Before you get my “Pick Which Must Be Avoided” tomorrow for the Kentucky Derby, let’s take a rundown of the Kentucky Oaks.
This race, like its male counterpart on Saturday, looks like it’s chock full of possibilities with a very deep field with 9 graded stakes winners! You could make a case for several fillies in this field, much as you can for the colts on Saturday. I love that the fields seem very talented and deep – I feel like it’s been a long time since we’ve seen this kind of talent.
1- On Fire Baby (Hartlage/Johnson) 4-1: She’s only had one real stinker and that was the follow up to her maiden win over the synthetic surface. She likes to stalk and there is plenty of speed in here to oblige her.
2- Grace Hall (Dutrow/Castellano) 5-2: Morning line favorite and certainly rightfully so. Never finished out of the exacta but did lose by a neck to Yara. That was in her 3 year old debut and can be forgiven after her dominating follow up performance in the Gulfstream Park Oaks.
3- Summer Applause (Calhoun/Gomez) 15-1: Only losses since her debut were both to Believe You Can including her last, the Fair Ground Oaks. She was closing steadily in that race and has gotten speedier as she’s gone longer. Race and extra half furlong could set this up for her.
4- Eden’s Move (Baffert/Garcia) 12-1: Drifted a bit in the Santa Anita Oaks like she could have been a bit tired but pedigree says she should get the distance. Both wins were on the engine and that feat is going to be tough to do with the speedsters in here.
5- Hard Not to Like (Cox/Albarado) 20-1: Seems to have really improved since her two year old season, coming within ¾ of a length of beating Karlovy Vary in the Grade 1 Ashland. So was it a function of improvement or surface since she’s been all turf and synthetic. She could be ready to fire if she enjoys the dirt.
6- Broadway’s Alibi (Pletcher/Velazquez) 4-1: Co-second choice has reeled off four in a way leading at nearly every call of every race while doing it. Sports the best Beyer in the field and great connections. She’s not the only early speed in here and that could be her undoing…unless she’s much the best.
7- Sacristy (Catalano/Smith) 50-1: Beaten by nearly 17 in the Forward Gal by Broadway’s Alibi and first time around two turns. She’ll be coming from off the pace in here, but I just don’t think that she’s as talented as the rest of this group.
8- Jemima’s Pearl (Baffert/Talamo) 10-1: Euro nailed a win first time out in North America in an $80K optional claiming race at Santa Anita and then a steady third in the Fantasy. Showing an affinity for the dirt and looking at the third race back since her layoff. Another step up puts her right in the hunt.
9- Believe You Can (Jones/Napravnik) 10-1: Hard fought win the Fair Ground Oaks while setting the fractions, turning the tables on Summer Applause in the process avenging her defeat in the Rachel Alexandra. Yet another who likes it close to the lead.
10- And Why Not (Matz/Leparoux) 15-1: Filly that has generated a lot buzz in the last week since it looks as if the race will set up perfectly for this deep closer. That may be so, but filly hasn’t won since breaking her maiden while losing to some of the more fancied runners in here. The race may come back to her…but not enough to hit the wire first.
11- Kalovy Vary (Arnold/Graham) 20-1: Winner of two in a row to start the season, neither of those efforts were over dirt. Her only dirt start, the Golden Rod over this strip, was a mess and easily her weakest effort.
12- Colonial Empress (Lukas/Nakatani) 50-1: This filly intrigues me but unfortunately for the wrong reason – she’s going to try and break her maiden in the Oaks! In her three previous tries, all stakes, she hasn’t finished higher than 3rd and lost by a combined 34 lengths. I would LOVE to know what the reasoning was in entering her here.
13- Amie’s Dini (Moquett/Court) 10-1: Never out of the top 3, she holds a special place in my heart for breaking her maiden with our own trainer/jockey combination (Rhone/Butler). Won at a mile but came up short going longer and now will have to go yet another 1/8 of a mile. Unlikely and may even end her streak of trifecta finishes.
14- Yara (Garoffalo/Castanon) 30-1: Beaten by 10 by the ML favorite in the Gulfstream Park Oaks after nipping her in the shorter Davona Dale at 64-1. It’s hard to not see that race as the exception not the rule.
15- ALSO ELIGIBLE – Oaks Lilly (Hills/Bejarano) 50-1: Took 7 tries to break her maiden and even then barely did so. Beaten by 15 over the strip in the slop in her 2 year old finale. Probably best if she doesn’t get in and tries a NW2 other than…
The race is very intriguing since there is a lot of early speed and several fillies that would like to track that speed. Only 3 of the fillies have gone a mile and an 1/8 with only Grace Hall prevailing, smoking And Why Not in the process. The biggest question is whether or not Broadway’s Alibi is going to have her own way up front; no other speed in the race has not burned fractions like hers – especially over the slop at Gulfstream in her seasonal bow. That race was only 7 furlongs, however, and she backed off considerably from that pace next out in the mile long Comely. Eden’s Moon will be the key to the early portion of the race. If she can set a West Coast style pace early, Broaway’s Alibi will be able to keep up but then the question is for how long? The answer, I’m afraid, will not be along enough.
The race will probably stay chalky and I say that because the deep closers in the field just don’t seem to be talented enough to overtake even a fast pace with stalkers of this caliber who are highly regarded. I just don’t see the likes of Hard Not to Like and And Why Not to passing On Fire Baby and Grace Hall unless all go suicidal. Then the race comes down to the stalkers on the inside.
Both Grace Hall and On Fire Baby can certainly take a step forward and while On Fire Baby has had a bit more spacing between races, it’s obvious from her last that she can fire off the bench. However, if you’re looking for some value, and aren’t we all, the race looks to set up perfectly for Summer Applause. She’ll be a bit behind On Fire Baby and Grace Hall and the pace battle up front could drag even the pressing stalkers along faster than they would like. When the dust settles, I look for Summer Applause to be under the wire first. She may not end up being the best of these, but she only needs to be the best for one day.
1. Summer Applause
2. On Fire Baby
3. Grace Hall
Best of luck and coming tomorrow, my Derby Selection or, “The Pick Which Must Be Avoided”. Come back and see who gets my kiss of death! Or maybe the long streak will finally be over…