Photo: Eclipse Spotswire
On Friday, May 3rd, some 24-hours prior to the boys running off for Kentucky Derby glory, the girls will be assembled and showcased for the Grade 1 $1 million Kentucky Oaks. There won't be a 20-horse field for the Oaks, but sitting a week out from the race, it appears we will have eleven runners. And in my opinion, that's plenty and perfect, especially where quality is concerned. Nine of the fillies have won at least a single graded stakes, while a dynamic quartet has won multiple graded events. There is even a multiple G1 winner present. These ladies definitely know how to win, problem is, only one can be the conqueror and wear the lilies.
Trainer Todd Pletcher will be a busy man both days. It is expected that he will saddle 4 fillies in the Oaks, to go along with five, possibly six colts in the Derby. He will also have the distinct honor of having the probable favorite for each race. Pletcher's counterpart in these American Classic's is none other than Bob Baffert. However, the Hall-of-Fame west coast guru, who normally has his own guns loaded for big races, is at the other end of the horse spectrum this year when it comes to horse bullets. Baffert has just one runner each for the Oaks and Derby. Speaking of Hall of Famers, Bill Mott is bringing in a pair of fillies for this prestigious ladies only classic. If these wonderful fillies fully show us their best, then I truly believe we're going to witness something really special this year in the Oaks. I envision that based on the lineup. Of course nothing earth shattering like Rachel Alexandra's 2009 performance (but then again you never know), but something that will leave its mark and leave us talking about the 2013 Oaks for a very long time. Now c'mon ladies, show us what you've got. You go girls!!
Note: Some horses are listed with trainer only, as riders for those particular mounts have yet to be named. There may be a late entry, but right now, here is what we've got, alphabetically of course.
BEHOLDER/Richard Mandella/Garrett Gomez--When she won her maiden second time out, she wasn't far off the Del-Mar track record for the 5 1/2 furlong distance. Asked to tackle G1 company next out in the Del-Mar Debutante, and showed the way until last step when she was nosed out by then unbeaten Executiveprivilege. Two starts later in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, she turned the tables on that rival and in the process, also handed Dreaming Of Julia her first defeat. She is triple G1 winner, including recent back-to-back wins in the Las Virgenes and Santa Anita Oaks. Has a trifecta of 2-turn races that were the product of her front-running ability, therefore, I don't expect her to change her running ways in this two-turn affair. It will be far from a cake walk for her on the front end, and it's quite conceivable she gets passed at some point.
CLOSE HATCHES/Bill Mott/Joel Rosario--Unraced as a 2-year old. Unbeaten as a 3-year old. She came from far back at Gulfstream Park to win drawing away going 7 furlongs in her initial start. Subsequently, she racked up consecutive wire-to-wire victories in a Nw1x allowance and G2 Gazelle, the latter at the 1 1/8-mile Oaks distance. That's always a plus. Her speed figures (BRIS) have improved very race, and if there another progression upward, she'll compete for the win.
DREAMING OF JULIA/Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez--I watched her August debut race at Saratoga with Brian Zipse in the dining room at Fort Erie racetrack. It was a mere formality, winning like a sure thing as they say. That was the beginning of a three-race wining streak before finally being halted on the square by Beholder in Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Away three months after that event, she probably gave away some conditioning when she was unable to catch Live Lively in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park. However, in the very next race (Gulfstream Park Oaks), Live Lively and the rest of the field needed a GPS to locate this filly as she ran off to hide in the Florida sunset by an unheard of 21 3/4 lengths!!! She demonstrated she can run the KY Oaks distance too. The closest scare this Todd Pletcher trainee has ever had in her 4 wins was a head decision in the G1 Frizette last fall. She has been the overwhelming favorite in 5 of her 6 races. And deservedly so. If she equals or surpasses her latest speed figure, she wins. If she regresses even a little bit, she's no lock. She will have some competition from a couple others in the wagering department, but you can bet (no pun intended), she will be your post time favorite.
FLASHY GRAY/Bill Mott--This girl has been on the board in every one of her 5 races, getting it done at five different venues with 4 different riders. After an easy maiden win by over 10 lengths (2nd start), she was transferred to the barn of trainer Bill Mott. The Hall-of-Fame conditioner didn't rush her right into any stakes, but instead, he entered her in an entry level allowance race in which she proved much the best. That was proof enough for Mott that she was worthy of stakes competition. She's been the bridesmaid in her two graded contests, finishing both times behind two genuine stakes fillies that compete in here, and have combined for 9 wins in 11 races. She'll probably sit off the pace and pose a threat throughout the running, because she has good pace and speed figures that can win this.
MIDNIGHT LUCKY/ Bob Baffert--Got untracked back in February and didn't even work up a sweat in either one of her two outings. Scored first time out by 7 1/4 lengths going 6 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita, then was shipped to Sunland Park, stretched out in distance and came away with pretty much the same winning results (8 lengths). Her winning time was one of 3 track records broken that day, an indication of how rapid the Sunland surface was playing. Just how good is this Bob Baffert runner? Well, what she's displayed out on the racetrack in her brief career says she's pretty good. Is she good enough to win this? We'll soon find out.
PRINCESS OF SYLMAR/Todd Pletcher--Another filly that doesn't fool around when she wins. Loves to put real estate between herself and her rivals. Her victories have been by 19--5 1/4--7 1/2-- and 7 lengths. Incidentally, those margins accounted for a four race winning streak which was abruptly halted most recently when she was runner-up in the G2 Gazelle. What better venue is there than this place to begin another win streak. Pennsylvania-bred runner has only raced at two racetracks, Penn National and Aqueduct. Even if she works out a trouble free journey, I'm not sold that this filly can raise her game up enough to knock off the big guns in here.
PURE FUN/Ken McPeek/Julien Leparoux--Has only left the state of Kentucky once to race, and ended up a G1 winner at Hollywood Park (Hollywood Starlet). There were no takers for 50k in her first lifetime race. She had a busy juvenile campaign that saw her suffer some tough trips, but also saw her produce 3 wins. Each one coming over a different surface. Her return to the races for her sophomore season in the Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway saw another difficult journey (5 wide both turns), and an engagement against the boys at Keeneland in the Lexington Stakes where she was a non-factor. The Kentucky Oaks will be her third start of her current form cycle, often a horses best. She's going to see a lot of speed in front of her, and if she's on her game, that may prove very beneficial for her late running style.
ROSE TO GOLD/Sal Santoro/Calvin Borel--The only dismal race on her resume is the G1 Alcibiades on the Keeneland polytrack. Prior to, and following that disaster, she's been virtually unbeatable, winning five of six races. Interesting to note, her first win did not come in a maiden race, but rather in a small stakes race at Calder. She has won on the lead, as well as rating in behind a couple of lengths. So, it's going to be curious to watch where she sets up. With two big wins over sloppy tracks, rain would be a plus for this filly.
SEANEEN GIRL/Bernie Flint--Spent half of her six juvenile races floundering around in claimers before someone eventually realized this girl had talent. She got away from the Woodbine plastic after switching out of the Tiller barn, and into the stable of current trainer Bernie Flint. He put her talents immediately to the test, and she responded with a nice victory in the G2 Golden Rod over the Churchill oval to close out the 2-year old season. She could do no better than a third place finish in her season opener in the Fairground Oaks, but one can be lenient for that effort as she was away 4-months and certainly wasn't cranked up for the race. I expect her to go much better this time.
SILSITA/Todd Pletcher/Gary Stevens--Enters off a race (Bourbonette Oaks) where she battled tenaciously to earn the victory by a mere nose. In her only dirt start back in January at Gulfstream Park, she finished a nondescript fourth. That latest speed figure is her best yet, albeit on the synthetics, but it was truly earned and I'll respect it. She'll be in the thick of it early adding fuel to the early pace fire, but when it's all over, I have a strong feeling she will end up a pace casualty from her early efforts of trying to keep abreast with the other speed burners.
UNLIMITED BUDGET/Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano--Like her male counterpart and stablemate, Verrazano, this gal is unbeaten through 4 starts. Easily a maiden winner by 9 1/2 in her first try, then came back rather quickly two weeks later and was easily the best wiring the Demoiselle field over 9 furlongs. That was it for her 2-year old season. It would be 3 months before she was seen again, and in a change of running style from her first two races, she won the Rachel Alexandra from 9 lengths in arrears while traveling extremely wide much of the race. She was a most impressive winner of her latest, the Fairground Oaks, while once again taking the overland route. She can kill opponents on the front-end, from slightly behind and from well off the pace. Sometimes she races as though she is purely on cruise control. A serious player who is extremely dangerous and has the pace and speed numbers that make her a major threat to win it all.