Exactly ten days until the May 6th Kentucky Oaks and now we have a finalized number of fillies who are eyeing the prized contest. Sixteen talented three-year-old fillies have been listed as possibly contenders for the biggest sophomore filly race of the year and only two would be running without graded stakes earnings. The Kentucky Oaks (gr.1) field is limited to 14 starters and by the middle of next week we will know who the lucky fourteen are. Some notable sophomore fillies that appear to be skipping the Oaks inclue Grade 2 winner Dancinginherdreams who finished 9th in the Ashland Stakes (gr.1) on April 9th. Wyomia will also skip the Kentucky Oaks, pointing instead for the Black Eyes Susan Stakes (gr.2) at Pimlico on Preakness Stakes day.
Here in no particular order are the names of the 16 fillies under consideration for the Kentucky Oaks; R Heat Lightning, Joyful Victory, Kathmanblu, Daisy Devine, Lilacs and Lace, Zazu, Plum Pretty, St. John’s River, Holy Heavens, Bouquet Booth, Delightful Mary, Arienza, Summer Soiree, Suave Voir Faire, Royal Delta, Street Storm. I know I’m supposed to do the “Novel Nine” every week with only three honorable mentions but with only four more fillies listed as possibilities I’ll just go ahead and profile the whole bunch.
The Novel Nine:
1) R Heat Lightning – Switching the top two for now until I see their last Oaks works and make the final choice. R Heat Lightning turned many heads at Belmont on April 16th with her flashy bullet 4 furlong move. In a work that ranked as the fastest of 94 horses working the distance the Trippi filly covered the distance in :47.50 in her first work since demolishing the Gulfstream Oaks field on April 2nd. She turned in her first work over the Churchill Downs racing strip on Saturday when trainer Todd Pletcher had her go a much easier :49.80 for the 4 furlongs. There’s no question that she’s incredibly fit and completely in her element when let loose in these works, Pletcher must be feeling pretty good about his Oaks prospects right now.
2) Joyful Victory – She had her first work over the Churchill Downs surface on Monday, going 5 furlongs in 1:01.80 over a sloppy track. We all know Larry Jones has a knack for getting his fillies ready to run huge on the days that count the most and he’s made no secret of comparing Joyful Victory favorably to the ill-fated Eight Belles. I still like her a little better than R Heat Lightning but it’s a very tough separation.
3) Kathmanblu – After her confusing third place finish in the Ashland (gr.1) many people were speculating that she does her best running on grass. I disagree, I think she runs equally well on dirt and grass, we can’t be sure how much the synthetics affected her performance in the Ashland or if she just had a bad day but it really wasn’t a horrible run she put in, it just wasn’t typical for Kathmanblu. She also posted her first Churchill Downs work on Saturday, going 5 furlongs in a slow and easy 1:02.80. Her most dominant win came over the Churchill Downs strip last year in the Golden Rod so there’s no concern there. I’ll be watching her very closely leading up to the Oaks and if she delivers some strong works she could crack the top two again.
4) Zazu – Her long wait is almost over. After racing three times from January 15th to March 5th, trainer John Sadler skipped all other Kentucky Oaks preps and decided to train his star filly right up to the Oaks. On Sunday Zazu covered 7 furlongs at Hollywood Park in a solid 1.27.20. Sadler has been putting her through a series of works that gradually increased in distance since her close second place finish in the Santa Anita Oaks (gr.1) on March 5th. He started her at 4 furlongs then went to 5 the next week before getting two 6 furlongs works into the grey filly prior to her most recent 7 furlong work. This schedule should allow Zazu to enter the Oaks with a good amount of bottom and stamina. She and Joyful Victory make a powerful 1-2 punch for red hot sire Tapit in the Kentucky Oaks lineup.
5) Plum Pretty – She turned in a slow 7 furlong work at Churchill Downs on Tuesday morning, finishing up in 1:28.40. Baffert won the Oaks back in 1999 with Silverbulletday and is a master at training his horses for the Churchill Downs races. Plum Pretty is a beautifully built bay filly out of Medaglia d’Oro who we already know produced the great Kentucky Oaks winner Rachel Alexandra. While Plum Pretty is nowhere close to reaching the level of that one’s class she did do her best Rachel Alexandra impression when she son the Sunland Park Oaks (gr.3) by 25 lengths on March 27th. If she fires off a strong work in the next 10 days you have to take her seriously.
6) Summer Soiree – Speed is all this War Front filly wants to flash in her works and her races. Since her Bourbonette Oaks (gr.3) romp on March 26th she has turned in two works at Keeneland but it was her 6 furlong dash on Saturday that really turned heads as she blazed over the track to post a time of 1:10.80 ‘handily’ as the chart noted. If she employs front-running tactics in the Kentucky Oaks she’ll be up against it with so many high-class fillies closing from all parts of the field, but then again the front end is where she does her best running and if she can reign down the opening fractions enough to leave some fuel in the tank for a stretch running burst she might have a chance.
7) Holy Heavens - It amazes me how slow and sparingly this Holy Bull filly can work and still run such competitive races. To start with she won the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn on February 12th and then finished a strong second in the March 12th Honeybee Stakes (gr.3) after just one 4 furlong work and then finished a fast closing third in the Fantasy Stakes (gr.2) after one exceptionally slow 4 furlong work that she completed in :53.00 flat. In typical Holy Heavens style she worked 5 furlongs in a slow 1:03.60 at Churchill Downs on Tuesday morning, signifying that she is probably exactly where she needs to be to run her best race 10 days from now.
8) Daisy Devine – She handily defeated a solid field of sophomore fillies in the Fair Grounds Oaks (gr.2) but didn’t seem to gain a whole lot of respect or buzz from that win, probably because the entire crop of three-year-old fillies this year is exceptionally strong, but still she is an improving filly that has won three of her last four starts and just fired off a bullet 5 furlong work at Churchill Downs on Tuesday morning that she completed in an excellent time of :59.60.
9) St. John’s River – This filly has raced just four times in her career while finishing no worse than third. She responded like a champ in her last start in the Fair Grounds Oaks, coming from far back to split horses at the top of the stretch and finish second by half a length to Daisy Devine. Her last work on April 20th was a solid 5 furlong move that went in 1:00.40 over Keenelands Polytrack. Her pedigree traces back to Ackack through her sire Include and back to Damascus and Seattle Slew through her Dam Adventurous Di. Don’t underestimate her Oaks chances, she has had plenty of time to recharge since late March.
1) Arienza – Her Kentucky Oaks participation still isn’t definite as she is more likely to contest the the Eight Belles (gr.3) on Derby day at Churchill Downs. She appeared to get a little tired in the stretch of the Fantasy Stakes (gr.2) when Holy Heavens just missed catching her for the second spot but considering it was just her third lifetime start in a litte over a month you have to be impressed. If she skips the Oaks and runs in the Eight Belles it’s easy to imagine her winning that one and setting herself up for a great summer/fall campaign.
2) Lilacs and Lace – She won the Ashland Stakes (gr.1) after setting all the fractions up front and still managed to find another gear and hold off Wyomia and Kathmanblu by a comfortable margin at the wire. She’s another one that’s consistent and has won three of her last four starts. The only time she finished out of the top three this year was when she finished fourth to Summer Soiree in the Bourbonette in her second start of the year. All of her 7 lifetime starts except for her very first have come on synthetics and the one time she ran on dirt she finished 7th. I’ll leave her off the top nine until we see how she handles Churchill’s dirt surface in her works.
3) Bouquet Booth – Bouquet Booth started the year out right with a win in the Silverbulletday Stakes over Daisy Devine but has since finished fourth in both remaining starts. Her latest finish came in the Ashland Stakes (gr.1) when she finished well behind the top three in 4th. She did come to Churchill Downs to post her first work since the Ashland on April 21st, going 5 furlongs in a strong 1:00.40. She consistently runs against the best competition there is but recently just doesn’t seem to be able to take the next step and move up.
All the rest:
1) Royal Delta – I was very pleasantly surprised when I learned the connections of Royal Delta were still thinking of the Kentucky Oaks for their filly last week. Back in October of 2010 at Belmont Royal Delta pulverized a field of juvenile fillies, wining by more than 12 lengths in a hand ride. It took her a long time to get back to the races, making her 2011 debut in the Suncoast Stakes and finishing a disappointing 9th. In her last start she found her way back to the winners circle, winning a 1 1/16 mile allowance and Keeneland by three lengths. She has a pedigree to die for but now she needs to show she can run in Stakes company competitively. She may not be ready for the Oaks yet but given some time she could develop into one of the better fillies in the nation.
2) Delightful Mary – She trained well for the Ashland Stakes but fell far short of expectations when she finished a dull 7th. After capping off a competitive juvenile season last year in which she finished third to Awesome Feather and R Heat Lighting in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr.1) Delightful Mary began the year with an easy win at 1 1/16 mile distance before her Ashland failure. She hasn’t posted any works since the Ashland and had better get a move on if she hopes to be competitive.
3) Street Storm – Street Storm began the year finishing 7th and 5th in the My Trusty Caat Stakes and a Fair Grounds allowance race respectively. After that she seemed to switch gears and won the Mardi Gras Stakes. She will have to improve by leaps and bounds to make a race out of the Kentucky Oaks.
4) Suave Voir Faire – This is a consistent filly that just doesn’t’ seem able to find the winners circle very often, only once in seven lifetime starts has she finished first and that was when she broke her maiden on October 2nd last year. She last finished third to Summer Soiree in the Bourbonette after finishing third, just behind St. John’s River in second in an allowance race at Fair Grounds. Before that she finished second to Daisy Devine in an allowance at Fair Grounds. She’s a decent filly but needs to show that she’s improving and not just finishing in the money each time out.
Photo Courtesy of Coglianese Photos