This is the toughest Oaks I’ve ever handicapped. I cannot WAIT to see this race unfold. There are about a half dozen in here that I can see winning and it wouldn’t surprise me. I could also see Dreaming of Julia repeating her Gulfstream Parks Oaks effort stamping her the next super-filly and I wouldn’t bat an eye either. I’m going to shoot for a little value and a little guesstimate about how the trip will shape up and see if we can pick a winner.
Silsita (Pletcher/Stevens): Bourbonette Oaks winner is 2 for three with a show on the grass and synthetic but her one dirt effort was less than impressive when she tired badly. She likes to be near the lead early, like several others in here, and may do her best running early.
Midnight Lucky (Baffert/Bejarano): Speedster dispatched her foes with little issue in both her debut and the Sunland Park Oaks. Maybe not as accomplished as the top two, but very impressive in her starts and will also like to be close early.
Beholder (Mandella/Gomez): Only missed the exacta once and that was in her debut. Less than a length total from being undefeated since that debut, she has been sparkling and has yet to throw a bad race. Already a winner of 3 Grade 1 races, she’ll try to make it four here.
Unlimited Budget (Pletcher/Castellano): Undefeated in four starts including 3 graded stakes wins, Pletcher has another one cranked up and ready to run here. She’ll rate better than those inside of her which should give her a nice tracking spot along the rail.
Seaneen Girl (Flint/Napravnik): Did win the Grade 2 Golden Rod at 2 but finished behind both Unlimited Budget and Flashy Grey in the Fairgrounds Oaks in her 3YO debut. She’ll need to step up quite a bit to take on this very talented group of fillies.
Princess of Sylmar (Pletcher/Smith): Yup, Pletcher has another one and while 20-1 in the Morning Line, the Princess was a solid second in the Grade 2 Gazelle and has an attractive come from behind running style versus all the speed in this race. May not be as talented as the others but then may not need to be the way the race could shape up.
Pure Fun (McPeek/Leparoux): Winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet at 2, her 3YO races were only fair. However her one race against winners at Churchill over real dirt was a stirring 9 ¼ length triumph, even if it wasn’t against stakes company.
Dreaming of Julia (Pletcher/Velasquez): Pletcher’s “big horse” in the race, Dreaming of Julia has done all that could have been asked of her. She finished up her 2YO campaign with a finish behind Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and then opened her season with a loss in the Davona Dale but simply shattered the field in the Gulfstream Park Oaks turning the table on Live Lively. Has she come into her own or will she bounce off of that effort?
Rose to Gold (Santoro/Borel): Only really poor effort was over a synthetic track at Keeneland. Comes in off of a couple of Graded Stakes wins in Arkansas and is another front running type.
Flashy Gray (Mott/Alvarado): Very consistent filly has found herself behind both Rose to Gold and then Unlimited Budget in her last two. Talented for sure, and a hard trier, but may not be enough against this group.
Close Hatches (Mott/Rosario): Winner of three straight including the Grade 2 Gazelle. While her last two look wire to wire, she rated very nicely in her debut and didn’t grab the lead in the Gazelle until just before the quarter pole to make it look like she wired the field. She may have more tactical flexibility than anyone else in the field and is improving with each race and distance.
How this race unfolds will probably be the key to success. Not every horse in this field that wants the front or to be near it will be able to get there. Who is going to be in the best position to take advantage of the pace up front should be in the best position to win the race in the most competitive Oaks I can remember.
It’s VERY hard for me to ignore Dreaming of Julia’s last. I just don’t know if that 3rd off a layoff effort was a peak performance and a confluence of everything going right or the sign of a filly that has emerged to stamp herself head and shoulders above her generation. Only Beholder has a 3 digit Beyer in her past and that was back when she was 2 AND she hasn’t come close to it since. That said, Julia’s 114 is 21 points better than her best ever. It’s a huge jump and probably unsustainable. That doesn’t mean she can’t win, only that she probably won’t be value on the tote board.
The two or three confirmed closers in the race – Pure Fun, Seaneen Girl and perhaps Princess of Sylmar – probably don’t have the talent to win the race, though they could help light up the tote board in the exotics.
My choice in the race is Unlimited Budget. I think it will very hard to beat Dreaming of Julia but if there is a way to do it, it’s in a race like this with a horse that can rate and get the dream trip. She should have no excuses and no wide trip under Castellano. She probably won’t shake clear at the top of the lane, but if the fractions up front are quick enough, she should be right there in the end.
1. Unlimited Budget 2. Dreaming of Julia 3. Beholder 4. Close Hatches