I love a good longshot.
In this year’s Kentucky Oaks (gr. I), the one that particularly stands out to me is St. John’s River, who was most recently a runner up to Daisy Devine in the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks (gr. II). Dismissed at morning line odds of 30-1 in the Oaks, this bay daughter of Include is a homebred for Dede McGehee, who also foaled and raised the great Rachel Alexandra at her Heaven Trees Farm near Lexington.
Dede invited me out to her farm during the summer 2009, when Rachel Alexandra was in the midst of her championship campaign, and I was amazed at her gargantuan pink Victorian home and expansive gardens. Partially because of Dede’s bubbly, likeable personality and kind spirit, I can’t help but show some love for a filly like St. John’s River, a full sister to grade I winner Panty Raid, who McGehee also bred.
Also intriguing to me is the fact St. John’s River’s trainer, Andy Leggio, is a 77-year-old ball of energy who couldn’t be more excited about taking on the Oaks challenge. You may remember Leggio as the trainer of another fabulous filly, Happy Ticket, who won her first nine straight races, including the 2005 Ballerina (gr. I).
On an absolutely miserable morning of driving rain and sludgy, frigid conditions on the Churchill Downs backstretch, I was grateful when Leggio invited me into his warm office in barn 43 to discuss St. John's River. My favorite quotes by Leggio were when he talked about his first impressions of the filly as a 2-year-old.
“When I first got (St. John’s River), she looked like a little ol’ rat,” said Leggio, who grew up as an exercise rider in his native New Orleans. “She was small and tiny, but Miss Dede has always said, ‘Andy, she’s gonna be a good one.’ Dede sold Panty Raid, and she said, ‘I’m not selling this one (St. John's River); I’m going to keep it and run it.’
“And she did…she’s always told me, ‘That’s going to be my Oaks horse.’ I just let it go in one ear and out the other like most trainers do, but it’s developed into a true story, and it’s a good story. So we’re here hoping she can do something in the Oaks.”
St. John's River, receiving her morning bath on the chilly Churchill backstretch May 3
Now that the morning line odds are out on all the Oaks fillies, do you have any longshot favorites? Or are you sticking with Larry Jones' favored Joyful Victory for the win?
Check back tomorrow for another backstrech snapshot!