We caught up with Debbie Finley, Chief Administrative Officer for West Point Thoroughbreds, during Oaks week and asked her some questions about the Oaks and why it is so special to her.
Q: Why do you want to win the Kentucky Oaks, the Lilies for the Fillies, more than any other race? DF: I think people are surprised when they ask me what race I would love to win and I respond, the Kentucky Oaks. I have always wanted to win it. West Point Thoroughbreds has had some very nice fillies/mares in our racing partnerships over the years that have made us proud. A win on Friday would be such a tribute to some of those gals; Irish Smoke, Lear's Princess, Dream Rush, Justwhistledixie, Belle of the Hall, Regal Miss Copelan, and our first great filly, Big City Bound. There are countless others I have fond memories of as well. It's something about a filly that she always keeps a special place in your heart.
The Oaks is also important to me because of breast cancer awareness. To watch the survivors parade prior to the Oaks and to see how the fans support these cancer survivors is truly heartwarming -- it’s a great cause.
Congie DeVito and I talked about winning the Oaks all the time, so he’s another big part of why I want to win it. I have very fond memories of being at Churchill Downs with Congie. To win the Oaks, would truly be a wonderful tribute to my dear friend Congie, who passed away two years ago.
Finally, one of our trainers, Dallas Stewart, won the Oaks back in 2006 with Lemons Forever. I remember Dallas winning this race and being very proud of his team for a job well done. Seeing the big smile on Dallas' face was such a thrill for me!
Q: When you launched West Point Thoroughbreds in 1991 with your husband, Terry, did you ever imagine you'd be participating in one of the greatest American sporting events at Churchill Downs? DF: When we started WPT in 1991, I always believed we would have this opportunity. If you believe and dream enough....dreams do come true. We have such as outstanding team of people working for WPT that I truly think we all thought from the start it would come true.
Q: Do you have any pre-race rituals or superstitions? DF: No pre-race rituals or superstitions. I just say a prayer that they all come home safely. I tend to be very calm and do not think much about the race until that day. I leave the worrying to everyone else!
Q: What is the one accessory you absolutely will not be able to live without on Oaks Day? DF: Well, it’s not an accessory, but I cannot live without my family. My husband Terry will be there of course. My daughter, Erin who works for WPT as well, and her fiance Daniel will be right there with me. We’re hitting the road to Churchill Downs from Columbus, OH (where my son plays for the Columbus Crew) as soon as practice is over Friday morning. I could not imagine not sharing this day without them.
Q: You experienced the run for the roses with West Point's first Derby starter, Flashy Bull in 2006. Not coincidentally Flashy Bull is the sire of Flashy Gray! What did that Derby experience teach you about competing at the highest levels, and what advice do you have for Flashy Gray Partners to maximize their magical experience of having a filly in the Oaks? DF: Being in the Derby that year with Flashy Bull taught me to enjoy every moment of the ride. Things may not go perfectly as planned, but you just have to take a moment and breath in the Kentucky air and take it all in stride. It's such a magical ride these horses take us on and we are very, very fortunate to get this far with them in their careers.
It is such an honor to have one of Flashy Bull's daughters in the KY Oaks. I can remember the day he left us to board the van to head to KY to become a stallion. He walked up the ramp and he looked back at us. At that moment I said to myself, one day one of your babies is going to take us to the big dance my friend!!!