From barn to finish: my afternoon at the Kentucky Oaks
In a follow-up to this piece, Vance Hanson recaps his afternoon at the Kentucky Oaks.
Terri Burch, racing manager for Stoneway Stable, on Friday afternoon noted a trend involving the stable's Kentucky Oaks (G1) entrant Dream Dance and the Grade 3-winning older horse Eagle, a fellow resident of the Neil Howard stable.
"When he lost [the New Orleans H. (G2) on March 26 at Fair Grounds], we lost [the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2)]. But when she won [a Keeneland allowance on April 16], he won [the Ben Ali (G3)]," Burch said. Coincidence or not, Burch was hopeful of a good performance from Eagle in Friday's Alysheba (G2) and that any luck he had would carry over to Dream Dance, who faced a much sterner test in $1 million Oaks.
Even though Eagle disappointed, relatively speaking, when finishing second to a longer shot in the Alysheba, Burch and owner Jim Stone would have been absolutely thrilled with a similar finish for the filly, who left the gate at odds of 50-1.
Dream Dance made little impact in the Oaks, finishing eighth in a field of 14, but long-term dreams of having an Oaks (or even a Derby-quality) filly for Stoneway were hardly extinguished. Yes, the daughter of Afleet Alex looked a bit outclassed on paper, but she had rallied for second in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) to Land Over Sea two starts earlier, and that filly wound up second to Cathryn Sophia in the Kentucky Oaks. The bottom line is you can't win or place if you don't run.
The future still looks bright for Dream Dance, just against lesser company for the time being. Last year, the stable had another promising three-year-old filly named Ahh Chocolate. She placed in only two of her first five graded attempts, but ended the year winning the historic Falls City H. (G2) at Churchill.
As part of TwinSpires.com's coverage of Kentucky Oaks 142, I accompanied Dream Dance on the walk from her backstretch stall to the saddling paddock while providing viewers nationwide live footage of the action on Periscope. I later joined team Dream Dance in their first floor suite as the filly traveled the Oaks' nine furlongs, also providing a live look-in via Periscope.
Walking to the backstretch after the conclusion of the Alysheba, one could not be but awed by the backdrop of the enormous Churchill facility, filled with a record Oaks Day crowd 124,589. While few of them pay any attention to those walking on the track heading back to the barns, I still felt compelled to joke to my cameraman sidekick how incredible it was so many came out to see us.
The quiet tranquility of Barn 25, in contrast, was almost the perfect antidote to the big party occurring a few hundred yards away. There's still plenty of activity going on -- horses, like Dream Dance, are being prepared to run; others are being cooled out after just running; and those whose work for the day was completed hours earlier munch on a snack. However, the environment proved soothing, and standing and observing it all is undoubtedly one of the sport's finer pleasures.
Focusing as I did on my camerawork on the walkover, "taking it all in" was not exactly an option, but the feeling of stepping in front of tens of thousands (though nearly all of their attention is on the horses, handlers, and the connections), is still quite a thrill.
It was the Kentucky Oaks, so of course the paddock was extremely congested. From a personal standpoint, being there to support Burch, a friend of more than two decades, was a delight. Also joining us was an old friend from my university days who I had not seen face to face in at least 15 years, give or take a few. We're a little older and our hair is considerably thinner, but reconnecting, even for a short time after so many years, has already made this Derby weekend a memorable one for me.
As far as the reaction to the result by the connections, it was not happiness nor sadness, but contentment that the filly tried her best and that there will hopefully be more opportunities like this one, for her and them, in the near future.
The Stoneway folks are already getting ready for Derby Day, as their swift filly Stonetastic counts herself as one of the favorites in the seven-furlong Humana Distaff (G1). Like today, I'll be there to root them on.
Many thanks to Jim Stone, Terri Burch, and trainer Neil Howard for accomodating my requests to follow their filly in her pursuit of the Kentucky Oaks.