LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There's an important 3-year-old race at Churchill Downs other than the Kentucky Derby this weekend. It's Friday's $150,000 Kentucky Oaks for fillies, and from top to bottom of a 13-horse field, it has more quality than the Derby itself.
The entry list for the 1 1/8-mile Oaks includes two undefeated fillies--Hidden Light and Tiffany Lass--as well as last year's 2-year-old filly champion, Family Style.
Family Style is part of a three-horse, Wayne Lukas-trained entry, which is completed by Arewehavingfunyet and Life at the Top. Trainer Woody Stephens entered Lotka and I'm Sweets.
Lukas has won the Oaks two of the last four years--with Blush with Pride in 1982 and Lucky Lucky Lucky in 1984. Stephens has won the Oaks four times, most recently with Heavenly Cause in 1981.
Hidden Light, based on her four straight wins in California, will go off favored.
The connections of Hidden Light--owners Elizabeth and Howard Keck, trainer Charlie Whittingham and jockey Bill Shoemaker--will also be trying to win Saturday's Derby with Ferdinand. Hidden Light has been training sensationally while working in company with Ferdinand since the two horses arrived here from California last week.
The last trainer to win both the Oaks and the Derby in the same year was Ben Jones, who clicked with Real Delight and Hill Gail in 1952. Don Brumfield was the last jockey to ride an Oaks-Derby double, doing it with Native Street and Kauai King in 1966.
Other starters in Friday's Oaks will be She's a Mystery, Trim Colony, Classy Cathy, Turn and Dance, Dynamic Star and Ice Cream Social.
This year's 3-year-old crop will probably be remembered as mediocre, even if there is a Triple Crown champion, but the class of '86 didn't start out that way.
Of the top 19 horses in the Experimental Free Handicap--a theoretical rating of last year's top 2-year-olds--11 have either died or been injured. Only five--Snow Chief, Pillaster, Mogambo, Ferdinand and Groovy--are running in the Kentucky Derby.
Of the 13 horses that ran in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Stakes at Aqueduct last November, only two--Mogambo and Groovy--are in the Derby field.
On Wednesday, Ogygian, who was ranked even with the 2-year-old champion, Tasso, in the Experimental, made his first start since he won the Belmont Futurity in September.
Running against older horses in a 6 1/2-furlong race at Aqueduct, Ogygian passed King's Swan in the stretch, but then his 6-year-old opponent came on again to win. Ogygian finished second, carrying eight pounds less than the winner.
Tasso, whose leg cuts in the Wood Memorial knocked him out of the Derby, has resumed training and is a possibility for the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico May 17.
Here's a different perspective on Bill Shoemaker's record of riding in 23 Derbies, starting in 1952 and through his last mount in 1984:
Ten of the 16 other jockeys riding in Saturday's Derby were born after 1952, when Shoemaker, 54, had his first Derby mount, Count Flame, who finished fifth.
Chris McCarron, who will ride Bold Arrangement in the Derby, was born in 1955, the year Shoemaker won his first of three Derbies (with Swaps).
This is the 25th anniversary of Carry Back's Derby victory, and owner Jack Price is on hand.
Johnny Sellers rode Carry Back in the Derby and early in his 3-year-old career, although Price wanted Bill Hartack, who had ridden the colt as a 2-year-old.
"We did everything to get Hartack to ride Carry Back," Price said. "But he had other horses. Even my daughter Kay, who dated Hartack, tried to influence him to go with Carry Back."
Hartack wound up without a Derby mount in '61.
Price remembers one of his first jobs, delivering telegrams for Western Union as a 12-year-old in Cleveland.
Even then, though, Price was hanging around the race track.
"There were a lot of tout services that advertised in newspapers, and they sent their selections via telegram," Price said. "I got to know how to crinkle windows of the envelopes, so I could see the horses' names before I delivered the telegrams. But it didn't help me. The only winner I've ever had was Carry Back."