The Kentucky Oaks is one of those races horsemen dream about. Although it does not get the same notoriety as its twin brother, the Kentucky Derby, this race was born the very same year (1875) and has been run every year since. Sending a fast filly to the starting gates in this crown jewel for three-year old females is good. Having a real chance at winning is even better.
Bret Calhoun is one of the bright training minds in the Thoroughbred game today. Having enjoyed some big moments all across the country (3387 career wins) throughout a career that began back in 1993, Calhoun doesn’t want to just be at the Kentucky Oaks…he wants to win it.
Last October it appeared as if Calhoun had the early 2022 Oaks favorite in his barn. Hidden Connection had won her first two starts by a combined 16 ¾ lengths. The second of those was a 9 ¼ length romp in the Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs on September 18, 2021. But then the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Filly race happened and a bobble out of the starting gates saw this daughter of Connect finish a disappointing 4th nearly 14 lengths behind winner Echo Zulu. Resting until mid-February of 2022, Hidden Connection again finished fourth in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. This time, she was only about four lengths off winner Turnerloose, but still questions were rolling about this once highly regarded filly.
“You always wonder how a horse will progress from one year to the next”, says Calhoun. “Some improve and some go the other way. We knew she was not completely in top form for the Rachel Alexandra but she needed to run. For us to continue down the path to the Kentucky Oaks we wanted to see improvement in her next start for sure.”
Continuing to work his training magnificence, Calhoun prepared his prized filly for the Fair Grounds Oaks on March 26. Rewarding her coach with a superior effort, Hidden Connection was beaten by just a stray whisker. Full of run all the way to the wire, this granddaughter of Awesome Again just missed nailing rival Echo Zulu.
“We wanted to see progression and we got it”, says the man with 24 stakes wins at Churchill Downs. “For us to go to the Kentucky Oaks she had to take us. I am not interested in just putting a horse in the starting gates at a race like that. She comes first and if she is not ready to compete on that kind of stage we just simply wouldn’t run her.”
Since that run in late March, Hidden Connection has continued to put smiles up in the Calhoun Camp. Recent works and breezes at Churchill point towards a peak performance on May 6. Having won over the track is another positive in what promises to be a very competitive field for Kentucky Oaks 148.
“I don’t know if her win at Churchill really means anything but it certainly makes me feel better”, smiles Calhoun. “We have gotten everything we have wanted in her recent works. This may be one of the deepest fields in recent Kentucky Oaks history. We think she gives us a real chance at winning and that’s why we are putting her in the starting gates.”