By Lynne Snierson
Brad Cox, the reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer, has sent out the winner of two of the last three Kentucky Oaks (G1) with the mighty Monomoy Girl in 2018 and stakes-record setting Shedaresthedevil in 2020.
Heading into this weekend, another pair of fillies from his powerhouse stable get the chance to climb up the leaderboard, solidify their spots in the starting gate on Friday, April 30, the day before the Derby, and give their conditioner even more shots at the Lillies for the Fillies.
Sun Path and Coach are entered to compete for Cox among the field of seven in the $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, which is the last day to earn qualifying Oaks points.
The Fantasy is one of the final four coast-to-coast contests putting 100-40-20-10 points up for the taking by 3-year-old fillies. The others are the $400,000 Ashland (G1) at Keeneland, the $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G2) at Santa Anita, and the $250,000 Gazelle Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct.
Here’s a look at the current leaderboard for the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks, and some of the standouts racing on Saturday.
Also trained by Cox, she is sitting pretty atop the standings with 132 points, which guarantees her a spot in the 14-horse gate. She was the winner last out of the Fairground Oaks (G2) while being eased in the final strides when renewing her rivalry with the Steve Asmussen-trained Clariere, who lurks in third with 94 points, so their rematch is on tap.
Comfortably in second with 128 points and the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) winner could give Kenny McPeek his first Kentucky Oaks win in 11 tries.
She takes on the Cox duo in the Fantasy and comes into that race ranked fourth with 60 points. The winner of her last three races, including the Honeybee (G3) at Oaklawn, is trained by Dallas Stewart, who conditioned Lemons Forever to the biggest upset (47-1) in Kentucky Oaks history.
When Wholebodemeister scored the major upset ($107.60) in Gulfstream Park’s Davona Dale (G2) the 50 points she earned that day vaulted her into fifth place. Trainer Juan Carlos Avila hasn’t worked her since Feb. 20, and she is not entered to race this weekend.
Sitting in sixth with 50 points, she punched her ticket with an easy score in the UAE Oaks (G3) in Dubai, but then showed little and finished up the track in the UAE Derby (G2) on last Saturday’s Dubai World Cup card. Trainer Doug Watson said the Kentucky-bred daughter of Empire Maker should come to America but whether it will be for a run in the Oaks remains to be seen.
This filly who took the San Ysabel (G3) Stakes for her second straight win at Santa Anita in her last race, is perched in sixth place for Bob Baffert, a three-time winner of the Kentucky Oaks. She runs in Saturday’s Santa Anita Oaks.
Millefeuille (44 points), Competitive Speed (30), Vequist (24), Souper Sensational (24), Moraz (22), Miss Brazil (20) and The Grass is Blue (20) round out the top 14 but the order is certain to change after Saturday’s results. Moraz runs in the Santa Anita Oaks and The Grass is Blue goes in the Gazelle.
The Kentucky Oaks 2021 Preps
$400,000 Ashland (G1), 1 1/16 miles (Race 9)
Shadwell Stable’s Malathaat, the Demoiselle (G2) winner last out who is conditioned by Todd Pletcher and undefeated in all three starts in New York, is the 9-5 early favorite in the field of six even though she has been idle since December and has never competed away from home.
The $1,050,00 yearling purchase gets the services of Joel Rosario for the first time as she cuts back in distance from the 1 1/8 miles Demoiselle and needs a strong performance as she’s in 21st place with 10 points.
Trainer Kenny McPeek, who also trains Crazy Beautiful, second on the leaderboard, hopes that Simply Ravishing can give him a double shot in the Oaks. She comes into the Ashland with every opportunity to move up from the 17th spot with 13 points and is the 5-2 morning line choice.
“It will be good to get her going. She has been ready for a while. It will be nice to be back to Keeneland, where she won the Alcibiades. She has been ready since early to mid-March, but I did not want to ship her from Florida. I have (Alcibiades) runner-up Crazy Beautiful, and I did not want to run them against each other in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (won by Crazy Beautiful.) Simply Ravishing is extremely talented, and she won the Alcibiades, so it just seemed logical to run her back in the Ashland,” said McPeek, who legs up Luis Saez.
$400,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G2), at 1 1/16 miles (Race 6)
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s Beautiful Gift and Michael McCarthy’s Moraz were separated by a head when they tangled in the Santa Ysabel (G3) last time out and now the rematch is on as they take on three other fillies.
Beautiful Gift is in a sweet spot (6th) to make the Kentucky Oaks field with 50 points but Moraz will have to put forth a strong showing to solidify her spot as she is now 12th with 22 points and is in danger of getting bumped out of the top 14.
Baffert gave the return call to Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who said of Beautiful Gift’s last race, “She was full of run and I was trying to keep her from getting dirt in her face but when Rispoli (on Moraz) pushed Joel (Rosario, aboard Kalypso) in, I had to take a hold of her. But she was able to overcome it … By the time I got her to the outside, I got her rolling, and I was hoping she would get there before the wire and she did.”
With two wins from three starts, Beautiful Gift has shown marked improvement for Baffert in her three prior starts and looms the horse to beat.
$600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3), 1 1/16 miles (Race 11)
Steve Asmussen, the Hall of Famer, is known for having a knack with fillies, including champions Rachel Alexandra and Untapable, both past winners of the Kentucky Oaks. Pauline’s Pearl, who was bred and is owned by Barbara Banke’s Stonestreet Stables, has a long way to go before she can be mentioned in the same breath as those two, yet she can make some noise in the Fantasy.
At the same time, Pauline’s Pearl, named for Banke’s mother, can secure her spot in the Oaks field by moving up from 15th on the leaderboard, where she sits now with 20 points. Installed as the 9-5 favorite in the field of seven, she faces a two-punch challenge from the barn of Brad Cox in Sun Path, the 2-1 second choice, and Coach, the co-third pick at 5-1.
Pauline’s Pearl had a tough trip last out in the Honeybee (G3) at Oaklawn and was the runner-up to Will’s Secret, who is by-passing this contest to instead run in the G1 Ashland at Keeneland.
Sun Path (19th with 11 points) and Coach (26th, six points) need to make statements to move on to the next step.
$250,000 Gazelle (G3), 1 1/8 miles (Race 9)
Trainer Chad Brown, a four-time Eclipse Award winner, has won the Gazelle twice but has yet to win a Kentucky Oaks. This year his hopes rest with a pair of stakes winners who are looking to take the next step up against graded company and perhaps move on to Kentucky.
Brown sends out the respective first and third-place finishers from the Busher Invitational on March 6, the undefeated Search Results and The Grass Is Blue, winner of the Busanda on January 24 at the 1 1/8 miles distance of the Gazelle.
Another to watch is Maracuja, who broke her maiden at third asking, rallying from last-of-six to draw away to a 3 3/4-length win going 6 1/2 furlongs on Feb. 21 at Aqueduct for up-and-coming trainer Rob Atras.
“It took her a little time to come around with some baby issues,” Atras said. “She was figuring things out in her first couple of starts, but her last race she really put everything all together. She acts like two turns shouldn’t be an issue but it’s a big ask going from six and a half furlongs to a mile and an eighth and stepping up to a big race like this. She’s continued to train forwardly.”