LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The working chemistry between Lovely Maria and jockey Kerwin Clark paid off with the biggest victories of their careers in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks.
In the mix throughout the premier race for 3-year-old fillies Friday at Churchill Downs, Lovely Maria burst past Angela Renee in the final furlong for a 2 3/4-length victory.
“I’ve been riding for 40 years and won my first Grade 1 (Ashland) last month at Keeneland with this horse,” the 56-year-old Clark, a Lafayette native and Fair Grounds jockey, said. “Then we won this race today. I am very blessed. Blessed to have this horse, blessed to have trainer Larry Jones in my life and believing in me and to have (owner Brereton) Jones believe in me and stick with me.”
To say nothing of the mutual faith between Lovely Maria and Clark, who has ridden all eight of her starts. They now have their fourth win together with three seconds and a fourth, this one achieved on racing’s most storied track in the 141st running of the Oaks.
They also gave the trainer and owner, the former Kentucky governor, their third Oaks victories. Making it doubly sweet for Larry Jones was having his other horse, I’m a Chatterbox, finish third.
Not a bad day considering Jones sustained a serious head injury from a fall last year that briefly left him in a coma.
“They told me I didn’t need to be riding anymore,” Jones added. “I told them, I don’t think riding is the problem. It is the falling off that’s really the problem.”
Clark guided Lovely Maria over 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.45 and paid $14.60, $7.80 and $5.40. Shook Up returned $20.20 and $11.40, and I’m a Chatterbox paid $5 to show.
“I’m very proud of a good filly,” Shook Up trainer Steve Asmussen said. “Obviously, at the head of the stretch, she gave us a tremendous thrill. I thought Robby (Albarado) gave her a dream trip and I’m very proud of her.”
Race favorite Stellar Wind came from back in the pack to finish fourth. She had won her last three starts by nearly 17 lengths combined including two starts this year by eight lengths, most recently in last month’s Santa Anita Oaks.
She fell in the pack at the start from the No. 12 post position and appeared out of it before rallying at the far turn and getting in the mix at the stretch.
But by then Lovely Maria was pulling away for the victory that included a surprise runner-up in Shook Up, the 30-1 choice.
“She got roughed up at the start (and) you can’t be that far back today,” trainer John Sadler said. “She was way too far back.”
Long-shot Sarah Sis sustained mild heat exhaustion and didn’t finish after being pulled up by jockey Gary Stevens in the midstretch as a precaution.
She was examined by veterinarians and loaded in an ambulance before being taken back to the barns, and was walking around afterward.
“No apparent injury to any of her limbs,” on-call veterinarian Keith Latson said of Sarah Sis’ condition. “It was a precautionary measure to take her back in the ambulance and for Gary Stevens to wrap up on her and ask her to stop. So, good news. She should be just fine.”