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.
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.
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.
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.
|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|
|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|