Other Sports

Oaks contenders figure to be chasing Rachel Alexandra

LOUISVILLE — It is a bold initiative, to say the least, but D. Wayne Lukas is pretty sure he has come up with a plan to prevent Rachel Alexandra from running off with the lilies in Friday's Kentucky Oaks.

"I'm running three, and what I'm going to do is put one in the gate, one here by the kitchen and one by the (backstretch) gap," joked the Hall of Fame trainer, who will saddle Be Fair, Stone Legacy and Tweeter in the race. "Even then I'm not sure we can get it done."

And on that last point, Lukas was only half kidding.

There have been few times in recent years when the Oaks has boasted such an overwhelming favorite (3-5 in the morning line) as the one it currently has in multiple graded stakes winner Rachel Alexandra.

In addition to the fact that just seven other fillies have shown up to challenge her in the 11⁄8-mile test, many of her rivals' connections have spent as much time marveling at the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro as they have talking about their own prospects.

The reasons behind Rachel Alexandra's aura of invincibility are well documented.

In her past four starts, she has won by a combined 231/4 lengths. She set a stakes record in taking the Grade II Golden Rod at Churchill Downs last fall, and the only reason her margin of victory in the Fair Grounds Oaks was just 13/4 lengths is that jockey Calvin Borel began gearing her down in midstretch.

"My filly's great, but Rachel Alexandra is in the race," said trainer Bob Baffert, who will send out Sunland Park Oaks winner Gabby's Golden Gal. "It's like knowing you're in there with (Olympic gold medalist) Usain Bolt."

Bred and co-owned by Dolphus Morrison, Rachel Alexandra has displayed an uncommon mixture of devastating early speed and a seemingly endless cruising ability.

Three of her past four wins have come in gate-to-wire fashion, and each time the bay filly seemed to find a new gear once she reached the final furlong.

"Not many horses have the ability to carry the speed she does in some circumstances and still finish almost like it's a sprint," Morrison said. "That's the difference."

Rachel Alexandra also has a win over a sloppy track at Fair Grounds, which could be a key fact considering the chance of rain on a Churchill track that was rated sloppy Thursday.

"I think she'd run on this pavement right here if we asked her," Morrison said.

Rachel Alexandra's challengers are not without impressive credentials.

Gabby's Golden Gal took the Sunland Oaks by a rousing 13 lengths last time out.

Justwhistledixie has put together a five-race winning streak for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

The daughter of Dixie Union rolled to a 33/4-length win in the Grade II Davona Dale at Gulfstream in March and followed that with a 13/4-length triumph in the Grade II Bonnie Miss Stakes over 11⁄8 miles.

"We need to make our own game plan and stick with it," said Neal McLaughlin, assistant to his brother Kiaran. "We're going to be stalking the pace and hopefully not too far back."