You know it’s Oaks Day when you arrive and there are squatters in the your HRRN radio tent facing the three-quarter pole of Churchill Downs. Kids and parents, wrapped up in blankets, resting from the stress of getting to the track at 5 to find a rail spot. It’s the Day Before the Derby.
“Oh, is this your tent?”
For the next two hours, pal, then it’s all yours.
“Do you mind if we plug in a television and a grill?”
And so it goes for Oaks Day.
Flashy 2-year-olds Munnings and Reynaldothewizard run in the fifth.
Turf sprinters take over in the seventh when Fair Hill’s Smart Enough makes his 6-year-old debut for Dr. John Fisher.
The seventh was the Clash of the Undefeated with last year’s champion Zenyatta taking on the 4-year-old phenom, One Caroline. Fourteen starts between them, 14 wins. The rain scrapped that plan as John Shirreffs decided the risk far outweighed the reward and scratched Zenyatta. The 5-year-old sculpture trained well all week, and, at least we got a view of her. Dad always talked about a horse’s shoulder, her shoulder runs deeper than a holler and longer than a river (I think I borrowed that from a Randy Travis song). Last year, I asked trainer Rusty Arnold for his one guaranteed winner at Saratoga. He didn’t even draw breath. One Caroline. She was two for two at the time and unfortunately missed the meet with an injury. She returned this winter and duly won three in a row at Gulfstream Park.
In the Alysheba, Jim Dandy winner Macho Again goes for his second consecutive win and second consecutive win over a sloppy surface. I hadn’t seen my favorite horse in training, Mambo In Seattle, since Saratoga. Now, 4, he’s grown up and filled out. Trainer Neil Howard held him for four new shoes Wednesday morning. Like a father with his son. He’s confident. Or, at least, he was days before the rain came. Since the Travers, Mambo In Seattle has lost four straight; two over synthetic tracks and two over sloppy tracks.
The Kentucky Oaks reads quickly. It starts and stops with Rachel Alexander. Trained locally by the local, Hal Wiggins, she’s won her last four starts and carries a 3-5 morning line. She’s trained this week like she’s read the hype, nearly, running off yesterday. My back ached watching her. Only Rachel Alexander could relegate a filly riding a five-race (four stakes) win streak into second choice in the 135th running of the Oaks. Justwhistledixie has attracted little attention.
A card of stakes over sloppy track and soft turf. Simply the prelude.