The meal may not have tasted that good for Team Godolphin in New Orleans after Pretty Mischievous was caught in the stretch of the Fair Grounds Oaks, but the conversation resulted in a Michelin-caliber decision that paid big dividends at Churchill Downs Friday.
Trainer Brendan Walsh left that dinner table “75 percent” sure he would add blinkers for Pretty Mischievous’ next start and it didn’t take him long to solidify the decision. Pretty Mischievous, along with a masterful ride from Tyler Gaffalione, made Walsh look like a genius, taking the lead turning for home and holding off a furious rally from New York-bred Gambling Girl to win the 149th running of the Kentucky Oaks in front of a crowd of 106,381 on a chamber of commerce weather day under the twin spires.
“Well, I think we just wanted to get her to focus a little better and it was more for the end of the race,” Walsh said, after giving Godolphin its first win in the Kentucky Oaks. “We just felt the last day when she ran second at the Fair Grounds, she got there so easy at the head of the straight and looked like she could win by 3, 4 lengths. … She just has that high cruising speed and it just comes so easy. But I think the blinkers just got her to just hang in there a little bit more today and it was just something new for her and I think it probably had a good effect on her.”
After taking a stride to her right out of post 14 on the far outside, the daughter of Into Mischief found a good position going into the first turn, about five wide but in fifth place. Gaffalione was content to maintain that spot down the backstretch through fractions of :23.07 and :46.96. The jockey made his move on the turn, still four wide, and had the lead by the time they straightened out for home. Then it was just a matter of holding off the hard-charging Gambling Girl by a neck. The final time for the 1 1/8 miles was 1:49.77.
“Tyler did a super job,” Walsh said, “not just today, but he came in and he worked her at 5:30 a.m. the last three weeks so that we would get it right. It’s just one of the few occasions where everything came together and it became right on the big day.”
Longshot The Alys Look finished third, while Godolphin USA’s other runner, 8-5 favorite Wet Paint, was fourth.
Pretty Mischievous is out of the Grade 1-winning Tapit mare Pretty City Dancer, for whom Godolphin paid $3.5 million at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November mixed sale in 2018. Her first foal, Ornamental, born in 2019, has won once in six starts.
Pretty Mischievous improved to 3-for-4 at Churchill, having won a maiden race and an allowance at the track last fall. She finished third in the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes here before heading to New Orleans for the winter. After winning the listed Untapable Stakes and the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra, she was caught by Southlawn in the Fair Ground Oaks.
“We were very high on this filly, probably from the day that she went into Brendan’s barn,” said Michael Banahan, Godolphin’s director of bloodstock. “We thought that she was probably our best filly that we had in any of the barns. And then Wet Paint went down to Oaklawn and ran through the series down there, and by being undefeated coming in here, she was very deservedly favored. We were just so excited that we had two bullets in the gun to target the race.”
Banahan agreed with Walsh that the workouts in advance of the Kentucky Oaks, with blinkers on and Gaffalione up, were critical.
“A couple of those works were pretty important to figure out what she liked and what we want to get out of her and she responded the way Brendan wanted her to respond and did the same in the race today,” he said.
As important as Gaffalione was in the morning, he was near perfect as the clock approached 6 p.m. at Churchill Downs Friday.
“Tyler just gave her a great ride,” Walsh said. “He got her in as tight as he could on the turn and held his position well. To be fair to her, she was wide the whole way and hats off to her for overcoming that. But good horses do it and champions do it.”
She is an Oaks champion, and Godolphin’s first in this race.
“Well, we haven’t won an Oaks before,” Banahan said. “We were second with a filly and that seems like it was a long time ago with Little Belle (2008). To come in here with two live chances, with two homebreds, I think it means everything to us. Sheikh Mohammed has developed a beautiful broodmare band here in the U.S. I think we’re reaping the rewards with the horses we’ve had over the last couple of years, but to me there’s only the one classic for fillies in the U.S. and that’s today in the Oaks. And so to be able to win that just means everything.”
The decision to try blinkers was all Walsh’s, but he made it with the blessing of the team.
“Well, I think that’s what I mean when I say about Godolphin,” Walsh said. “They’re such a pleasure to work for. It was discussed and we tried it in the works and it went exactly to the plan … We were hoping it would transfer to her races here. And the guys were always on board with it. Whatever we wanted to do, they were more than happy to trust in you and they let you do what you think is right. There’s a reason that they’ve got you working for them, and that’s what makes it such a great operation to work for.”
Walsh has a long and productive track record with Godolphin.
“I’ve had a very close association with them my whole life,” he said. “I did nine winters in Dubai. I worked for them in Al Quoz as a rider. When you’re there and you’re doing that, it was like working for an all-star team and getting on all-stars. And now to actually have the opportunity to train the all-stars is like the stuff you dream of when you’re a kid. … It’s just a great opportunity for me to be able to work with horses of this caliber.”