Monthly Archives: April 2014

Ladies First in the Kentucky Oaks

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Before California Chrome, Hoppertunity and Wicked Strong (etc.) hit the Churchill Downs dirt on May 3 for the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby, a classy group of fillies will take to the track the day before in the $1,000,000 Kentucky Oaks.

The Oaks has showcased some of the most talented fillies in decades. Last year, the still-royal Princess of Sylmar won this race and was adorned with the traditional garland of stargazer lilies (“Lilies for Fillies”). It seems appropriate that the race coincides with a “Pink Out” to raise awareness for the struggle against breast cancer. The determination and fight of the talented three-year old fillies on the track mirrors the fight and determination of breast cancer victims and survivors across the country.

In 1982, the race was switched from 1 1/16 to 1 1/8 miles. The largest margin of victory at this distance was recorded by THE Rachel Alexandra winning by over 20 lengths under Calvin Borel. Corey Nakatani held the fastest recorded time at 1 1/8 mile on this track for Jerry Hollendorfer (1:48.80) aboard Lite Light in 1991. That record stood until 2003 when a fast Bird Town (Prado/Zito) clocked in at 1:48.64.

Hall of Fame jockey and TV correspondent Jerry Bailey was still riding in 2001 and was aboard Flute trained by the great Bobby Frankel in the Oaks. They recorded the third fastest time at 1:48.85. In the history of this race, which began in 1875, the only female jockey to ever win is Rosie Napravnik and it took until 2012 for that stat to find its way into the history books at Churchill Downs.

For the three-year old colts, the pinnacle of any racing career is to win the Triple Crown. For the fillies, the equivalent is the Triple Tiara, and we’ve got a jewel on the top of the list this year.

Unfortunately, the Kentucky Oaks uses the same type of point system as the Derby. If you ignore points and focus on wins in the prep races leading up to the Oaks, you will find a healthier crop of contenders. Untapable has three prep race victories. Awesome Baby also has three, and Fashion Plate has two.

Gary Stevens on Fashion Plate
Gary Stevens on Fashion Plate

The Kentucky Oaks is 1 1/18 on dirt. The only prep races at that distance were the Demoiselle at Aqueduct on November 30 won by Stopchargingmaria (Got Lucky – 2nd), the Gulfstream Oaks on March 29 won by In Tune (House Rules – 2nd), and the Gazelle on April 5 won impressively by My Miss Sophia (Got Lucky – 2nd).

Awesome Baby won the Santa Ynez at 6 ½ furlongs, but came back on March 1 and won the Santa Ysabel at 1 1/16 and won again only three weeks later in the Sunland Park Oaks at the same distance. This filly by Awesome Again should take well to the distance and the dirt at the Oaks.

Fashion Plate won the Las Virgenes going a mile and came back and won the Santa Anita Oaks on April 5 with the increase to 1 1/16 over Ria Antonia, who will just barely make the cut according to the points. Her only win came in the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and that was due to the disqualification of She’s A Tiger. Ria Antonia’s position in the standings comes from the BC win, a fourth place finish in the Rachel Alexandra, and a second place finish to Fashion Plate in the Santa Anita Oaks.

Got Lucky lands in the number 10 spot on the points list, but has never won a prep race. However, she did finish second behind Stopchargingmaria in the Demoiselle, which is a race at the 1 1/8th. Got Lucky finished second to My Miss Sophia at this distance in the Gazelle. She also finished second to the Oaks favorite, Untapable, in the Rachel Alexandra. If you discard the point system, this horse is certainly worthy of moving up a few notches. Will she win the Oaks? No. But, I don’t see why a third or fourth place finish isn’t outlandishly impossible for Got Lucky.

After Sugar Shock’s impressive win in the Fantasy at Oaklawn, she catapulted to the second spot in the point standings. Sugar Shock, Kiss Moon and Euphrosyne seem to go round and round at Oaklawn. Kiss Moon and Euphrosyne finished second and third to Sugar Shock in the Fantasy. When Euphrosyne won the Honeybee at Oaklawn, Sugar Shock was second, Kiss Moon fourth. All three of them are in the top 14. However, I’m not sure Kiss Moon and Euphrosyne can keep up with the Big Three (Untapable, Fashion Plate, Awesome Baby), but I think Sugar Shock has a shot.

In Tune finds herself in the very fortunate position of being fifth on the points chart due to her win in the Gulfstream Oaks. She is one of only three horses to actually win a prep race at the 1 1/8. However, one win on the way to the Oaks does not warrant consideration in my opinion. The horse that finished second to In Tune was House Rules. House Rules also finished second to Onlyforyou in the Davona Dale. A consistent horse would get more attention from me at the betting window than a one-time winner. House Rules falls into the Got Lucky category of always a bridesmaid never a bride in the prep races.

Aurelia’s Belle finally got her victory in the Bourbonette on March 22. Aurelia’s Belle finished second behind Onlyforyou in the Forward Gal, and third in the Davona Dale. As much as I like the connections on Aurelia’s Belle, she may find herself in the same spot as her point total – 11th.

Joel Rosario on Rosalind
Joel Rosario on Rosalind

Rosalind, oh, Rosalind. This horse burned me when she lost to My Conquestadory in the Alcibiades at Keeneland back on October 4, 2013. I remember this exactly because I was in a handicapping contest and this loss knocked me out of contention for the grand prize which was a trip to the Breeders’ Cup. I’m quite positive I shed many tears on October 4, 2013. Regardless, I’ve kept my eye on Rosalind. She finished third to Untapable in her prior prep race, second to My Conquestadory (ouch), and third behind Ria Antonia and She’s a Tiger in the Breeders’ Cup. In fact, everyone was so focused on the DQ that I’m betting few remember that Rosalind was right behind the battling duo. Thanks to Rosalind’s dead heat finish with Room Service in the Ashland on April 5, the points were split 50/50. Room Service is a good filly for Wayne Catalano, and because of the split in points she finds herself with a spot in the starting gate. She’s a horse that deserves it more than some of the other flash-in-the-pan winners.

Javier Castellano on Ready to Act
Javier Castellano on Ready to Act

 Honorable mention goes to Ready to Act, the winner of the Beaumont Stakes at Keeneland on April 13. Even though this spunky filly won the Beaumont, the 10 points earned won’t put her in the starting gate at Churchill Downs for the Oaks. One of the greatest gifts to riding, Javier Castellano, sure had his hands full with this little gray sparkplug! She was fun to watch coming down the stretch hamming it up for the grandstand crowd. If she had a thumb, it would have been up!

With the Kentucky Derby weekend a little more than two weeks away (and my birthday the same day), I’m wishing for a West Coast sweep – Fashion Plate winning the Oaks and California Chrome winning the Derby; or maybe a Tapit sweep – Untapable in the Oaks and Tapiture in the Derby. We all make wishes and blow out candles, cross our finger (and toes) because in this game, a little extra luck can go a long way.

This year at the Kentucky Oaks (and the Derby) it’s all about counting your “Pletchers,” and Todd Pletcher has three very good fillies in the Top 10.

Rank Horse Trainer Points
1 Untapable Steve Asmussen 160
2 Sugar Shock Doug Anderson 120
3 Fashion Plate Simon Callaghan 110
4 Awesome Baby Bob Baffert 110
5 In Tune Todd Pletcher 100
6 My Miss Sophia Todd Pletcher 100
7 Rosalind Ken McPeek 78
8 Euphrosyne Steve Asmussen 74
9 Room Service Wayne Catalano 70
10 Got Lucky Todd Pletcher 64
11 Aurelia’s Belle Wayne Catalano 64
12 House Rules Allen Jerkens 60
13 Ria Antonia Bob Baffert 55
14 Kiss Moon Dave Vance 45
15 Fiftyshadesofgold Bret Calhoun 40



The First Saturday in May


May 3, 2014 is going to be a memorable day.  Not only is it the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby, but it’s also my birthday.  I have absolutely no qualms about sharing my birthday with 20 of the best three-year old equine athletes in the country.  I do have a birthday wish for this remarkably coincidental day, and it’s not for cashing big tickets.  I have been stomping my feet for months about California Chrome, and the other extremely talented Cal-bred three-year olds.  My birthday wish it to see Victor Espinoza and Cali Chrome in the Winner’s Circle at Churchill Downs on my birthday wearing a blanket of roses.  But I’d be happy to see Hoppertunity, Candy Boy or Kristo in the Winner’s Circle too.  Regardless, it will be a birthday that I will definitely enjoy!

It seems that every Derby prep races brings a new contender to the ever-changing list of Derby hopefuls.  Not only are the horses being shuffled up and down (and off and on) the list, but the jockeys are playing musical chairs too.

The top jockeys in the country will be present on Derby day, but on which mounts?  Gary Stevens will be there, so will Mike Smith, John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, Victor Espinoza and Javier Castellano.  Questionable, at this point, is Luis Saez after Cairo Prince’s unfortunate fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby.  Tapiture’s jockey, Ricardo Santana, Jr., got the boot because let’s be honest Rosario needed a mount.  I’m hoping young Jose Ortiz, the rider of Samraat, keeps his mount and gets to live his dream of riding in the Kentucky Derby but owners/trainers will probably be shopping around for more experienced riders who may not make the cut — like Luis Saez.

Stevens has two possibilities riding both Candy Boy and Bayern, assuming Bayern makes the cut.  Candy Boy will go in the Santa Anita Derby, and it should be a good battle with California Chrome and Hoppertunity.  Smith also has a couple choices, riding both Intense Holiday and Hoppertunity.  His choice could come down to loyalty to trainers.  Intense Holiday is trained by Bob Baffert, and Hoppertunity by Todd Pletcher.  Rosario as well has a couple choices after picking up both General A Rod for Mike Maker and Tapiture for Steve Asmussen.  Castellano has ridden Bobby’s Kitten but I would presume he would give that mount up for Constitution after their stellar win in the Florida Derby.  Velazquez, on the other hand, would probably favor Wildcat Red over We Miss Artie.

With most of the top jocks on dual mounts, it leaves it open for someone to get a Derby ride just by luck.  There is an abundance of top-notch riders who could be booking flights to Churchill Downs –  Rafael Bejarano, Joe Talamo, Paco Lopez, Jose Lezcano, Corey Nakatani, to name a few.  Talamo and Bejarano are notorious turf riders, which might have connections looking for other options.

My list of horses making the Run for the Roses begins in California:

  1. California Chrome – C’mon really?  Yes, Cali Chrome is on the top of my list.
  2. Tapiture – No doubt at all that Tapiture has the talent, but with the jock change (Santana to Rosario) the connections have no doubt either of Tapiture’s chances on May 3.  I am a huge fan of Rosario (as you all know) but riding on winning horses seems old hat for him.  I liked Santana on this horse.
  3. Candy Boy – Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby should be a real test for all the Cal-bred hopefuls.
  4. Samraat – Samraat again battles his old foe Uncle Sigh in the Wood Memorial on Saturday. He’ll have his hands full with Social Inclusion, Kristo and Harpoon.  If the latter two show up and run well, we might be shuffling the list again.
  5. Hoppertunity – A Baffert horse loaded for speed.  Yep, he’s a good one.  Mike Smith may stick with this mount for the Derby.
  6. Wildcat Red – I’m extremely impressed with the guts and fight of Wildcat Red.  He’s been in several “dog fights” with his arch nemesis General A Rod and in the Florida Derby did the same with Constitution.  The heart and fight in Wildcat Red makes me a believer, and I’ll take Johnny V in a dog fight any day of the week.  (I bet he never gives up the rail again though!)
  7. Constitution – Castellano and Pletcher are the dynamic duo in Florida.  But, Constitution is a colt still in the learning curve as far as I’m concerned.  Raw talent, yes, but learns something every time out.  Eh, not sure I’m comfortable with a learning curve still in effect 30 days before the Derby, but he seems to adjust on the fly and there’s no one smarter than Castellano when it comes to quick decisions in a race.
  8. Cairo Prince – Oh, sure, he had a bad run in the Florida Derby.  Just wasn’t his day.  I actually thought it would be Cairo Prince and Constitution in the front and General A Rod and Wildcat Red fighting it out for the superfecta money.  But I guess it doesn’t matter who Wildcat Red is up against, if he gets eye-to-eye with any horse down the stretch, he’s gonna fight for the win.
  9. Intense Holiday – The horse didn’t respond well down the stretch.  Never seen Mike Smith struggle with a horse, slightly bouncing off the rail and drifting a little.  Regardless, he wasn’t going to catch Vicar’s in Trouble.  But with all that going on, he still finished second.
  10. Social Inclusion – So much hype about this horse.  He meets up with some stakes company this weekend in the Wood.
  11.  General A Rod – I think Rosario had trouble with this horse too.  Rosario can’t seem to find the right fit for the Derby this year, unfortunately for General A Rod, he may have yet another jock come Derby day.
  12. Ring Weekend – Last Derby prep race for Ring Weekend is the Calder Derby.  It seems odd, but it might be the smartest move by the connections:  let the rest of the contenders burn up in the Wood and Santa Anita.
  13. Vicar’s In Trouble – The only (and obvious) issue with Vicar’s In Trouble is he has to be on the lead right out of the gate and stay there.  In a 20-horse field, good luck with that.
  14. Vinceramos – I just used this horse on my list because Dan (@DanonymousMan) did.  He might be onto something.
  15. Chitu – Stop hating on Chitu.  This horse has done nothing wrong.  With that said, he could probably be bumped off the list if Kristo and Harpoon run well this weekend.
  16. We Miss Artie – Okay, so synthetic horse.  He’ll be in the gate, but not expecting him to be in contention.
  17. Uncle Sigh – He’s got to show me more.  A lot more.  At the extra distance in the Wood, I doubt he’ll catch Samraat at the wire.  He’ll have to get by Social Inclusion, Kristo, Harpoon, Noble Moon, etc.
  18. Bobby’s Kitten – Hopefully, this horse has been training on nothing but dirt for the past two months.  He will run next in the Bluegrass which is only three weeks before the Derby.  He could end up in the same predicament as Cairo Prince if the Bluegrass does not go well.
  19. Bayern – Because Dan says so.
  20. Toast of New York – IF, and it’s a big IF, Toast of New York makes the trip, he’s so questionable.  With four weeks until the Derby, that’s not enough time, in my opinion, for the horse to recover after making the trip, and learn to run on dirt.  He’s impressive and the fractions were crazy, but they were also on synthetic.  Just don’t know if he’ll take to the Kentucky dirt.

Well, the boys are covered.  So in my next post, I’ll be unleashing Girl Power and take a look at the potential field for the Kentucky Oaks.

As always, good luck and may the Racing Gods hear your prayers and deliver you a winning Pick 6 ticket!