The only other time that Monomoy Girl was in a race as tight as Friday’s Kentucky Oaks, she came up a neck short.
This time – under the same wire on the same track 160 days later – she came up a winner in the biggest race of her career.
After being passed by Wonder Gadot heading into the stretch, Monomoy Girl (5-2) re-engaged her sudden rival, brushed her late in the race and won the $1 million Grade 1 Oaks by a half-length.
After a pro-forma objection from jockey John Velázquez on behalf of Wonder Gadot (16-1), stewards went through the formality of hearing the claim and watching the video for five minutes before confirming the victory for jockey Florent Geroux.
“I was glad I didn’t see an inquiry,” winning trainer Brad Cox said. “I was pretty confident after watching the head-on that they wouldn’t really do anything. I don’t know if they bumped. I would call it more of a brush. Rubbing? That’s racing.”
“At least I have to take a chance on it,” Velázquez said of his protest that came quickly after he re-gripped his reins and changed whip hands as Wonder Gadot got off stride. “She went back on the left lead. I’m fighting the whole way around and all of a sudden the last sixteenth of a mile she goes back to her left lead because she got bumped.”
Even so it was a tepid argument after Monomoy Girl appeared to have gained the last ounce of momentum in one of the most thrilling Oaks duels in recent memory.
The betting favorite Midnight Bisou (2-1) was left out of the main story after taking a seven-wide trip to finish third, 4¼ lengths out of first. The winning time of 1:49.13 for the nine furlongs was the fastest in the Oaks in four years and the seventh-fastest ever at this distance.
A Churchill Downs spokesman said 113,510 people were here, the fifth-largest crowd in Oaks history. They were treated to a race that was set up by pace-setter Take Charge Paula (25-1), a filly that eventually walked off the track after being eased late. After breaking from the outside gate in the 14-horse field, Monomoy Girl was never more than 1½ lengths off the lead while Wonder Gadot sat back in fourth.
After Geroux and Velázquez shook their reins, Geroux got Monomoy Girl to the homestretch rail first. But it appeared she might have been spent as Wonder Gadot passed by to her right. It was déjà vu for Geroux. He was on board Monomoy Girl here last November when she led the Golden Rod Stakes. Then she lugged to and fro before coming up a neck short against Road To Victory. With wins in three graded stakes since, that neck is all that separates Monomoy Girl from being undefeated in her seven races.
“I kind of took the blame,” Geroux said. “She started going all over the place, so we kind of learned our lesson from her, especially me knowing that’s not a filly who is a very big fan of the stick.”
So when Geroux finally used the whip Friday, he had exercised the utmost patience. And it worked.
“I had to give her a few taps maybe twice,” he said. “She just kept on running. At the end it’s not like she’s getting tired. She just loses focus. I just tried to keep her riding as hard as I can and make sure I keep her straight. That’s kind of my job.”
Justify is early pari-mutuel favorite for the Derby
As expected, Justify (7-2) was the early betting favorite for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby after pari-mutuel windows opened Friday at 10 a.m. EDT. Surprisingly, My Boy Jack (5-1) was the second choice just ahead of Mendelssohn (5-1), Audible (6-1), Good Magic (8-1) and Bolt d’Oro (9-1). Considering there may be more than $140 million bet on the race, the $1 million bet so far make these odds more of a curiosity than a bellwether.
Nevertheless, bettors may have gone in on My Boy Jack because of the possibility of rain Saturday. The National Weather Service said Friday evening that there was a 60 percent chance of showers after 2 p.m. EDT with maybe a quarter-inch of rain coming. My Boy Jack notably closed from next-to-last to win the Southwest Stakes 2½ months ago in the mud at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.
The Derby is expected to begin at 6:51 p.m. EDT.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every day this Kentucky Derby week at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. The latest edition includes NBC Sports host Mike Tirico and Flameaway’s trainer Mark Casse. Wednesday’s pop-up edition is still available with handicappers Dave Tuley of VSiN, Vinny Magliulo of Gaughan Gaming and Patrick McQuiggan of the South Point race book in Las Vegas analyzing every horse in the Derby. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher. VSiN handicapper Dave Tuley offers his betting tips for the Kentucky Derby in Tuley’s Takes, also at VSiN.com.