CRAWFORD | Nice girls don't always finish first - Cathryn Sophia - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Nice girls don't always finish first - Cathryn Sophia romps in Kentucky Oaks

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Javier Castellano rides Cathryn Sophia to victory in the Kentucky Oaks. (AP photo) Javier Castellano rides Cathryn Sophia to victory in the Kentucky Oaks. (AP photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On Thursday of this week, trainer John Servis was standing at the end of his barn on the Churchill Downs backside, when he saw one of his grooms coming flying out of a stall, followed quickly by an exercise rider and his son.

He went running. He knew Cathryn Sophia was up to her old tricks.

"I don't want to make it sound like she is mental or crazy," Servis said Friday after she had just won the $1 million Kentucky Oaks. "She is just mean

One night in April the groom couldn't corral her to put a night sheet on her. This past Thursday, Servis said, "The groom pulled the bridle off. As soon as he did that, she just wheeled around and bit him in the stomach and threw him out of the stall. And now she's loose. He's got the halter. She's out in the shed row. And my son and the exercise boy, all they knew they were getting the heck out of there."

All of which is to say, when it comes to the Kentucky Oaks, nice girls don't always finish first.

She's not like that out of her stall," Servis said. "But when you are in her stall, that's her stall."

And on Thursday, Churchill Downs was Cathryn Sophia's track.

In front of a record Kentucky Oaks crowd of 124,589 -- which will make it one of the most-attended spectator sporting events in the U.S. this year -- she settled in a length or two behind the three leaders, Terra Promessa, Rachel's Valentina and Lewis Bay. By the time they reached the top of the stretch, she had shot to the front, and quickly pulled away from the field to collect a 2 3/4-length win, improving her record to 5-0-1 in six starts. She covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.53.

The big question about her coming in was whether she could get the distance. She had blown away fields in her first four starts, but a wide bid and a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland on April 16 at 1 1/16 miles left some wondering if the distance had gotten to her.

She answered that question and more on Friday.

Servis, who trained Smarty Jones to a Kentucky Derby win in 2004, now adds a Kentucky Oaks title to his trophy case, running his limited Churchill downs record to two wins in four starts.

"It feels terrific," Servis said. "I went into the race today really feeling good. And I could tell you, I mean, if we would have got beat, I would have felt really good because I knew my filly was bringing her 'A' game. And I knew she was going to run well. And if we got beat, we got beat. That's just the way it's going to be. But it's nice to know you're going into a race like the Oaks and a race like the Kentucky Derby with a little powder in the gun."

Cathryn Sophia went off as the second betting choice to favored Rachel's Valentina. The daughter of Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra was involved with three horses in the lead, then couldn't hold on late while slipping to fourth. Land Over Sea charged up for second, just ahead of Lewis Bay in third.

"I think, John, he did a great job to stretch this filly to have a lot of confidence to get prepared for the race, to get the extra mile," said rider Javier Castellano. "The key to be successful today was to get her relaxed and get her to go the extra distance. I know it's a mile and an eighth. Most of the horses, we are on the same page. You never get to the mile and an eighth. That's the first time. And I tried to take advantage of a lot of speed in the race. My target, the way I handicapped it, was Rachel's Valentina. I just wanted to follow her all the way. But then I forgot everything, and wanted to open her up. I rode with a lot of patience, but then I just said forget it."

Servis wasn't the only connection with a fond memory of the Churchill Downs stretch. Chuck Zacney, head of Cash Is King, LLC, was part of the ownership of Afleet Alex, who won the Derby in 2005.

"He won two-thirds of the Triple Crown and that was great," Zacney said. "But as far as fillies, this is very, very special for many reasons. I was looking for a Maryland-bred horse in 2014. I went to the Fasig-Tipton sale and picked her out. She wasn't a big filly, but she was athletic. And we got her for $30,000. And what a bargain today."

The filly was named for Zacney's niece, Cathryn Sophia McCarry, who is a freshman soccer player at Rowan University. She was in attendance at Friday's race.

It wasn't the Oaks anyone expected, given the absence of Songbird, who some speculate might've been the best 3-year-old on the track this weekend. Servis went as far as to say he likely wouldn't have run Cathryn Sophia in the Oaks had Songbird not come up with a minor illness and had to skip the race.

Now, Servis will weigh his options on where he sends her next, but first, it'll be a trip back home to Delaware.

And Servis and Zacney will head home with more warm memories of Churchill Downs.

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