LOUISVILLE -- Trainer Dallas Stewart shook his right fist triumphantly as his 3-year-old filly was led from the winner's circle. Few bettors in the Oaks Day crowd of 108,065 shared his sentiments. Not many had the No. 14 filly at odds of 47-1.
Her name is Lemons Forever, and her last-to-first victory Friday in the Kentucky Oaks was the biggest shocker in the history of the race. Like the Kentucky Derby, the Oaks has been run continuously at Churchill Downs since 1875, so that's a major upset. Lemons Forever's previous career highlight was taking a $75,000 optional claimer in February at Oaklawn Park, not exactly the profile you'd expect from a Grade I winner.
"This is big," Stewart kept repeating. "This is big time. Mark [Guidry] gave her a great ride. I've won a lot of good races, but this is the ultimate. I own a little piece of her, so I don't know what could be much better, unless you're running tomorrow [in the Derby]."
Or unless you wheeled Lemons Forever in the Oaks-Derby double. The smallest payoff on a $2 bet, with Sweetnorthernsaint, will return $856; the biggest, with Seaside Retreat, will be worth $8,111.60. Big money! If you played all 280 combinations (14 in the Oaks, 20 in the Derby) for $2 each, your minimum profit will be $296. Talk about a live ticket to put under your pillow and dream about.
An absurdly fast pace set up Lemons Forever's big late run, which soured the Pick 6 players (nobody hit it), and everyone everywhere who played the so-called "logical horses." Miss Norman quit abruptly after burning through a quarter-mile in 22.46 seconds and a half-mile in 46.45. Red Cherries Spin took over and passed the 6-furlong marker in 1:11.47 and hit the furlong pole in 1:37.14. Girls, that's way too fast.
Lemons Forever was in the right spot, last early, to avoid the insanity up front. She worked her way up to 10th after 6 furlongs and was fifth on the outside, less than two lengths behind, and looking like a winner with an eighth of a mile to go. She drew clear in the final 100 yards to win by 1_ lengths over 10-1 Ermine. Wait a While was moved up from fourth to third after Bushfire was disqualified to sixth for interference in the stretch. Balance, the 8-5 favorite, never was involved and plodded in 11th of 14.
The win price on the chestnut daughter of Lemon Drop Kid was $96.20. Not since Lemco in 1903 had an Oaks winner paid more than 40-1, and the exacta ($985.60), Pick 4 ($7,125) trifecta ($12,186) and superfecta ($89,103) also reached the stratosphere. Lemons Forever ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.07 on a fast track and earned $300,000 for Leon Willis, Terry Horton and Stewart.
Guidry earned his first Oaks victory in his first ride on Lemons Forever, though he was familiar with her.
"This filly worked so huge for me over this racetrack the other day," Guidry said. "She really took to the track. She didn't get nervous today with the big crowd. She didn't turn a hair.
"Turning for home, I knew I was on the winner unless something came down the outside. The last quarter of a mile, she really accelerated."
Kentucky Derby television coverage begins Saturday, May 6 at 5 p.m. ET on NBC Sports.