By Gene Kershner
LOUISVILLE, Ky -- The 139th Run for the Lilies was expected to result in another addition to the Todd Pletcher trophy case. He added that trophy, but it was due to a late closing effort by 38-1 long shot Princess of Sylmar, instead of his morning line favorite Dreaming of Julia in winning the $1 million Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks for the third time in his career before 113,820 at Churchill Downs.
Bumped badly at the start, Dreaming of Julia could not make up the ground loss after getting "creamed" coming out of the gate and finished fourth. Princess of Sylmar, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith sat behind the hot pace set by speedster Midnight Lucky and 2-year-old filly champion Beholder and pounced in the final 500 yards for the 1/2-length victory.
The win paid $79.60 to win for a $2 wager, $29.40 to place and $14.00 to show. Beholder held on for second and paid $9.00 to place and $5.60 to show. Pletcher had three of the top four finishers with Unlimited Budget finishing third paying $3.80 to show. The $2 exacta paid $727 and the $2 trifecta paid $3,470.80.
The winning filly is a Pennsylvania-bred by Majestic Warrior out of Storm Dixie. The dam was originally scheduled to be bred to Grand Slam, but an injury caused breeder Ed Stanco to call an audible and breed her to Majestic Warrior, a horse whose most significant win was the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga in 2007.
"We talked a lot about passing this and going to the Black-Eyed Susan, but after Ed and I talked a couple of times, we said let's bring her to Churchill and see how she handles the track and she'll tell us if she wants to run or not," said Pletcher. After a poor initial workout on the inside of the track, they breezed her from the outside and saw great improvement and decided to run her in the Oaks. A good decision that turned out to be.
"Dreaming of Julia probably took the worst of it and it ended up comprimising her position," Pletcher said of the rough early start. "She got shuffled back further than she's used to. I thought she ran a remarkable race to continue to close as well as she did and was still gaining at the end, but ran out of ground," said Pletcher.
Smith, who rides regularly on the west coast circuit credited Pletcher with the direction he received on how to handle Princess of Sylmar. "I rode her just like Todd had told me to. To really be patient, when I thought it was time to move, to be even more patient. It was perfect instructions, because we needed every bit of it," the Hall of Fame jockey exclaimed.
She probably wanted to move even earlier than that and I just didn't want to move too soon. I felt that I needed to time it right, Churchill has an extremely long stretch and it all worked out great," said Smith. The jockey also was impressed with second place finisher, who threw jockey Garret Gomez off his mount during the post parade. "Beholder never folded at all. She really dug in and for us to out-run her was incredible," said Smith.
It was disappointing for Gomez and the 2-year-old champion Beholder who had difficulty controlling his filly before the race before the second largest crowd in Oaks history. "She lost it in the post parade. I knew that might jeopardize her performance a little bit. If she didn't pull those antics in the post parade she might have had a chance to win," said Gomez.
Pletcher told those that would listen before the race a hot pace would benefit his filly. "I think if they go fast and Mike is very good at getting horses to settle and make a run with. I said if they go fast early, this filly, it wouldn't shock me. When they threw up 22 and 4 and she was sitting where we wanted to sit, I think it all fell into place from there," said the conditioner.
Sometime a plan comes together, and for Todd Pletcher he proved once again why he's one of the best in the business.