Princess of Sylmar captured the 139th running of the Kentucky Oaks on Friday… (Mark Cornelison / McClatchy-Tribune )
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Around Clockers' Corner at Santa Anita, they will tell you never to ignore jockey Mike Smith in a big race, no matter the odds.
Those who heeded that advice in the $1-million Kentucky Oaks for 3-year-old females were happy Friday. Smith, riding 38-1 shot Princess Of Sylmar, dawdled near the rear of the field most of the race and then found a hole on the homestretch and guided the filly past all the bigger-name horses to victory.
The Princess paid $79.60, $29.40 and $14. Smith's horse paid $727 for a $2 exacta, $3,470.80 for a $2 trifecta, and $12,445 for a $2 superfecta.
Princess Of Sylmar was one of four horses entered by trainer Todd Pletcher, who has five in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
"We're pleasantly surprised with her effort and her win," Pletcher said.
Smith and Princess Of Sylmar were banged around in the squeeze-down to the rail at the start, but survived nicely.
"For a moment there," he said, "It was like there were three jockeys in one saddle."
Two prominent California horses were run down by Smith. Richard Mandella's Beholder succumbed to Smith's late charge by half a length and got second, and Bob Baffert's Midnight Lucky, leading much of the way, finished a fading sixth.
Essential Race Facts
Post time for the Derby is 3:24 p.m Pacific time. NBC's coverage begins at 1 p.m. The race is 1 1/4 miles. Total purse is $2,199,800, with the winner getting $1,439,000.
The morning line favorite was Orb at 7-2, but the Florida Derby winner dropped to 6-1 in advance betting, with Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents and Louisiana Derby winner Revolutionary moving up to 5-1 co-favorites. Wood Memorial winner Verrazano went from 4-1 in the morning line to 11-1 Friday.
All of the analysis and handicapping expertise may go out the window, because the forecast is for rain, some calling for a 90% chance.
The Big Two
Orb is trained by popular veteran Shug McGaughey, who was asked about the pressure of having the favorite.
"No problem," he said. "If you've got the favorite, you've got a good horse."
The undefeated Verrazano is trained by Pletcher, who said his horse might do well on a wet track, because he has before. "He is better with a target in front of him. If he is out front all alone, he tends to wait," Pletcher said.
Black Onyx, who drew the No. 1 post, was scratched Friday morning, with trainer Kelly Breen explaining that he had noticed swelling in the left front ankle after a morning gallop and ordered an X-ray.
Breen said the 50-1 shot probably would be OK and said the horse seemed to be feeling well.
"He's OK. He tried to bite me," Breen said.
There was an also-eligible horse awaiting a spot in the Derby, trainer Mike Maker's Fear The Kitten, but Breen scratched his horse after the 9 a.m. deadline for also-eligible entries, so the Derby will run with 19 horses, rather than 20, and the No. 1 spot will be left vacant.
This will be the 100th anniversary of a Kentucky Derby victory ridden by a man with perhaps the best name ever for a jockey, Roscoe Goose, who produced a gambler's delight payout in 1913. As documented in a marvelous story in the Louisville Courier-Journal this week, Goose rode Donerail to victory at odds of 91-1.
The Courier-Journal wrote the day after the race, "The miserable longshot ran the classic faster than it was ever run before."