Churchill Downs has drawn both the Friday Kentucky Oaks and Saturday Kentucky Derby cards, and it’s a horseplayer’s delight. Over the next few days, we’ll have horse by horse analysis of the Oaks and Derby plus a few stakes spot plays and multi-race tickets as well.
We’ll start here with the Oaks and the full field of 14 three-year old fillies.
This race, at least on paper, seems a little more clear than the 20-horse Derby scramble and certainly has a clear and deserving favorite in Paradise Woods. Let’s take a look at the field.
1 – Ever So Clever (20-1) – She closed from well back to run down a loose leader and win the Fantasy at Oaklawn, but will have to take another big forward move. She should, however, get a fast pace to attack here, so maybe that makes her worth using underneath in trifectas and superfectas, but we can’t endorse more than that.
2 – Lockdown (20-1) – Bill Mott sends out this full sister to Close Hatches after a distant runner-up finish behind Miss Sky Warrior in the Gazelle. In that race, she chased the eventual winner early before fading and that was off a near-three month layoff (she reportedly shipped down to Florida but didn’t train especially well down there before being sent back to New York). It’s possible she needed that race and should get a better trip stalking inside behind the pace today. I don’t think she can win but we’ll include underneath.
3 – Mopotism (20-1) – Rather than engage Paradise Woods early, she sat just off the pace but was no match. Her best races, however, are on the engine and that does not fit well with today’s projected pace scenario.
4 – Paradise Woods (5-2) – Here’s the big favorite, in off an 11 length win in the Santa Anita Oaks in which she earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure. This is only her fourth start, but she’s pretty clearly the one to beat off that last race. That said, she should see some more pace in here and has to go an extra half-furlong. She’s the one to beat, and won’t knock us out of a multi, but we’ll go elsewhere for our top selection.
5 – Jordan’s Henny (30-1) – Her third place finish in the Gulfstream Park Oaks was a little better than it looks. She sat off the fast pace early, but made the first move and was second after the fast 46.72 second half mile before fading to third behind two off the pace movers. Still, none of her other races are good enough and she’s lost ground in the last furlong of all four of her 8.5 furlong races. As a daughter of Henny Hughes, she’s questionable to get the 9 furlongs.
6 – Vexatious (20-1) – She’s run third in two Grade 2 races for Neil Drysdale in her last two starts, but two back pressed a moderate pace. Last time in the Fantasy, she ran ok and maybe would have been better if she was outside of the eventual winner Ever So Clever. The distance won’t be an issue and she should get pace, but she has to make a big step forward.
7 – Farrell (5-1) – This Wayne Catalano charge has won four straight stakes races going two-turns, one here at Churchill and the last three at Fair Grounds. There are three concerns. 1) The fields she has been facing are much weaker than this one. 2) The pace she faces today is going to be much faster. 3) Most importantly, the price will not be especially enticing either.
8 – Sailor’s Valentine (30-1) – The Grade 1 Ashland winner pressed a moderate pace in there and got up to spring a 22-1 upset earning a slow 77 Beyer Speed Figure. She’d be an enormous upset.
9 – Wicked Lick (30-1) – She’s been chasing Farrell in her last three starts and while she might benefit from a fast pace, so will others. She appears overmatched.
10 – Miss Sky Warrior (9-2) – First, she is better than we gave her credit for. But is she good enough to win this race? If she runs back to the 94 Beyer from the Gazelle, sure. But that track seemed to carry speed (they were 1-2-3 all the way around the track in the Gazelle, Green Gratto wired the Carter at 50-1, for example). Plus, there is a lot of other speed in here to make her life tough on the front end.
11 – Tequilita (20-1) – She won the 7-furlong Forward Gal with a perfect trip for Michael Matz on February 4th and after skipping the Davona Dale, came back with a decent second in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. In that race, she sat off a fast pace, was asked early, and didn’t really have much finishing punch. We’re just not sure how good she is.
12 – Daddys Lil Darling (20-1) – Kenny McPeek’s filly ran some sneaky good races last year here and at Keeneland, and her Ashland was decent to the eye in a race controlled up front. However, the Ashland was very slow and she’ll have to run 20 points faster than she’s ever run before to upset this applecart.
13 – Abel Tasman (5-1) – Bob Baffert’s filly should benefit from the fast pace in this race and is a definite threat. Last time, she had something of a tricky trip. After a slow start, she moved up and had some traffic on the backstretch, was ridden hard on the far turn, and then came wide again with a mild run late on a day where nobody was beating Paradise Woods. There was nothing wrong with her first race of the year, a fine second to the injured Unique Bella. She will not be a surprise today.
14 – Salty (6-1) – She makes her fourth start today and third for Mark Casse after being privately purchased following her debut. That debut was a very good second to Todd Pletcher’s Nonna Bella going 6.5 furlongs for Ian Wilkes, who is notorious for giving his horses a start before they fire their best. She easily won a 7-furlong race on March 5th and then buried the field impressively in the Gulfstream Park Oaks on April 1st. In that race, she did benefit from a fast pace, but was in front by the top of the stretch. The post is not good, but the pace should be fast and they’ll take her back and hopefully end up only 2 or 3 wide in the first turn. She’s our pick.
The Pace – This race should have a pretty quick pace with Paradise Woods, Miss Sky Warrior, and Farrell all doing their best running from up close. Plus, Mopotism and Lockdown should also be up close as well. The race shape sets up for off-the pace runners.
Analysis – We like the two outside runners, #14 Salty and #13 Abel Tasman as our top two selections. Both figure to benefit from the fast pace. #4 Paradise Woods is the best of the speeds, and we’ll throw in #2 Lockdown, #5 Jordan’s Henny, and #6 Vexatious underneath in trifectas. In multis, anyone besides our top three choices would knock us out.
This year’s Oaks lacks the injured Unique Bella, but has an elite runner at the top in Paradise Woods and a fast pace that makes it a very intriguing proposition.