The Kentucky Derby has been littered with defections left
and right during the past month it seems, this past week alone three colts were
removed from consideration due to injury or physical issues of some kind.
Unlike the Derby the Kentucky Oaks has remained virtually
unscathed, losing just a few fillies here and there but no major defections
resulting from physical injury. Aside from the removal of Dancinginherdreams,
who was really no surprise after two consecutive dull efforts, all has remained
incredibly strong on the filly front.
Sadly things shifted just a tiny bit south on Monday when
expected Oaks favorite, R Heat Lightning, was pulled from race consideration
after a knee injury was discovered. According to trainer Todd Pletcher the
Trippi filly will be sent to Rood and Riddle equine clinic later this week for
an examination that should determine whether or not her injury is
career-threatening. R Heat Lightning was training exceptionally well leading up
to the Oaks after winning the Davona Dale (gr.2) and Gulfstream Oaks (gr.2) by
a combined margin of 15 ½ lengths. Here’s to hoping she heals up with no
additional problems and is able to resume her brilliant career on the track
later in the year.
With R Heat Lightning out of the picture it appears the
way has been cleared for Joyful Victory to run as a clear and decisive
favorite. Most of the contenders have arrived at Churchill Downs now for the
big race and the field has been set. Thirteen fillies will contest the 137th
running of the $1 million Kentucky Oaks on Friday May 6th, and breaking from post number one is my Oaks
pick the Larry Jones trained Joyful Victory. So here it is, the last Novel Nine
of the year.
[Joyful Victory currently ranks #5 on HRN's 3 Year Old Filly rankings page]
The Novel Nine:
Victory – Since winning the Honeybee Stakes (gr.3) this Tapit filly has
done absolutely everything right. Her combined win margins in the Honeybee and
Fantasy Stakes equal more than 15 lengths. In both races she showing explosive
and sustained runs, launching from well off the pace each time to move herself
into the lead entering the home stretch without any urging whatsoever. She
finished fifth at Churchill Downs last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile
Fillies (gr.1) but it’s apparent she is a vastly improved filly this time
around. She appears to be thriving at Churchill Downs as evidenced by her
sparkling 5 furlong bullet on Sunday. Her #1 post isn’t ideal as all the speed
will come piling towards her from the outside at the break but she should be
able to find a spot behind to settle into before making her run and at the very
least won’t be caught wide around the turn.
She will retain the services of jockey Mike Smith in the Oaks on Friday.
Devine – I have been liking this Kafwain filly more and more since her
arrival at Churchill Downs. Initially I treated her Fair Grounds Oaks (gr.2)
win as a fluke but the more you look at her race record the more I realize it’s
just more realistic to deduce that she is steadily improving and getting
better. I like the way her training is being handled at Churchill as well,
first a bullet 5 furlong work that she completed in :59.60 and then a bullet 3
furlong tightening on Sunday that went in :35.80. She will be back on the track
Wednesday and according to trainer Andrew Mckeever it will all be left up to
the filly as to what she wants to do. From what I’ve seen so far Daisy Devine
has presented a fantastic physical image at Churchill. She retains the services
of jockey James Graham and will break from post #9.
John’s River – This filly has looked amazing in her morning gallops, right
on her toes and prancing all the way. She finished second to Daisy Devine with
a fast closing rush in the Fair Grounds Oaks, missing by half a length but had
so much momentum going that she galloped out well ahead of the victor past the
finish line. Her work at Churchill last Thursday was very strong when she got
five furlongs in 1:00.80. After her 1 ¾ mile Monday morning gallop, exercise
rider Robert Wright said that she’s been a lot more lively since her work and
“She likes the track, [and] likes the mud.” If there is a filly coming into the
Oaks with the most potential to improve and peak it could be St. John’s River.
She breaks from post #13 on the far outside with jockey Rosie Napravnik riding.
Her seven furlong work at Hollywood Park on Saturday was excellent when she
went in 1:24.40. She ships into Churchill Downs today and if it weren’t for
that fact I would probably have her a little higher but I think there’s an
advantage to coming over earlier rather than later. Hopefully we’ll get to see
her stretch her legs within the next couple of days and get an idea of how she
takes to the surface. All year she’s been racing in tough company and was
always coming very strong in the end. If she presents a good image at Churchill
before the Oaks I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a Tapit exacta light up
the board. The grey filly will break from post position #6 with jockey Joel
Rosario in the irons.
Pretty – I didn’t really care for her seven furlong work on April 26th
when she went in a slow 1:28.40 but thankfully she looked very good in her
Churchill work on Monday morning. She covered four furlongs in :48.80 and
galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.60. She appeared to be very comfortable
coming down the stretch, doing it all on her own with no encouragement from the
rider. She could be a big surprise in the Oaks coming off her 25 length romp in
the Sunland Park Oaks. Many people expect her to bounce but that seems unlikely
to me, especially with Bob Baffert directing her course. She will break from
post #12 under jockey Martin Garcia. Her post could go either way on Friday;
with Holy Heavens and Street Storm to her inside, those two will probably drop
back and she might be able to move herself into a good stalking position
without too much trouble. She could on the other hand get caught wide into the
first turn if Garcia can’t find a way to get closer to the rail after the break
and lose some vital positioning.
– She hasn’t been turning many heads lately with her Oaks preparations and
according to some eyewitnesses she appears to have lost a little weight, never
a good sign in the week leading up to the biggest race of a fillies sophomore
career. She turned in a solid 1:01.80 five furlong breeze Saturday, looking
comfortable coming down the stretch with her ears flicking back and forth. Her
last two starts make it looks as though she could be tailing off slightly from
the excellent form she showed when winning the Golden Rod Stakes on Churchill’s
dirt and the Sweetest Chant on turf earlier this year. She didn’t produce that
explosive turn of foot I had come to expect of her in the Rachel Alexandra
Stakes and still won, but her grind-it-out run in the Ashland couldn’t get the
job done. I still expect her to run much better at Churchill but I’m not sure
she is ready to win. The Bluegrass Cat filly will break from post #4 with
regular rider Julien Leparoux up.
Soiree – Any filly that can win two consecutive starts by a combined margin
of more than 20 lengths is worthy of consideration for the Oaks. In her last
start Summer Soiree demolished the Bourbonette Stakes, winning by more than 10
lengths after leading gate-to-wire. Before that she won a 1 1/16 mile allowance
race by more than 9 lengths, once again on the front end. As a daughter of War
Front this filly’s greatest asset is her speed and ability to draw away in the
stretch. Her form was flattered when fellow Bourbonette runner Lilacs and Lace
returned to defeat a solid field in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes after being
soundly defeated in the Bourbonette. The one drawback for Summer Soiree is that
she is entering off a 1 mile race and does not run her best unless she can
cruise out on the lead. There will be much more pressure in the Oaks than any
of her other races so unless she can conserve some energy she might be spent in
the stretch. She will break from post #3 under Gabriel Saez, a position that
will give her a perfect jump on the lead.
Heavens – Holy Heavens has finished no worse than third in her last six
starts and both of her most recent runs have resulted in fast closing second
and third place finishes to Joyful Victory in the Honeybee and Fantasy Stakes
respectively. In the Fantasy she began her rally too late and just missed
catching Arienza for second but there was no hope at all of catching Joyful
Victory. With the added 1/16 of a mile in the Oaks this Holy Bull filly will be
able to fully extend her run and use the stretch to her greatest advantage.
Trainer Benard Chatters doesn’t work his filly a whole lot and when he does
speed isn’t the main ingredient to her moves. On April 26th Holy
Heavens covered five furlongs in a slow 1:03.60 but judging from her past
experiences her slow times shouldn’t worry potential backers as she seems to
require remarkably little training to stay in top shape. She will break from
post #11 with jockey Kent Desormeaux getting the mount.
Lilacs and Lace – Lilacs and Lace turned in a
comfortable five furlong work on Saturday, getting the distance in 1:02.60 in
her first trip over the Churchill Downs dirt strip. She looked well within
herself galloping down the stretch under no urging from the rider and actually
seemed to get over the dirt surface very well. I’m still not sure how she’ll
stack up against the other big fillies that have proven themselves on
traditional dirt but from what I saw Saturday it looks like she won’t have too
much trouble handling the track. She will break from post #2 right outside of
Joyful Victory and inside Summer Soiree. After leading the Ashland gate-to-wire
you have to wonder if a speed battle will ensue with Summer Soiree to her
immediate outside, or if one of the fillies will be content to rate in behind.
All the rest:
– The recently acquired Bobby Flay filly actually looked pretty good in her
first work at Churchill Downs on Sunday, going four furlongs in an easy :50.40
for trainer Todd Pletcher. She will break from post #7 and has secured the
services of Garret Gomez to ride.
Storm – This filly showed some guts winning the Mardi Gras Stakes over Aide
after a series of bumping incidents early on but the Oaks seems a little out of
her league right now. Her latest work at Churchill Downs on April 28th
was a five furlong move she completed in 1:03.00. She will break from post #10
with Shaun Bridgmohan aboard.
Booth – Bouquet Booth looked very hard-pressed in her Churchill Downs work
on Friday when she went five furlongs in 1:02.20. I think she’s going to be up
against the odds on Friday in the Oaks. She will break from post #8 on Friday
with jockey Robby Albarado up.
Voir Faire - She was scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs today from
Highpoint Farm and Training Center where she has been breezing over the
polytrack. Her most recent move last Friday was a solid five furlong work she
completed in a time of :59.80. It appears she’s fit for the Oaks but I don’t
like the fact that she will have zero works at Churchill. She breaks from post
#5 with jockey Miguel Mena aboard.
The way I see it now there are four fillies who have
worked at Churchill and have really caught my eye. Joyful Victory by far looks
the best, she has taken to her morning works and gallops like a duck to water.
I see no reason why she won’t be ready to run the race of her life on Friday.
Daisy Devine and St. John’s River have presented an equally impressive presence
on the track. They look like they go out there and have fun and St. John’s
River in particular is full of enthusiasm and appears to have energy to spare.
Plum Pretty was the fourth filly who really looked great moving over the
Churchill Downs strip. I’m not sure how good she is right now and where she
will stack up against this competition but she sure looks wonderful and don’t
forget the Oaks will only be her fifth lifetime start. Kathmanblu also looked
good but not as exceptional as some of the others.
Photo Courtesy of Meathea Kelley