Gambling Girl runs game second in Kentucky Oaks

Friday, May 5th, 2023

Gambling Girl (orange cap) rallies for second in the G1 Longines Kentucky Oaks. Coady Photography/Churchill Downs.

By Tom Law

“That’s why they run the race.”

Mallory Mort said it Thursday, the day before Gambling Girl ran in the Kentucky Oaks. And he said it again at 6:20 p.m. Friday, about 20 minutes after Gambling Girl finished an almost too-good-to-be second in the Kentucky Oaks.

“Holy cow, can you believe it?” added the longtime manager at Marlene Brody’s Gallagher’s Stud, which bred and raised Gambling Girl. “Halfway up the stretch I’m not sure we thought she could win, but we thought maybe she’d be second. Then she just kept coming and coming. Wow. Wow. Wow.”

Three wow worthy indeed.

Gambling Girl didn’t win the 149th Kentucky Oaks and the sting of the defeat was easy to see in the seconds and minutes following the race from owner Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher. Repole spoke to the media for a few minutes, took the loss in stride and applaued the winner Pretty Mischievous.

“Great, great effort by the winner,” Repole said. “It’s a very fair and deserving second, but it sucks.”

Mort watched the race more than 800 miles away, with his wife Karen in Brody’s living room.

“We were yelling pretty good at the TV screen,” Mort said. “Watching it was great. She just kept coming up and we were all yelling. It was fantastic. When they hit the wire we just said, ‘oh my.’ It’s amazing.”

Gambling Girl came up a neck short at the finish, her second straight graded stakes placing and third overall in her first Grade 1 attempt. Pretty Mischievous improved off her second in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks for her second victory in three starts this year for Godolphin, trainer Brendan Walsh and jockey Tyler Gaffalione.

“We’re still having some champagne, even though we didn’t win,” Mort said. “You sure can’t downplay the filly’s effort; a little disappointing not to get there, but wow. It might take awhile to get over that one. She gave the effort, that’s for sure. Sweet and disappointing at the same time.”

Repole bought Gambling Girl for $200,000 at the 2021 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga New York-bred yearling sale. The daughter of Dialed In out of the Empire Maker mare Tulipmania gave him back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Oaks, after Nest just missed against Secret Oath in 2022. Repole also owned Unlimited Budget, who finished third in the 2013 Oaks.

“We want to win these races. This is why you get into racing, days like this, races like this,” said Repole, who owns Kentucky Derby morning-line favorite Forte with St Elias Stable. “Winning is extremely special. Being in them is special. I’m the only guy that would take third over second any day. … The horse ran really good. … Her next start should be the Alabama at a mile and a quarter. She just runs all day. She wants to run all day.”

Gambling Girl went off as the 13-1 seventh choice in the full field of 14, behind 8-5 favorite Wet Paint, Southlawn, Botanical, Wonder Wheel, Defining Purpose and Pretty Mischievous. She earned $227,500 of the Oaks’ $1.25 million purse, boosting her bankroll to $484,910 from a record of 2-3-2 in 10 starts.

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