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Maryland-bred Cathryn Sophia wins Kentucky Oaks by three lengths

Javier Castellano celebrates as he rides Cathryn Sophia to victory in the 142nd running of the Kentucky Oaks horse race at Churchill Downs Friday, May 6, 2016, in Louisville, Ky.
Javier Castellano celebrates as he rides Cathryn Sophia to victory in the 142nd running of the Kentucky Oaks horse race at Churchill Downs Friday, May 6, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (David J. Phillip / AP)

LOUISVILLE, KY. — Maryland-bred filly Cathryn Sophia won the $1 million Kentucky Oaks in impressive fashion Friday, putting to rest questions about her ability to thrive at longer distances and highlighting the state's resurgent breeding industry.

Cathryn Sophia, bred on Chanceland Farm in West Friendship, won her first four career races before dropping to third in the April 9 Ashland Stakes. That race raised questions about her ability to run more than a mile, and trainer John Servis wasn't even going to enter her in the Oaks until would-be favorite Songbird dropped out because of a fever.

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"She's matured so much mentally," Servis said.

Cathryn Sophia went off as a 5-1 co-second choice and broke cleanly, sitting in fourth place for much of the race as jockey Javier Castellano patiently waited to make his move. When he called on her to strike from the outside, she took the lead decisively and won by an easy three lengths in front of a record Oaks crowd of 124,589.

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Cathryn Sophia's win was also a triumph for breeders Katy Voss and Bob Manfuso. They sold her for a modest $30,000 to current owner Chuck Zackney at the 2014 Fasig-Tipton Fall Yearling Sale at Timonium. She quickly exceeded expectations after Servis, best known as the trainer of 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness champion Smarty Jones, began working with her about a year ago.

"She wasn't a big filly, but she was athletic," Zackney said, explaining why he bought her. "What a bargain she is today."

The Pennsylvania-based owner said he was specifically looking to purchase a Maryland-bred because "I had been following the program there and saw it was improving."

He named the horse after his niece, who was sitting beside him at the post-race news conference and whom he described as a "little spitfire soccer player."

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Cathryn Sophia apparently lives up to her namesake. Servis described how on Thursday, she bit her groom in the stomach because she didn't like the way he pulled off her bridle. She was loose in the stall and had to be calmed down with a serving of feed.

"She's not crazy or anything like that," Servis said. "She's just mean."

And fast. Zackney said he and Servis haven't entirely decided where to point Cathryn Sophia next but said the June 11 Acorn Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard is most likely.

Still speedy from the 20: Danzing Candy was the talk of Wednesday night's draw after the most notable speed horse in the Derby field drew the No. 20 post on the far outside.

But trainer Clifford Sise Jr. said the draw won't alter his strategy.

"Actually, I think it's a good post for him," he said. "One reason is he's a little bad in the gate, so this gives him a chance to load last. And then I'm outside of everybody, so we can dictate what we want to do. We can either go to the lead or if we want to sit off it, we'll sit off it."

Without another early speed horse in the race, Sise said Danzing Candy should not have to over-exert himself to move to the front. From there, the key will be for jockey Mike Smith to hold the horse's burst in reserve for the first half mile.

Confronted with a muddy track in the Santa Anita Derby, Danzing Candy burned himself out way too early.

"The last race, I don't know, draw a line through it I guess," Sise said. "Mike said he didn't really like the mud. He said that mud started hitting him under the belly and it got him too keen, too geared up."

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