Every spring, horse racing fans turn their attention to Churchill Downs, where the prestigious Kentucky Derby will be held on the first Saturday in May. But while the Derby draws most of the attention, Churchill Downs is also the home of the Kentucky Oaks, a race for three-year-old fillies that will be run on Friday, May 6th.
When Rachel Alexandra retired to become a broodmare, her fans knew that the likelihood of her producing a champion racehorse was slim—only 3% of all Thoroughbred foals go on to win a major race. But against the odds, Rachel Alexandra’s daughter Rachel’s Valentina has risen to the highest heights of the sport and will attempt to replicate her famous dam when she heads to the Churchill Downs starting gate as the favorite to win the 2016 Kentucky Oaks.
Right from the start, Rachel’s Valentina has shown talent. During the summer of 2015 at the historic Saratoga racetrack in New York, Rachel’s Valentina won her first race by two lengths, then won the Spinaway Stakes—among the most prestigious races in the country for two-year-old fillies—with an impressive run in the homestretch. She ended the season with a runner-up effort in the champion-defining Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and after a winter break, she returned in the Ashland Stakes on April 9th at Keeneland racetrack and ran very well to finish a close second.
With that prep race under her belt, Rachel’s Valentina should be ready to run the best race of her career to date in the Kentucky Oaks. Her human connections have been here before and have achieved great success: Rachel’s Valentina is trained by Todd Pletcher, who has won the Kentucky Oaks three times, and she will be ridden by John Velazquez, who won the 2004 Kentucky Oaks aboard the Pletcher-trained filly Ashado.
Of course, Rachel’s Valentina isn’t the only horse in the Kentucky Oaks—to win the race, she’ll have to defeat thirteen other talented fillies, including Weep No More, who won the Ashland Stakes; Cathryn Sophia, a once-defeated filly trained by John Servis of Smarty Jones fame; and Land Over Sea, a consistent and experienced runner that always produces a big run from the back of the pack. But one of the most enjoyable aspects of horse racing is watching the foals of great horses achieve success of their own, and should Rachel’s Valentina charge to victory in the Kentucky Oaks, racing fans everywhere will have flashbacks to that magical moment in 2009, when Rachel Alexandra caused our jaws to drop.
The Kentucky Oaks will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network starting at 12:30 p.m. ET on Friday, May 6. Be sure to tune in and cheer for Rachel’s Valentina!
J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and racing enthusiast who considers Zenyatta to be his all-time favorite racehorse. He is the founder of the horse racing website TheTurfBoard.com and writes for the Bloodhorse.com blog Unlocking Winners.