UAE Oaks sponsored by Al Naboodah Construction Group (G2) winner Rayya will make her first start outside of Dubai on Friday in the US $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, USA. Considered the top Thoroughbred 3-year-old based in Dubai this winter, she won two of her four races, including the aforementioned 1900m Oaks and a 1400m maiden event on the 7th of December. In a bit of a homecoming, she returns to her state of birth and takes on the best 3-year-old dirt fillies in the world in said 1800m event.
Now trained by American Bob Baffert, who took over duties from UAE-based Doug Watson, Rayya was last seen running a game second, albeit far behind Irish invader Mendelssohn, in the UAE Derby sponsored by the Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group (G2). In that effort, she finished ahead of stakes winners Reride, Gold Town, Seahenge and Yulong Warrior.
Owned by Sheikh Rashid bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, the chestnut filly has been training the last few weeks at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California – just outside Los Angeles – for her three-time Dubai World Cup-winning conditioner.
“She came to me in excellent condition,” Baffert said. “Her trainer told me everything she does. It took her a little while to get used to our feed, but we got her eating now and she's held her weight and looks really healthy. She worked well and is definitely going to be a pacesetter.”
She has posted two breezes, including a pairing with 2017 Kentucky Oaks winner Abel Tasman on the 21st of April, going 1200m in 1:12.80 from the gate. She returned to breeze an easy five furlongs in 1:01.80 on the 28th of April.
“I just wanted to see how solid she was because you never know how suspect the fields were behind her in Dubai. I knew Reride was a nice horse, but she held her own (with Abel Tasman),” Baffert explained. “I was happy with that. She came back and worked easy. We're asking her to do something that's never been done before. Horses have come from Dubai (to run in the Kentucky Derby) and they have never been able to handle it.”
“I think she's very talented and very courageous and competitive,” he continued. “She has a beautiful way of moving and jumps a long way, but she is going to be speed going against other speed. I can't see her coming from off the pace. I know Mendelssohn made easy work of her, but he's a tremendous racehorse. I don't see anything that makes me think she's not going to run a good race.”
On whether or not he was concerned about her sixth run in six months, “You can tell when you get horses and she came really healthy,” Baffert said. “(Watson) really left a lot in there. He didn't squeeze the lemon.”
Rayya breaks from post seven of 14 fillies and will face a plethora of talented foes, including Grade 1 winners Midnight Bisou and Monomoy Girl, who won their respective preps in dominant fashion.
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