Cash Is King Stable’s Maryland-bred Cathryn Sophia took the Bluegrass State by storm on Friday and captured the 142nd running of the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI) in drawing-away fashion under Churchill Downs’ Twin Spires over 13 of the best her division had to offer, save one.
Just when the racing world had chalked up the marquee race for fillies as something of an ordinary affair without the presence of champion Songbird, who remained in her California barn recovering from illness, Cathryn Sophia happily took the spotlight to win the lilies in exciting fashion by 2 ¾ lengths under Eclipse Award-winning jockey Javier Castellano.
The victory had to have been somewhat of a retribution for trainer John Servis, as the filly was hit with tremendous criticism after suffering her first defeat when she finished third in the Ashland Stakes (GI) a month ago. Fans and experts started jumping off her bandwagon (despite the fact that when she won, she won big and had previously been undefeated), wondering if she was nothing more than a standout sprinter wrapped in router’s clothing. Plus, Servis had indicated if Songbird were to make the Oaks, he’d enter Cathryn Sophia elsewhere, causing many to infer that he also believed she had distance limitations.
But with the victory, Cathryn Sophia proved several very important things. First, we should always remember anyone can have a bad day, even horses. And second, we should never let emotion and nostalgia take control. Yes, it would have been nice to see Rachel Alexandra’s daughter, Rachel’s Valentina, repeat what her mother accomplished in 2009, but we should all know by now that lightning rarely strikes twice. And finally, because a top-class horse loses once does not automatically make them a throw out in big-time races.
So, after a clean break and under a patient and perfectly timed performance, Cathryn Sophia set sail toward the rail after breaking from post position 12 and stalked the early pace of :23.32, :47.87 and 1:12.60 set by Terra Promessa for three-quarters of a mile, first saving ground along the rail into the first turn and then drifting out toward the center of the track for clear running room as the field raced up the backstretch. Rachel’s Valentina and Lewis Bay were in hot pursuit of the frontrunner and stalking closely, while Cathryn Sophia sat calmly to the outside waiting patiently to launch her move.
As Terra Promessa began to tire on the lead on the far turn, Lewis Bay was more than ready to take the front with Rachel’s Valentina and Cathryn Sophia following close behind. Soon after Lewis Bay took command before straightening out for the drive, Cathryn Sophia challenged for the front to her outside and reached nearly even terms with Lewis Bay at the head of the lane. After Lewis Bay put her head in front briefly and in time to set the one-mile split in 1:37.10, Cathryn Sophia took over and drove to the wire under strong handling, drawing away with every stride and continuing on to prevail by open lengths, stopping the Teletimer in 1:50.53 over a fast track.
Land Over Sea closed from well back early to just nip Lewis Bay at the wire and earn second, while Go Maggie Go rallied from well back to earn fourth. Mo d’Amour, the favored Rachel’s Valentina, Weep No More, Dream Dance, Paola Queen, Terra Promessa, Royal Obsession, Venus Valentine, Mokat and Taxable completed the order of finish.
“She felt like she belonged with this group,” Castellano said. “What a filly! It feels great.”
Cathryn Sophia won her first four starts by a combined 30 1/2 lengths, which included scores in the Forward Gal Stakes (GII) and Davona Dale Stakes (GII) at Gulfstream Park, all at a mile or less. In her first real distance test at 1 1/16 miles she finished third, beaten just a half-length in the Ashland at Keeneland in a performance that had many doubting her ability to carry her talent beyond a mile. After the race, Servis indicated the filly would skip the Oaks if Songbird were to run, intensifying speculation that even he believed she was better at shorter distances. What people didn’t know is that Servis, who won the 2004 Kentucky Derby (GI) with Smarty Jones, believed Songbird to be the best and tough to beat, proving only that he enters his horses to win races, not finish second, regardless of who shows up.
“I’m so happy,” Servis said. “I saw [Castellano] had horse [coming into the stretch] and when he inched up three-wide on the outside, I knew he had horse. Oh my God, to have the Derby and Oaks on my resume, and to have only run one each time, it’s fantastic.”
As the second choice at odds of more than 9-2, Cathryn Sophia was good for $11.40, $5.40 and $3.80. Land Over Sea returned $6.60 and $5.20 at odds of more than 6-1, while 5-1 chance Lewis Bay paid $4.60. The exacta was worth $74.60 and the trifecta $444.40.
Cathryn Sophia earned $564,200 in her first grade 1 score to bring her career bankroll to $949,720. She now owns a career line of 6-5-0-1.
Servis didn’t indicate what was next for Cathryn Sophia, but fans in Maryland are already hoping the daughter of Street Boss and the Mineshaft mare Sheave will be back “home” in the Black-Eyed Susans Stakes (GII) at Pimlico in two weeks.