Thorpedo Anna goes all the way in Kentucky Oaks

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Described by Kenny McPeek as a “rocket ship,” Thorpedo Anna blasts field in Friday’s 150th Kentucky Oaks under Brian Hernandez Jr. Coady Media/Churchill Downs.

Brian Hernandez Jr. walked onto the grounds of Churchill Downs Friday morning, cameraman in tow and following every move, and reached the door to the stairs leading the jockeys’ room. With no security nearby, Hernandez grabbed the handle, swung open the door and headed in, almost anonymously as the early arrivals filed in for the 150th Longines Kentucky Oaks.

About nine hours later Hernandez took the initiative again, putting Thorpedo Anna on the engine and slamming the door on her 13 rivals in the $1.5 million Oaks. Thorpedo Anna splashed to victory in front of the partially rain-soaked fun-loving crowd in the Oaks, leading at every call en route to a 4 3/4-length victory over champion and 7-2 favorite Just F Y I.

The daughter of Fast Anna, who came into the Oaks as a major player off a 4-length victory in the Grade 2 Fantasy in her first start at 3, gave Kentuckian Kenny McPeek his first Oaks victory as a trainer.

“It worked out the way I thought it was,” Hernandez said. “Kenny and I have talked about the race a few times over the last few days. It looked like there was no speed to our inside. So, we thought that if we let her run under the wire in the first time, she would get good position, which she did.

“From there, she is just such a naturally talented filly. She went quick through the half and the whole way around there, really. She was just doing it with her ears up and cruising along.”

Thorpedo Anna, bred by her co-owner Judy Hicks and the 4-1 second choice in the field of 14, improved to 4-for-5 in the Oaks. Her lone defeat came in her final start at 2, a second in the Grade 2 Golden Rod in late November at Churchill Downs.

Hernandez, aboard the filly also owned by Brookdale Racing Inc., Mark Edwards and Sherri McPeek’s Magdalena Racing, felt confident from the moment McPeek gave him a leg up in Churchill’s new cathedral-like paddock.

“Man, it’s going to take a really, really good horse to beat her today,” Hernandez told himself.

That was in contrast to her run in the Fantasy, which came off a more than four-month layoff.

“The good thing about her today, with all the people here in the crowd and everything else, over in Arkansas, she got a little nervous in the post‑parade, I think that was from her not racing in a while,” he said. “Today she got out there and she was just cool, calm, taking it all in.

“It was a magical moment, because turning for home, she was so relaxed and cruising, I was able to enjoy the roar of the crowd for a few jumps. And then when I called on her, she responded and just ran away from them.”

McPeek added the Oaks to a career that already includes a victory in the Belmont Stakes with Sarava and a Preakness with the filly Swiss Skydiver. He runs Mystik Dan in Saturday’s 150th Kentucky Derby and can become the first conditioner to win both since Ben Jones pulled off the feat in 1952 with Real Delight and Hill Gail. McPeek also won the Oaks in his fourth try.

He came in confident, telling anyone who would listen “they better bring a bear because I’ve got a grizzly.”

He joked about it again during the post-race press conference, maybe even hinting it was like Babe Ruth calling a home run shot.

“I was that confident,” McPeek said. “The last eighth of a mile, I was just like, ‘Don’t fall down. … You got this. Just get there.’ … It was nice. Like I said, pretty confident throughout the race, especially when I saw the way she was sitting underneath Brian. He didn’t have to hustle her to get her there. She took him there, and that’s the kind of horse we all need.”