The fillies may be running for the lillies many months after the fact, but a star studded matchup between Gamine and Swiss Skydiver makes this race just as exciting if not even more so than usual. While the Kentucky Oaks headlines the card, it is backed by many races that may have a play on the Breeders Cup in a few months, with the Eight Belles, Edgewood, Alysheba, La Troienne, and Twin Spires Turf Sprint rounding out the stakes action on the day.
Race 8 – Eight Belles (G2)
Three-year old sprinting fillies go here with the winner most likely being aimed at the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint next time out. A field of 7 goes here, including the duel-Grade 3 winner Four Graces. Early speed usually takes control of these types of races at Churchill Downs, and that is exactly the type of style (7) Four Graces is known for; she will be my top pick in here. She will face a tough challenge from the Brad Cox barn with Mundaye Call, who romped to a 7 1/4 length win in the Audubon Oaks at Ellis Park. However, the class edge for Four Graces gives her the edge for me.
Race 9 – Edgewood (G2)
We head to the turf for the next one, as a field of turf three-year old fillies will go the mile distance. Having been won by many fantastic fillies in recent memory, like Concrete Rose and Catch A Glimpse, this is generally one of the classiest races on Oaks Day. The heavy favorite here, without a doubt, is the H. Graham Motion trainee (3) Sharing, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf champion of last year who turned her Tepin Stakes win earlier this year at Churchill Downs into a runner up effort at Royal Ascot in the Coronation Stakes. She has had blitzing workouts leading up to this race and should be the one coming home clear late. I’d add in (6) Pranked at a price – she has been improving with each effort and showed a lot of tough finishing an off the pace 2nd last out.
Race 10 – Alysheba (G2)
What better way to get prepped for the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland than on the other side of the commonwealth at Churchill Downs. The Alysheba has some of the top handicap horses in training showing up, including last year’s Classic runner-up and defending Alysheba champ McKinzie, Oaklawn Handicap winner By My Standards, and fan-favorite Bodexpress. For me, (3) Owendale gets the nod; he had a completely wide trip last our in the Stephen Foster which took away all chance, but his Blame Stakes win was ultra impressive. He got time off and has been working well. The inside post will pose well for him. Should get a good run under Florent Geroux. I can’t back By My Standards or McKinzie, both of which had head scratching efforts as of late and just seem like they are lacking the finishing kick recently. (1) Silver Dust on the inside is one that could pose well here; he’s another that got wide and touch runs but moving to the inside and his early speed could give him enough to crack the money.
Race 11 – La Troienne (G1)
Distaffers go in this Grade 1, which drew four last out winners. While Midnight Bisou won’t be showing up here, Vexatious and crew will have to get past Monomoy Girl, winner of nine straight races, including the Ruffian Stakes last out and last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Can she be beat? Hard to say. She might be another chalk that we will have to eat, as she looks to tough. I have to put (8) Monomoy Girl on top of my tickets – she is an absolute star. But I have some nice prices to put aside her in (7) Lady Kate, winner of the Groupie Doll last out who has a lot of speed to contend, and (5) Risky Mandate, who has been improving each out and is one to watch.
Race 12 – Kentucky Oaks (G1)
Finally it is time for the headliner of the day – the Kentucky Oaks! The routes to this race have been anything but normal, as is par for the course this year. But nonetheless, we have an absolute showdown between Swiss Skydiver, a filly that was aimed at the Investec Oaks for a time, and Gamine, the lightly raced Baffert that ran away with the Acorn on Belmont Stakes day. And don’t leave out the rest of this group, which includes the Santa Ysabel winner Donna Veloce (runner up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies too), Ashland winner Speech, Indiana Oaks winner Shedaresthedevil, and Monmouth Oaks winner Hopeful Grace. Going horse by horse, (1) Swiss Skydiver shows everything that I’d want in an Oaks winner – the ability to rate, relax, and turn up the gears when needed; she nearly beat the boys in the Blue Grass earlier this Summer and looks tuned up after her Alabama win. As for (2) Tempers Rising, this one should be charging late at the end; with a lot (read: hot hot hot) of pace here, there will be plenty for this closer to run after and should grab a spot in the money. Donna Veloce has been sitting on the sidelines for more than six months, missing much of the action this year and only starting once all year – she has talent, but this long layoff just isn’t the type of pattern for me. Speech is an interesting one; she took the very easy Ashland at Keeneland once Swiss Skydiver defected for the Blue Grass, just one race after beating Speech in the Santa Anita Oaks; she has been second best for much of this year (even when going behind Gamine) and I expect just the same – but should be one to include in exotics. As for Gamine, she has been lights out around one turn this year in the Acorn and the Test, but two turns isn’t necessarily her thing – I don’t know how she will stay on top against a hot pace and down the long Churchill Downs stretch. Bayerness, the aptly named daughter of Bayern, has not shown too much going shorter this year – perhaps she steps up here (but probably not). The Indiana Oaks winner (7) Shedaresthedevil has caught my eye for Brad Cox – she had a mix of results early, with trainer changes of Norm Cassee and Simon Callaghan, but she seems to have found her stride the Cox barn; her Indiana Oaks win was visually impressive and I’m excited to see what she can do with her return to Churchill Downs (a track she loves). Hopeful Growth and Dream Marie on the outside are two coming out of the Monmouth Oaks, but no Monmouth magic is expected for me – both tosses.
Race 13 – Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G2)
One of my favorite races of the weekend every year is the 5.5 furlong dash on the turf – the Twin Spires Turf Sprint. This year horses are coming from pretty much everywhere to tackle this turf sprint, and a major prep for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. For me, this race will depend on if (2) Wellabled can go gate to wire – he has the speed to do just that, and has really improved with the switch to turf, but this will be his toughest test yet. If he can’t, (10) Carotari and (4) Bound For Nowhere will be right on his tail to take over late.
There you have it. While it may be a chalky Friday, it is sure to be a good Friday, and a nice prelude day leading up to Saturday’s action of the Kentucky Derby! Enjoy!