Kentucky Oaks day: last year's winner Plum Pretty runs in support racePICTURE: EquiSport Photos/Alex Evers
Grace Hall favoured for Friday's Kentucky Oaks
Preview: USA, Friday 10.45pm BST
Kentucky Oaks(Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo fillies
KENTUCKY Derby weekend at Churchill Downs kicks off with Friday's Kentucky Oaks, where British bookmakers make Grace Hall (Tony Dutrow/Javier Castellano) clear favourite for the $1million event.
Grace Hall has never finished out of the first two in six starts, scoring at Grade 1 level last term in the Spinaway at Saratoga before finishing second to sidelined star My Miss Aurelia at the Breeders' Cup.
Although she was shocked at odds-on by Friday's rival Yara (Jose Garoffalo/Jesus Castanon) on her seasonal debut at Gulfstream, she could hardly have been more impressive on her most recent start back at the same track when she won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Oaks by nearly seven lengths. Yara was only fifth that day.
"I thought she would be favourite and I'm not feeling I have something to be concerned about with the two post," said trainer Tony Dutrow, brother of the controversial Rick Dutrow. "Our filly is feeling great and we can't wait to get out there and go. We're excited and ready."
Bred by Darley, Grace Hall's sire is 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, who is also responsible for Derby favourite Bodemeister.
Grace Hall breaks from gate two, just outside local hope On Fire Baby (Gary Hartlage/ Joe Johnson), who won a pair of Grade 2 events at this track as a two-year-old and looked in good nick at Oaklawn last month.
Although there are stamina concerns about Broadway's Alibi (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez), who has never raced at beyond a mile, she offers a potent threat if she can get the extra distance for a trainer who won this with Ashado (2004) and Rags To Riches (2007).
"Everything she's done so far, stretching out from six furlongs to seven furlongs to a mile, she keeps going and going and going," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "The way she trains, she gave us every indication that we needed to be in there and trying her."
Other likely types in a competitive-looking field include Grade 1 winners Eden's Moon (Bob Baffert/Martin Garcia), who represents last year's winning trainer, and Karlovy Vary (Rusty Arnold/James Graham) plus Fair Grounds Oaks winner Believe You Can (Larry Jones/Rosie Napravnik).
Also on Friday
Churchill Downs: La Troienne Stakes (Grade 2)1m½f, dirt, 4yo+ f/m (6.26pm BST)
Twelve months to the day after they were separated by a diminishing head in the Kentucky Oaks, Plum Pretty (Bob Baffert/Rafael Bejarano) bids to hold off St John's River (Rosie Napravnik) in this $300,000 event, the first of six stakes on Friday's card.
All-the-way Oaks winner Plum Pretty comes here in good shape, having returned after a five-month layoff three weeks ago to win the Apple Blossom.
Maristar (Gerard Butler/James Graham) runs for the first time since finishing third in Grade 2 company here in November.
Churchill Downs: Edgewood Stakes (Grade 3) 1m½f, turf, 3yo fillies (8.02pm BST)
Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies' Turf winner Stephanie's Kitten (Wayne Catalano/ John Velazquez), who holds the Coronation Stakes entry for owner Ken Ramsey, is likely favourite. She is looking to regain the winning thread after coming third in an all-weather Grade 1 on her seasonal debut last month.
Churchill Downs: Alysheba Stakes (Grade 2) 1m½f, dirt, 4yo+ (8.52pm BST)
Mucho Macho Man (Kathy Ritvo/Ramon Dominguez), on a four-timer here, faces Successful Dan (Charles Lopresti/Julien Leparoux), who came backafter a 16-month injury layoff to score in good-quality allowance company at Keeneland last month.
Former claimer Nates Mineshaft (Austin Smith/Jesse Campbell) won his fourth straight race with a runaway victory in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap.