The most suspense in the $1-million Kentucky Oaks, the filly equivalent of the Kentucky Derby, was how long it would take stewards to make Friday's race official. An incidental bump down the stretch involving winner Monomoy Girl caused Wonder Gadot jockey John Velazquez to file an objection.
Monomoy Girl, now a winner in six of her seven races, spent most of the Oaks in a perfect stalking position until the horses moved into the far turn. That's when jockey Florent Geroux surged her to the front.
She leveled off entering the stretch and waited for the competition, as she has done in some of her previous races. Moving on the outside, Wonder Gadot moved even, and when Geroux gave Monomoy Girl a left-hand whip, she moved a couple feet toward Wonder Gadot.
The stewards gave it a long look before dismissing the objection. Monomoy Girl won by half a length.
Midnight Bisou, winner of the Santa Anita Oaks and the post-time favorite, was pretty much taken out of the 1 1/16-mile race at the start. She was hit by other horses leaving the gate, slowing her to a point where she lost momentum. She did make a strong run entering the stretch and finished third, 3 3/4 lengths out of second place.
"The inside horses made a right turn leaving the gate and ran right into me," said Midnight Bisou jockey Mike Smith. "It cost me quite a bit. I don't know if the bad start cost me the race but it cost me enough. We'll never know."
Monomoy Girl paid $7.20, $4.60 and $3.60.
It was a special win for trainer Brad Cox, who got his first Grade I win four weeks ago with Monomoy Girl in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. Cox grew up two blocks from Churchill Downs.
"Florent did a great job," Cox said. "She responded to being hit with the whip, dug in and it was an amazing victory. She's just blessed with an unbelievable amount of talent. She gives you what she has every time."
Rayya, who had raced previously only in Dubai, was moved to the Bob Baffert barn and finished 13th in the 14-horse race.
"Her only chance was at the break," Baffert said. "For some reason, she took a stutter-step away from there and it was over."
Bad Baffert day
Two of Baffert's better older horses couldn't contend in their stakes races. Abel Tasman, winner of last year's Kentucky Oaks, finished a noncompetitive fourth in the six-horse $350,000 La Troienne, for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles. The race was won by Salty, who paid $10.40.
Veteran campaigner Hoppertunity, running his 31st lifetime race, finished fourth in the Grade I Alysheba, over the same 1 1/16 miles. Always Dreaming, who hasn't won since last year's Kentucky Derby, finished fifth. The race was won by Backyard Heaven, who paid $6.40.
The weather for Saturday's Derby will be much better than last year, when rain turned the track into a swam and caused horses to slip and bump each other. According to weather.com, the most likely chance of rain is at 2 p.m. EDT, and that chance is only 40%. It is supposed to drop to 15% during the 6 p.m. hour when the race is being run.