight reel’ for the latest super filly on the scene, undefeated Songbird. In fact, her victory was such a foregone conclusion for much of the year that many other top horses’ connections were avoiding the race not wanting to have their otherwise promising three year old fillies ‘poster-ized’ by one of the best female horses in several years.
The complexion of the race changed dramatically after Songbird’s most recent win in the Santa Anita Oaks. She came down with a fever which was quickly brought under control but rest was needed for a full recovery. That meant that she wouldn’t have time to get over her illness and prepare for the Kentucky Oaks. That forced owner Rick Porter and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer to make the difficult decision to scratch Songbird from the Kentucky Oaks where she would have been an overwhelming favorite.
That move was a disappointment for Songbird’s connections but a newfound opportunity for those of other three year old females. A field of fourteen contested Friday’s Oaks with the second betting choice Cathryn Sophia winning the race by 2 3/4 lengths over second place Land Over Sea, third place Lewis Bay in third and fourth place Go Maggie Go. 5-2 race favorite Rachel’s Valentina finished sixth in the field of fourteen.
The irony is that Cathryn Sophia probably wouldn’t have run in the Oaks had Songbird been healthy. Trainer John Servis took her out of consideration for the Kentucky Oaks following the first loss of her career, a disappointing performance in the April 9 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. Servis’ concern was that the horse just couldn’t compete in a two turn race and planned to run her in the Grade 2 Eight Belles, a seven-furlong race on the Oaks undercard. When Songbird went out, Cathryn Sophia’s connections reconsidered and decided to give her a go in the Kentucky Oaks.
That turned out to be a very good move. Cathryn Sophia got a great ride from jockey Javier Castellano resulting in a perfect trip and convincing victory. Trainer Servis says that her next race is still undecided. Her victory also sets up a nice rivalry with Songbird that might be resolved down the road.