The 137th running of the Kentucky Oaks was considered a very strong and competitive field of fillies before the running, now two months after the historic running form has held up extremely well. Kentucky Oaks third place finisher Zazu returned to defeat Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty in a thrilling rendition of the Hollywood Oaks. Kentucky Oaks fourth place finisher Joyful Victory came back to finish second in the Mother Goose Stakes behind an overpowering victory by Buster’s Ready. Kentucky Oaks tenth place finisher Summer Soiree turned in a dazzling performance when capturing the Boiling Springs Stakes by 8 ½ lengths on turf. Her Smile finished eleventh in the Kentucky Oaks, a distance third in the Acorn Stakes and then uncorked a stunning last-to-first move to win the Grade 1 Prioress Stakes in her first try sprinting.
There have been just as many failed returns as successful ones, like Daisy Devine’s fifth place finish in the Iowa Oaks, Kathmanblu and Bouquet Booth’s fourth and third place finishes in the Regret Stakes and Street Storm’s runner up effort in a Churchill Downs Optional Allowance Claiming race, but overall the quality of the Kentucky Oaks field has held up well to its earlier reputation.
St. John’s River is the latest filly from the powerful Kentucky Oaks arsenal set to fire off this weekend in the Delaware Oaks (gr.2), and if past performance is any indication the best might have been saved for last. Two necks and a half length, that’s how close St. John’s River is away from four consecutive victories. The three-year-old daughter of Include, while blessed with a magnitude of talent, has suffered from bridesmaid syndrome in her last three starts, finishing runner-up in an Allowance Optional Claiming, the Fair Grounds Oaks and the Kentucky Oaks. In all starts, the talented sophomore has dropped far off the pace and rallied with a huge run in the stretch to just miss winning two of the biggest spring prep races for fillies. She overcame a tough break in the Kentucky Oaks where she struck the gate coming out, dropped to the rear of the field and still worked her way through traffic from the rail to give Plum Pretty a run for her money, finishing just a neck back in second and closing easily best of all. She will be heavily favored to enter the winners circle on Saturday when she faces six other three-year-old fillies in the starting gate. Her latest work was a four furlong move completed in a comfortable time of :48.20 at Delaware Park. That move followed up two straight six furlong breezes and a five furlong work completed in 1:01.20. She’ll be ready to rumble and with a win she’ll be set up to launch a very powerful summer/fall campaign.
[Ranking at #12 on HRN's current 3-year-old fillies rankings page, is St. John's River too low?]
Four stakes winners will line up to face St. John’s River including All For Thee, winner of the Go For Wand Stakes in her last starts, Wanda Stakes winner Daring Reality, Busanda Stakes winner and Wanda Stakes runner-up Dance Quietly as well as Pike Creek Stakes winner Snow Fall.
All For Thee looks like the logical threat on paper with three straight wins including the Go For Wand but a total of more than twelve lengths. Her works are less than spectacular but nothing to sneeze at either. She has turned in five consecutive four furlong works, the last being the slowest move at :50.60. With two wins over the track she does have home field advantage but she’s still a longshot at best.
Daring Reality won the Wanda Stakes by just over a length before finishing runner-up behind All For Thee in the Go For Wand. She has two slow breezes, both at four furlongs that failed to break the sub :50.00 mark. She shares the same sire as St. John’s River, Include, and runs consistently in the money during her Stakes races.
You have to go back five races to Dance Quietly’s last win when she took the Busanda Stakes at Aqueduct in January, but since then she’s been on a four race losing streak. While she has hit the board in three of her losing efforts I wouldn’t bet on her pulling a big effort.
Snow Fall could be the best second choice in the race. She won her maiden two races back and then captured the Pike Creek Stakes at Delaware Park, taking both races by a combined margin of more than nine lengths. Her five furlong work at Delaware on July second was completed in a strong 1:01.20. With only five starts under her belt you have to think there’s room for improvement from this filly.
Strike the Moon and Soundwave complete the field and have five victories between them with three stakes race placings. Soundwave has run only twice this year, finishing second and third in the Classy Mirage and Miss Royal Stakes respectively and turned in an excellent five furlong bullet work in 1:00.80 on Saturday. Strike the Moon has two consecutive runner-up placings in her most recent efforts, missing by a length and a neck in the Miss Preakness and Jostle Stakes. Prior to her runner-up finishes she won a maiden and allowance race back-to-back by more than eight lengths.
St. John’s River towers over this field. If all goes according to plan the very gifted Andrew Leggio trained filly should walk away with her first graded stakes win on Saturday and perhaps toss her hat into the ring for a chance at the three-year-old championship.
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