Kentucky Oaks and Derby Previews
By Chris Ahl
Here’s a look at the field for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks:
#1 Out for a Spin (ML 15-1) - The Ashland has produced some upset winners in recent years and this horse was no different, shocking at 52-1. The horse had never prior run a race remotely close to fast enough to win the Kentucky Oaks, winning only slow off-the-turf races at Fair Grounds. Even the Ashland came up slow on most figures and he barely held off the wider Restless Rider. Her trainer is known for shockers but she looks like an outsider here.
#2 Chocolate Kisses (20-1) - Chocolate Kisses has had an erratic career since being a buzzy two year old earmarked for turf last summer. Trainer Mark Casse is more aggressive and successful than most at moving young horses between surfaces so I don’t downgrade her for starting her career on turf. Moving her to dirt for the Honeybee was a positive sign and she rewarded it, looping a collapsing pace for the win. Her follow up to that was a no show effort in the Ashland. That leaves her with really just the one career race that makes her dangerous here and she was a major beneficiary of pace in that spot. She’s drawn ideally and scares me because she clearly has talent but I prefer others.
#3 Lady Apple (20-1) - Lady Apple was an early April private purchase as a two year old that was a big time disappointment negotiating the early 2 year old stakes as a maiden. Whether something went wrong physically or she just needed to grow, her long layoff through the fall and winter worked wonders and she has won three straight since while improving. She earned her way from a maiden win to the Fantasy in two races and proceeded to get one of the rides of the year from Ricardo Santana Jr to squeeze through the rail and edge Motion Emotion and punch her ticket here. She has some things in her corner, most notably her tactical speed and a great inside draw to find position. On the other hand, she will need to take her fourth straight step forward here and will certainly not get a repeat of the dream trip she just got. She is a contender but I prefer others on the win end.
#4 Bellafina (2-1) - Bellafina has managed to be the morning line favorite here despite spending much of her career avoiding races involving any of the other horses in this group. The only time she met a field like this happened to be on this same track in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies where she disappointed to 4th as the favorite. For that reason, she has earned the “vulnerable favorite” moniker this week as the entire world looks elsewhere. Still, she has some things going for her, none bigger than her speed figures. By all of the figures and sheets, she has run the fastest races of anyone in here. This includes her short field wins in California against weak fields. Ignoring the fastest horse, especially in dirt routes, can be dangerous. Including Bellafina’s 3 for 3 record this year, her trainer Simon Callaghan has been at 40 percent with all of his starters this year. That doesn’t always translate when shipping from California to Kentucky but it certainly doesn’t hurt. She’s not my top pick (I don’t think she’s anyone’s top pick) but I do respect her, picked her third, and would not be surprised if she’s just good enough to beat this field.
#5 Flor de La Mar (20-1) - She is next in a long line of promising Bob Baffert horses but comes into this race extremely light on experience with only one win in three starts. She was thoroughly trounced by Bellafina last out, finishing second by default. As good as Baffert is, there is very little reason to believe that she can close that gap in less than a month. She has a future beyond the first Friday in May but this looks like too tall of a task.
#6 Positive Spirit (30-1) - The two turn races at Aqueduct are difficult every year to gauge from a speed figure perspective. This horse has run two good races in her life, both under those conditions. The fields were highly questionable at best and her one sojourn out of town was a disastrous last place finish at Fair Grounds. She has tactical speed and could work out a good trip here but others are more battle tested.
#7 Jaywalk (8-1) - Jaywalk was the favorite for this race last November when she left this same track as a champion, defeating Bellafina, Restless Rider and the rest of the best filles in the country. Since then, however, things have gone awry as she has put forth two poor efforts as she ramps back up into her three year old year. There has been nothing visually about her year that would make her an intriguing option here. Her trainer won this race three years ago in an upset and you could argue she comes into this race with an enticing pattern being third off the layoff. Assuming a price between 6 and 8 to 1, I have to bet against her.
#8 Motion Emotion (15-1) - Motion Emotion burst onto the scene in Arkansas this winter, winning two races wire to wire with speed figures high enough to make her the favorite in the two highly competitive Oaks preps at Oaklawn. She came in second in both of those races but overcame adversity in both to do so. In the Honeybee, she was pressed by two longshots that would go on to finish at the back of the pack. She could not hold off deep closer Chocolate Kisses but held gamely for second. In the Fantasy, she was hounded the whole way by Brill, who figures to be a sprinter going forward. She again put that rival away and ended up eye to eye with the closing Lady Apple and just could not hold on despite finishing strongly through the wire. There is other pace in here unfortunately with Serengeti Empress, Jaywalk and Liora. It isn’t going to be an easy trip for her but I believe she can put those three away and cross the wire first this time. She is my top pick.
#9 Liora (20-1) - She’s an overachiever to get here and gives an honest effort every single time. That said, she comes in from the Louisiana circuit where the prep races seemed below par and she didn’t necessarily look like a horse looking for an additional furlong.
#10 Champagne Anyone (6-1) - Nothing this filly did in her first six starts suggested she was destined to be a Grade 1 horse when she entered the Gulfstream Park Oaks as a 7-1 longshot in a field of six. On that day, she put it all together, worked out an ideal trip and came home a winner. What makes this one win so valuable is that this six horse field looks like it may have been the strongest of all the Oaks preps. Dunbar Road, who Champagne Anyone held off, may be the favorite here if she happens to draw in off the also eligible list. Point of Honor is also on the AE list and she too is considered one of the top fillies in the country. Even the pace setter of the race, Cookie Dough, may turn out to be one of the top sprinters in the country. Champagne Anyone looked visually impressive in defeating them all, gets a good speed figure and has connections that have had success on Derby weekend. She is my second choice.
#11 Jeltrin (15-1) - Came out of nowhere to win the one turn Davona Dale two months ago at 51-1. That was enough to get her in here but she has no experience around two turns as she enters deeper waters. I don’t think she’s impossible but she has a lot of questions to answer.
#12 Street Band (15-1) - She won a slow running of the Fair Grounds Oaks with a perfect trip while not looking like she wanted more distance. She looks like an outsider.
#13 Serengeti Empress (8-1) - If she skipped the Fair Grounds Oaks, she would loom a wire to wire threat here because she has proven she has route speed and can win races if allowed to get free, including a stakes race here last September. What confounds her chances greatly is that she enters off a race in which she bled and was eased. She has every right to get back on track but, as previously noted, there are other speed horses here to make it difficult on her even on her best day. She figures to be in first place for 2,4 and 6 furlongs. Lasting to the wire is too much of a question to bet confidently.
#14 Restless Rider (6-1) - Restless Rider comes in to this race with only one prep race, the only horse to do so. She is as consistent as they come, following up her viral debut win with seven straight exacta finishes. She runs her race every time. She did so off the layoff in the Ashland but hung just a bit to finish a neck behind the upset winner. She might have been the horse most likely to hit the board in this field until she drew the outside post and now must work out a trip. She enters fresh though and remains a contender.
Exacta Box - 4,8,10
Trifectas - 8,10 with 2,3,4,5,7,8,10,11,14 with 2,3,4,5,7,8,10,11,14