The 145th running of the Kentucky Oaks takes place at approximately 6:12 EST tonight. Churchill Downs has carded an immensely entertaining slate of 5 graded stakes, several high dollar allowance races, and a couple six figure maiden special weight events to support the feature event for the best three-year old fillies (on dirt) in North America. A few handicapping insights covering some of the more intriguing races of the day follow:
RACE 5, the Grade 2 EIGHT BELLES
A contested pace is likely to ensue in this 7 furlong sprint for three-year old fillies. Take Charge Angel, Break Even, Lyrical Lady, and Mother Mother have all shown front running tendencies in the majority of their races. Mother Mother won the Rags to Riches here in the fall going gate-to-wire in that one-turn mile event. While she’s not won since, she is battle tested against top flight company as she has mostly been banging heads with Oaks favorite Bellafina out west. She enters this after just narrowly missing in a deep stretch duel to the wire in the Beaumont and figures to sit a close stalking trip from her outside post. Break Even has not been tested in 3 lifetime starts for Brad Cox. The Klein family homebred takes another step up the class ladder today, and if Shaun Bridgmohan can avoid engaging in a suicidal speed duel she may well show herself to be something special today. If the expected pace does indeed materialize, Queen of Beas and Del Mar May appear likely to clean up the mess. Queen of Beas came from off the pace in her two victories at Gulfstream this winter and is likely to get an even better set-up in this spot. Del Mar May battled with the likes of Brill and Bellafina in Southern California last fall. She cut back to this 7 furlong trip when comfortably breaking her maiden last month at Keeneland and looks like a live shot to return to the winner’s circle here for Rick Baltas.
RACE 6, the Grade 3 EDGEWOOD
Make no mistake, the best three-year old filly running on Friday is not in the Oaks but instead in this mile and one sixteenth grade 3 turf stake. Newspaperofrecord stole the show on Future Stars Friday at the Breeders’ Cup last fall, winning the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf as she pleased by nearly seven widening lengths. The Irish-bred filly reigned supreme in three open length victories as a juvenile, and if she has not progressed at all she still has this field over a barrel. The smartest move here is to simply concede this race to the budding superstar and enjoy the show. Cambier Parc, Winter Sunset, and Concrete Rose will battle it out for runner-up honors.
RACE 7, the Grade 2 ALYSHEBA
McKinzie was beaten at odds-on in his last two trips to the post, dropping a half-length decision to the ill-fated Battle of Midway in a sloppy renewal of the San Pasqual prior to a nose defeat to Gift Box after a stretch long battle for the ages in the Big Cap. He entered town breathing fire for this appointment, laying down a 5 furlong heater in :58 and 3 on Saturday. One would assume Mike Smith will send him from the rail draw, but with other speed drawn to his outside that is certainly no guarantee. Tom’s d’Etat won 6 of 7 against mostly allowance level competition prior to having his head handed to him when stepping up to face the big boys in the Pegasus. Bourbon Resolution’s eye-catching triumph in the Ben Ali at Keeneland punctuated a spell of 3 wins in his last 4 starts, but beware of the bounce as he comes back in 3 weeks after earning a career high Beyer figure by a significant margin. Seeking the Soul is a tough sell after flopping in Dubai. If there is to be an upset in this spot, it appears to most likely come from either Silver Dust or Copper Bullet. Silver Dust was very competitive against similar company in Louisiana this winter and owns two local wins. Copper Bullet may have bounced in the New Orleans Handicap as he was coming off a hard fought runner-up finish to Coal Front, who backed up his Hot Springs victory with a successful trip to Dubai in the Godolphin Mile. The son of More Than Ready also owns two victories over the local strip, and his recent morning works indicate he could rebound quite nicely in this spot.
RACE 8, the Grade 1 LA TROIENNE
There are no world beaters amongst this group of distaffers, but a nice enough field has been assembled in this competitive renewal of the sister race to the Alysheba. Awe Emma, She’s a Julie, and Divine Miss Grey look destined to duke it out on the front end. While She’s a Julie is certainly capable of rating, Ricardo Santana is drawn in a tough spot along the rail and may be forced to go. Blue Prize flaunts an impressive record at Churchill with 3 victories and a pair of second place finishes in 6 starts. However, this is her first start of the year, and she struggled in her 2018 debut off a similar layoff. The Argentinian also does not care for an off-track. Golden Award is intriguing running back in two weeks off a no-show performance at Keeneland for Bill Mott. The Hall of Famer must have a ton of confidence in his charge to wheel her right back in a grade 1, but if the sloppy track in Lexington was the key to her undoing she could be in the same boat again today. Another that must answer the off-track question is Secret Spice. Her two triple digit speed figures and last-out grade 1 win leap off the page, but the meat of that Beyer sandwich is an ugly performance over a track labeled “good” against allowance company. Pedigree says she ought to relish a wet race track, so maybe she just needed that race. This race kicks off the pick 4 that ends with the Oaks, and sometimes the all button is the only thing that can get you through.
RACE 10, the Grade 2 TWIN SPIRES TURF SPRINT
This race figures to be a pleasure to watch as two elite sprinters will duke it out from the spring of the latch over the Churchill lawn. World of Trouble led every step but the last when dropping a neck decision to two-time champ Stormy Liberal in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint over a yielding course here in November. He became a grade 1 winner on the main track when capturing the Carter Handicap in April. Bound for Nowhere will be gunned out from his rail draw, just as he was in last month’s Shakertown at Keeneland. It’s difficult to envision a winner outside of those two. Angaston, Undrafted, and Will Call all sport solid records over the Churchill turf, but Jazzy Times could be the likeliest upsetter. He will benefit from having the Shakertown under his belt, and he’s had two solid local works since that much needed effort.
RACE 11, the Grade 1 KENTUCKY OAKS
Bellafina will take a beating at the windows in this 145th renewal of the Kentucky Oaks. She is 6 for 8 lifetime with most of those wins coming in dominating fashion. The daughter of Quality Road possesses ample early speed, but has shown the ability to sit just off the flank of the leader without fighting the rider to get to the front. The major chink in her armor is that her lone prior trip to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup last fall resulted in the only off-the-board finish of her career as she finished 4th beaten more than 9 lengths by the re-opposing Jaywalk and 4 lengths by Restless Rider. The excuse offered by her connections for that lousy performance was that she had come in heat and simply was not herself that day. Aberration or not, it may be enough to prevent some from accepting too short a price. The presence of Bellafina, Jaywalk, Motion Emotion, and Serengeti Empress will insure a tepid pace. With many of these fillies tackling the 9 furlong distance for the first time, strong consideration should be given to those that are proven coming from off the pace. Champagne Anyone added blinkers in the Gulfstream Park Oaks and sat behind the early leader prior to taking control at the quarter pole and finding the wire just ahead of Dunbar Road. She has trained perfectly since returning to Louisville and looks like a serious threat. It is worth noting that the worst performance of her career came in the Golden Rod over a sloppy Churchill surface. Jeltrin will be at least twice the price of Champagne Anyone. She has been off since defeating that foe by 4 1/2 lengths in the Davona Dale, but has trained steadily at her Gulfstream Park base. Positive Spirit is the only horse in the field to have traveled the mile and an eighth distance before. She sports a win and runner-up finish in two Grade 2 attempts at the distance. A half-sister to Derby winner Always Dreaming, her 30/1 morning-line price intrigues. Chad Brown is chomping at the bit to run Dunbar Road, and if she draws into the field, watch out. She will appreciate the distance, and a sloppy race track.
Happy Oaks Day! Best of luck at the windows.