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The Big Day is Nearly Here

Every running of the Kentucky Derby is special in its way, but many observers are expecting an extraordinary show on the first Saturday in May as an accomplished cast of Derby hopes assembles on the Churchill Downs backside.

The Larry Jones-trained I'm A Chatterbox could be the betting favorite in Kentucky Oaks 141. Photo courtesy of Lou Hodges Photography

The Larry Jones-trained I’m A Chatterbox could be the betting favorite in Kentucky Oaks 141.
Photo courtesy of Lou Hodges Photography

It’s difficult to rein-in one’s enthusiasm the 2015 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands with the likes of champion American Pharoah, unbeaten stablemate Dortmund, Toyota Blue Grass winner Carpe Diem, Wood Memorial winner Frosted, Dubai invader Mubtaahij, the always tough Upstart, Sunland Derby winner Firing Line and Road to the Kentucky Derby points leader International Star gearing up for their moment in the Derby starting gates. Superlatives have been flowing since January for members of the Derby 141 cast perceived to be at the top of this year’s 3-year-old crop.

But remember that we have had a pair of 50-1 shots win the Derby since 2005, and there are talented and improving horses just below the radar for this year’s Derby with potential to shake things up on Derby Day should events in the race fall their way.

But let’s not forget the show scheduled just over 24 hours before the Derby. The 141st running of the Longines Kentucky Oaks will have a full gate of 14 3-year-old fillies and the race has a great chance to be special and memorable.

The 2015 Oaks has a deep list of serious contenders, and thus the potential for the race to be both an artistic success and financial boon for fans.

We won’t know until Tuesday’s Oaks entries which fillies will get a chance to be the successor to Winchell Thoroughbreds’ 2014 Oaks winner and eventual champion 3-year-old filly Untapable. Her victory was the second Oaks win in three years for the now-retired, history-making jockey Rosie Napravnik, and the second Oaks victory for the Winchell stable, which also bred Untapable, and trainer Steve Asmussen.

Untapable set a high-bar of excellence for this year’s Oaks hopefuls. Here are some names – equine and human – that bear watching in the run-up to next Friday’s running of America’s most important race for 3-year-old fillies.

J. Larry Jones: The Hopkinsville native has a pair of Kentucky Oaks winner’s trophies and has a strong chance to add a third in likely favorite I’m A Chatterbox, three-for-three in stakes races since she entered his barn, and Lovely Maria, winner of Keeneland’s Grade I Ashland. The latter is owned by former Kentucky Gov. Brereton Jones, who teamed with Larry Jones for those Oaks triumphs with Proud Spell (2008) and Believe You Can (2012).

Dale Romans: The Louisville-born trainer continues to climb the all-time win list at Churchill Downs, but has yet to win the Oaks or the Derby. He will saddle one of the favorites in the Oaks in Birdatthewire, a winner over the Churchill Downs last fall and an emphatic winner in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks.

Donegal Racing's Puca, with Jo Lawson  up, has a chance to provide trainer Bill Mott, the track's all-time win leader, with his first Kentucky Oaks win. Photo by Reed Palmer, Churchill Downs

Donegal Racing’s Puca, with Jo Lawson up, has a chance to provide trainer Bill Mott, the track’s all-time win leader, with his first Kentucky Oaks win.
Photo by Reed Palmer, Churchill Downs

Bill Mott: The Hall of Fame trainer has more wins and stakes triumphs than any other trainer in the 141-year history of Churchill Dows, but has yet to visit the winner’s circle for the Derby or the Oaks. But that could change with Donegal Racing’s Puca, who has only one victory in six races, but she’s been unlucky in her last three outings and the daughter of 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown has the pedigree to make noise at Churchill Downs on May 1.

Stellar Wind: She could be the best filly from the West following a dazzling come-from-behind filly for trainer John Sadler in the Santa Anita Oaks. She’s two-for-two under Sadler’s guidance.

Condo Commando: The Queen of New York-based fillies is fast and her record of five wins in six races shows that she loves to win, and do so by big margins.

Shook Up: She has a single win in five races, but she followed an impressive runner-up finish in the Fair Grounds Oaks with a brilliant workout at Churchill Downs. She could provide Asmussen with a with back-to-back Oaks wins.

Luminance: She’s inexperienced, but ran well behind Stellar Wind in the Santa Anita Oaks and her first work at Churchill Downs was a sparkler for two-time Oaks-winning trainer Bob Baffert.

Oceanview: She was unlucky to lose in Oaklawn’s Fantasy and should be a serious stretch-running player at the right price.