Trainer Bob Baffert’s exercise rider works out Kentucky Oaks hopeful Rayya at Churchill Downs. The former Dubai-based three-year-old filly can make history by winning today’s $1 million Kentucky Oaks. Image Credit: USA Today Sports

Dubai: Hall of Fame handler Bob Baffert has assertively described his Kentucky Oaks (Group 1) hopeful Rayya, as ‘talented and courageous’, ahead of the UAE-owned filly’s start in the Churchill Downs showpiece on Friday.

Owned by Shaikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi, the youngest son of His Highness Shaikh Humaid Bin Rashid Al Nuaimi, Ruler of Ajman and Member of Supreme Council, Rayya made a name for herself in the UAE when winning two of her four domestic starts including the UAE Oaks (G1) at Meydan on March 1.

That was when she was previously trained by six-time UAE champion trainer Doug Watson.

Now based at Baffert’s Kentucky-based stables, the daughter of Tiz Wonderful faces 13 rivals including a trio of Grade 1 winners, Midnight Bisou and Monomoy Girl, in the 1,800 metres contest which takes place at 7.12am (Saturday, UAE) and is live on Dubai Racing Channel.

Baffert, who is looking for back-to-back wins in the $1million Oaks following on from Abel Tasman 12 months ago, told the Thoroughbred Times: “She came to me in excellent condition. 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.”

On her last UAE start Rayya was a wide margin second behind the imperious Irish-raider Mendelssohn in the UAE Derby (G2) on Dubai World Cup day, but has been putting in some impressive sectional times during recent work at Santa Anita Park.

“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 said. “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. She has a beautiful way of moving and jumps a long way, but she is going to be speed going against other speed,” he added.

“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.”

Rayya can give Baffert a fourth win in the Oaks following Abel Tasman, Plum Pretty (2011) and Silverbulletday (1999).

Drayden Van Dyke, who won the Grade 1, $1 million Cotillion Stakes for 3-year-old fillies last year with It Tiz Well, is seeking his first Kentucky Oaks win aboard the Al Nuaimi filly.


At A Glance

Rayya (Odds 15-1)

Pedigree: Tiz Wonderful — Spread, by Coronado’s Quest

Color: Chestnut

Jockey: Drayden Van Dyke

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Shaikh Rashid Bin Humaid Al Nuaimi

Career record: 5 starts — 2 wins — 3 seconds.