LOUISVILLE, Ky. - --The purse is $1 million dollars, and many of the 11 3-year-old fillies in Friday's Grade I Kentucky Oaks may be worth a lot more than that as broodmares when their racing days are over.
An exceptionally deep and talented field will compete in the female version of the Kentucky Derby, which also has been staged since 1875. Dreaming of Julia, who will have three undefeated challengers, is the 3-1 morning-line favorite because she just won a 1 1/8-mile stakes at Gulfstream Park by an astounding 21 3/4 lengths for trainer Todd Pletcher. Besides last year's 2-year-old champion, Beholder (7-2), Dreaming of Julia will face Unlimited Budget (7-2), Midnight Lucky (9-2) and Close Hatches (6-1), each of whom has never lost.
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Bill Mott will saddle Close Hatches and Flashy Gray in the fillies' 1 1/8-mile Run for the Lilies. "I would say any one of five or six of these would be the favorite any other year," Mott said.
Bob Baffert, trainer of two Oaks winners, agreed. "It's a really tough field," he said. "It's the most competitive Oaks I've ever been in. Midnight Lucky has had only two races. Her weakness is her foundation."
Besides Dreaming of Julia, who is only 1-for-3 beyond a mile, and the 4-for-4 Unlimited Budget, Pletcher also will send out Princess of Sylmar and Silsita. "We're all good," Pletcher said.
And so is everybody else.
Velazquez will ride
He finished last after breaking slowly in Belmont's fifth race on first-time starter Armelda, who like Verrazano is trained by Pletcher. Velazquez planned to fly here last night. He is named on two of Pletcher's horses, including Kentucky Oaks favorite Dreaming of Julia, Friday at Churchill Downs.
Pletcher spoke Tuesday about his longtime collaborator's absence. "It's not ideal,'' he said, "not riding every day in perfect shape. But I spoke with Johnny twice this week and he assured me he's fine.''