LOUISVILLE — Everything about trainer Todd Pletcher's operation is a testament to precision — an intangible that is a must in order for the 150-plus head of horses in his care to get their due attention.
Such intense management is designed so that the five-time Eclipse Award winner is aware at all times of the tiniest details involving his charges.
But on the afternoon of March 30 at Gulfstream Park, even the meticulous Pletcher didn't anticipate what was coming from one of his own.
"I didn't necessarily see what was getting ready to happen in the Gulfstream Oaks," Pletcher said. "I thought she would run well but I didn't see her doing that."
The horse in question is Stonestreet Stables' Grade I-winning filly Dreaming of Julia. And after jockey John Velazquez took about three peeks behind him around the final turn of the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks, she set about stamping herself as the morning-line favorite for Friday's $1 million Kentucky Oaks.
Everything about Dreaming of Julia's victory in the Gulfstream Park Oaks was wonderfully frightening, from her 213/4-length margin of victory to the 114 Beyer Speed Figure she earned in her second start of 2013.
Such an overwhelming display of talent will be needed if she is to win the Kentucky Oaks as she faces a field of nine fellow 3-year-old fillies, including champion Beholder and three of her own stablemates.
Because having five horses slated to start in this year's Kentucky Derby isn't enough, Pletcher will saddle undefeated Unlimited Budget, Bourbonette Oaks winner Silsita, and stakes winner Princess of Sylmar in addition to Dreaming of Julia in the 11⁄8-mile Oaks.
Under the new system that determines the field for the Kentucky Derby should more than 20 horses enter, a filly would have to run against males and gain points in the designated prep races in order to have a chance at making the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.
Dreaming of Julia's Gulfstream Park Oaks effort was cited by some as reason why that mandate needs tweaking. Pletcher didn't necessarily disagree but added that being the best of her class is the focus for Dreaming of Julia at this moment.
"I'm not sure we would have done anything differently even if we had known it was coming," Pletcher said. "She is a slightly made filly, and in the Derby 20-horse field, I think you need a more robust filly. The Oaks was the race we would have chosen even with the old graded (earnings) system."
Many had Dreaming of Julia pegged as a future Kentucky Oaks favorite when she won her first three career starts, including the Grade I Frizette at Belmont Park last October. Since that time, Spendthrift Farm's Beholder has had something to say on the matter.
Trained by Richard Mandella, Beholder won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita Park last November — the same race Dreaming of Julia finished third— en route to earning the Eclipse Award for champion 2-year-old filly.
Beholder was upset in her season debut, running second in the Grade II Santa Ynez in January, but was found to have a throat ulcer in the aftermath. No one has gotten in front of the high-strung filly since as she came back to take the Grade I Las Virgenes and Grade I Santa Anita Oaks in the same gate-to-wire fashion she flaunted in the Breeders' Cup.
"If she gets beat it will be by a better horse," said B. Wayne Hughes, owner of Spendthrift Farm.
The Oaks field lost a contender Wednesday when Flashy Gray, runner up in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks, was found to have a bruised right heel. Even that defection hasn't taken the edge off the quality.
Bob Baffert-trainee Midnight Lucky is unbeaten, having won her two career outings by a combined 151/4 lengths. Juddmonte Farms' Close Hatches brings a 3-for-3 record to the Oaks after winning the Grade II Gazelle at Aqueduct on April 6.
"It's probably the toughest Oaks field I've seen," Baffert said. "You could just give the Eclipse Award that day."
When: Friday, 5:45 p.m.
For: 3-year-old fillies
Distance: 11⁄8 miles
Purse: $1 million
TV: NBC Sports
PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds
1 Silsita Todd Pletcher Gary Stevens 20-1
2 Midnight Lucky Bob Baffert Rafael Bejarano 9-2
3 Beholder Richard Mandella Garrett Gomez 7-2
4 Unlimited Budget Todd Pletcher Javier Castellano 7-2
5 Seaneen Girl Bernard Flint Rosie Napravnik 20-1
6 Princess of Sylmar Todd Pletcher Mike Smith 20-1
7 Pure Fun Ken McPeek Julien Leparoux 30-1
8 Dreaming of Julia Todd Pletcher John Velazquez 3-1
9 Rose to Gold Sal Santoro Calvin Borel 15-1
10 Flashy Gray Scratched from race because of injury
11 Close Hatches Bill Mott Joel Rosario 6-1