LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Rose to Gold is heading into the Kentucky Oaks on Friday with star-studded breeding, five stakes wins under her belt and Churchill Downs living legend Calvin Borel on her back.
Still, Rose to Gold is 15-1 in the morning line for the 1 1/8 mile Grade 1 stakes that is the 3-year-old fillies’ counterpart to Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
Those odds are not a surprise to Sal Santoro, who trains Rose to Gold for Alex Centofanti and his family, who live in Miami Lakes.
The Centofantis bought the horse they named Rose to Gold at an unexpected bargain price of $1,400 at a sale in Lexington, Ky., in February 2011 and later sent her to Santoro’s stable at Calder Casino & Race Course.
Even though she has won five of her seven starts, and $717,889, Santoro said he understands why some of her rivals are getting more attention from some handicappers.
“This is one of the strongest Kentucky Oaks fields in the last 10 or 15 years,” Santoro said Friday from Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.
Santoro mentioned likely favorites Dreaming of Julia, the impressive winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks (Grade 2), Beholder, winner of the Santa Anita Oaks (Grade 1) and Unlimited Budget, who this year won two graded stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans.
But he added: “She is training well on this track [Churchill] and I think we have a good chance to win.”
Rose to Gold is coming into the Kentucky Oaks after wins at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., in the Honeybee on March 10 and the Fantasy on April 9.
Both stakes were Grade3 at 1 1/16 miles on dirt.
The Honeybee was on a dry fast track and the Fantasy was on a track.
Rose to Gold is the only Kentucky Oaks entrant with two wins on tracks not listed as fast, and Borel is well known for success on off tracks at Churchill Downs.
“A dry track is OK, but I might pray for rain,” Santoro joked.
There is a 20 percent chance in the forecast for Friday.
“Even if we lose by 20 lengths, I am telling everyone that we are coming back to Calder a winner,” Santoro said. “She cost us $1,400 and she has won $700,000.”
Post time for the Kentucky Oaks is 5:45 p.m. and will be part of a telecast from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network
The story behind Rose to Gold began with a chance meeting between Alex Centofanti, who was shopping for motorcycles, and Santoro, who was selling them.
Santoro, formerly a trainer in New York, was working at Peterson Harley Davidson in Miami Gardens. Centofanti, who owns a coffee distribution business, was beginning to buy thoroughbreds.
Santoro soon returned to racing as the private trainer for Centofanti.
They found their future star on the final day of a Fasig Tipton sale in Lexington, Ky.
“It was cold and a lot of the big buyers had gone home,” Santoro said.
So, timing was right for them to bid on a chestnut filly “who had breeding that we really liked,” Santoro said.
She is a daughter of Friends Lake, the winner of the 2004 Florida Derby. That horse is a son of A.P. Indy, a Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.
Her maternal grandfather is Tabasco Cat, the winner of the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes in 1996.
Raffaele Centofanti, Alex’s son, soon named the horse Rose to Gold — anticipating she would rise to that level on the track.
Raffaele and Kathleen Amaya, Alex’s wife and Raffaele’s mother, are listed as Rose to Gold’s owners.
She made her debut last Aug. 25 at Calder, winning the one-mile Lindsey Frolic by 13 lengths on a sloppy track.
Last year, Rose to Gold also won the Brave Raj at Calder and the Delta Princess (Grade 3) at Delta Downs in Vinton, La.
In between was her only bad effort — 12th place in the Alciabides (Grade 1) on the synthetic track at Keeneland.
In late January, Santoro and Centofanti sent Rose to Gold to Oaklawn Park.
“We wanted to find a climate that is similar to Louisville, and Oaklawn fit better than other tracks that had stakes,” Santoro said.
Rose to Gold finished second in the one-mile Martha Washington on Feb. 9.
Santoro then switched to Borel and Rose to Gold led wire-to-wire to win her other two Oaklawn races.
The competition will be tougher in the Kentucky Oaks. But with Borel riding, it is likely that Rose to Gold will go off at odds lower than 15-1.
Borel, recently elected to racing’s Hall of Fame, has ridden one Kentucky Oaks winners and three Kentucky Derby winners.
“I expect a very fast pace, and I will let Calvin decide how much to lay back of it,” Santoro said. “We could see the leaders back up.
“This will be her first time at a mile and an eighth, but she has the breeding, and has galloped out well in her last two races.”
Midnight Lucky, trained by Bob Baffert, could be the key to the race.
She set a 1 1/16-mile track record in the Sunland Park Oaks in New Mexico, and there are expectations that she will attempt to wire the field. Beholder is one of several horses that could challenge her.
Dreaming of Julia, Unlimited Budget and Rose to Gold could be rallying down the long Churchill Downs stretch.
Dreaming of Julia, the 3-1 morning line favorite, has won four of six starts. She is trained by Todd Pletcher and will be ridden by John Velazquez.