A highly competitive field of 14 sophomore fillies is expected to head postward in Friday’s $1 million Kentucky Oaks (G1), including eight graded stakes winners and six others who finished right behind them in various prep races held so far this year. This year’s group of girls comes from all points across the country, and one will make her American debut after a nice career so far in the middle of the Arabian desert.
The Friday weather in Louisville is expected to be wet, with morning rains giving way to mostly cloudy skies and the likelihood of some afternoon thunderstorms. The high is expected to reach the lower 80s with high humidity, so expect a wet track and a Churchill Downs facility full of happy fans regardless.
Over the course of history, the Oaks has been run at several distances — from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/2 miles — but has been contested at the current nine furlongs since 1982. Since it was first run in 1875, some amazing ladies have worn the blanket of Oaks lilies after a victory, a virtual “Who’s Who” list of female legends of the turf, including Modesty, Princess Doreen, Black Maria, Easter Stockings, Alcibiades, Wistful, Real Delight, Cicada, Blue Norther, Dark Mirage, Susan’s Girl, Bold ’n Determined, Princess Rooney, Fran’s Valentine Open Mind, Lite Light, Silverbulleday, Bird Town, Ashado, Rags to Riches, Blind Luck and, perhaps most notably, 2009’s Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra.
Following are some pros and cons for all of the ladies expected to line up for this year’s Oaks:
Pros: The Brad Cox-trained daughter of Midshipman heads into this race off a very strong win after a pace-stalking trip in the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn. Though no recent Fantasy winner has worn the lilies under the Twin Spires on Oaks Day, classic winner Rachel Alexandra captured both in 2009, as did champion Blind Luck the year before. Hall of Famer Gary Stevens rides, looking for his first Oaks win in nearly two decades (Silverbulletday, 1999). She’s consistent and owns a second-place finish at Churchill already.
Cons: Her figures overall, especially her speed figures, are below the top contenders here. She drew the rail, which isn’t ideal going nine furlongs at Churchill Downs and she’s stepping up in competition here. She’s also not much of a work horse, so it’s hard to really tell how she’s doing overall in that department.
Pros: She’s riding a two-race win streak into today, including the Gulfstream Park Oaks. The Valente, Pitino and West Point Thoroughbreds-owned filly has a second already at Churchill and has been training in Louisville for more than a month. She has some good speed figures overall and has some tactical speed, which she can use to sit up on the pace or well behind it depending on how the race sets up. She’s improving at the right time.
Cons: It took her a while to break her maiden and though she did it by eight lengths, the competition here isn’t getting any easier. She seems to be good, but maybe just a cut below the best here.
Pros: This daughter of Into Mischief has earned some decent speed figures without having won in her last two races and her fourth-place finish in her most recent start came after a somewhat troubled trip. She’s got some nice works at Churchill Downs and has a pedigree suited to the mud if the rain comes.
Cons: The Bret Calhoun trainee was productive in allowance/optional claiming company, but hasn’t been able to translate that into too much luck in stakes company. She’s a need-the-lead type in a race full of speed, which won’t help, but she’s taking off the blinkers which is an unpredictable equipment change for such a big race.
Pros: This former claimer rose to graded stakes winner in two starts since being haltered for $30,000 back in early February. Her Fair Grounds Oaks win was visually impressive and she beat some good horses, despite a very wide trip. She has one win from two starts over a wet surface, which will help with the forecasted rain, and she likes to win (three-for-four this year). The Broken Vow filly been working great at Churchill Downs for a few weeks.
Cons: She is a former claimer who has yet to earn a speed figure high enough to be competitive with the top choices.
Pros: This Ontario-bred daughter of Medaglia d’Oro is nothing if not consistent, only having finished worse than third once in her nine-race career. She has some high-profile connections in owner Gary Barber, trainer Mark Casse and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez. She’s a later runner who will get a pace to run at and she drew right in the middle of the pack, so she should be able to get good position early.
Cons: She hasn’t earned a speed, pace or class figure to make one believe she can run with the best here. And she just doesn’t like to win much.
Pros: This daughter of Midnight Lute, who may be more suited to shorter sprint distances overall, will be making her second start off a layoff and has room to improve. She’s also finished second over the Churchill main track and her trainer is coming of an epic season at Oaklawn Park.
Cons: She’s really not bred for nine furlongs and she hasn’t won in a while, and her overall figures — especially her speed ratings — are well below the majority of this field. She will have some trouble running down her chief rivals in the stretch from her position way back early.
Pros: In her last race, this UAE Oaks-winning daughter of Tiz Wonderful finished a strong second in the UAE Derby to Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Mendelssohn, who is one of the more well-regarded runners in the Kentucky Derby. She was transferred to trainer Bob Baffert’s care after her last race March 25, something that can only help considering the conditioner has saddled three previous winners. She adds Lasix and should enjoy the stretchout. She’s also been working well at Santa Anita and should be fit to go the distance.
Cons: She’s never raced outside of Dubai so it’s hard to gauge what kind of competition she’s been facing.
Pros: She’s lightly raced and fresh heading into this race and has been steadily working since her last start two months ago. She has top local jockey Calvin Borel in the irons for her biggest race so far.
Cons: This daughter of Majestic Warrior is probably more known for her owner wanting to run her in the Breeders’ Cup as a maiden than she is for her race record, which has been fair but nothing spectacular. Overall her speed figures are below what will be needed to have a say.
Take Charge Paula
Pros: This filly is a multiple stakes winner already, having won three non-graded events and the Grade 2 Forward Gal Stakes before picking up a pair of seconds in South Florida’s main Oaks prep races. Her top speed figures are good enough for a larger share today and the addition of blinkers on this well-traveled filly should keep her to task in her preferred spot on the lead.
Cons: As the competiton got stronger, she stopped winning. Yes, she placed, but she was beaten as the favorite in her last and failed to hit the board in her one start at Churchill Downs.
Pros: For a while, many thought her to be the second-best filly in training in California behind the now sidelined Dream Tree. Not anymore. This Bill Spawr-trained daughter of Midnight Lute is a powerhouse who has risen to every challenge and dominated in each of her last three races. She works and trains well, has huge figures and the best jockey in Mike Smith aboard. While her pedigree may suggest shorter distances could be her specialty, she hasn’t missed a beat as the distances stretched out. She’s never earned a Brisnet speed figure below 91.
Cons: She hasn’t ever raced outside California and is facing a full field for the first time all year.
My Miss Lilly
Pros: This $670,000 daughter of Tapit is coming off a nice win at this distance in the Gazelle Stakes (GII) at Aqueduct a month ago. She has the highest last-race speed figure and a win over an off track. She will get pace to run at as a later-running type and she seems to be improving with each start.
Cons: She’s taking a big step up in class.
Pros: She was a decent third behind this race’s favorite in the Ashland Stakes last time out and made a bit of a run. High-percentage stakes rider Ricardo Santana Jr. takes over the riding duties. She has won two of three career starts over Churchill Downs’ main track.
Cons: She hasn’t ever posted any number in any of her six races to suggest she will have a chance to collect the victory on Friday.
Pros: She was second in her last two, both graded stakes, including being runner-up to the favorite in the Ashland Stakes last out. She owns an 11-length win in optional claiming company at 1 1/16 miles in the slop two back, which can only help her here. The figures she earned in her last three are good enough to earn a larger share of the pot.
Cons: She seems more effective against softer company and she didn’t hit the board in her one start over this Churchill main track.
Pros: If it wasn’t for a neck and a somewhat troubled trip, this talented daughter of Tapizar would be undefeated. She has earned big speed figures and a win over this track and has been training exceptionally well since even before her win in the Ashland Stakes last time out. While she seems to prefer the front, she has run from off the pace so she may hold a tactical advantage in the pace department.
Cons: Her far outside post position may make things trickier for her to get position, and she’s never won on an off track.