Photo: NYRA, Adam Coglianese
1. Dreaming of Julia (A.P. Indy-Dream Rush, by Wild Rush) Todd Pletcher – Having lost her last two, including her seasonal debut, Dreaming of Julia may seem like an odd choice to hold the #1 spot on my 2013 Kentucky Oaks list. Maybe so, but where some may see only a defeat, I thought the Davona Dale performance was the perfect prep for better things to come. Live Lively had things her own way that day, and while this one never looked like a winner, she did keep trying all the way to the wire. Look for serious improvement next time in what is looking like a very tough Gulfstream Park Oaks. Furthermore, I believe her experience, tactical running style, and breeding all set her up very well for May the 3rd.
2. Pure Fun (Pure Prize-Chelsea Green, by Key to the Mint) Ken McPeek – I hope she doesn't make me look foolish in 48 hours, but I have a good feeling she won't. Pure Fun is a big strong filly who looked ultra-impressive in her last two starts as a juvenile. Given a break, she has been working steady and well in Florida for some time now in preparation for her seasonal debut. On paper, she appears to stand over her Bourbonette Oaks foes, and with a win there, I believe that the confidence may grow to a point where her late run might become too much to handle in the bigger Oaks. She should also see a pace scenario at Churchill Downs that she will appreciate.
3. Princess of Sylmar (Majestic Warrior-Storm Dixie, by Catienus) Todd Pletcher – I think Pletcher is doing a masterful job of managing this daughter of Majestic Warrior's trail to Louisville. Transitioning from Penn National to New York racing proved nothing but successful as she absolutely dominated the winter crew. Now given a little breather, she should be primed to run well against better competition in the Gazelle in April, which then should set her up perfectly to peek for the Kentucky Oaks. I really can't see the distance of nine furlongs being any problem at all for her, so class becomes the question, and I'm betting that she will fit with the best of her generation.
4. Emollient (Empire Maker-Soothing Touch, by Touch Gold) Bill Mott – This has been a bit of a dark horse for me all year, but judging how she got pounded by bettors for her seasonal debut, I guess the secret is out. I still see plenty of room for improvement to this regally bred daughter of Empire Maker. Even while winning, it looks like she has not figured out this whole racing thing completely. A big test in the Gulfstream Park Oaks should give us a real indication whether or not all of her potential is coming together in time to make a real run at the lilies.
5. Beholder (Henny Hughes-Leslie's Lady, by Tricky Creek) Richard Mandella – Any doubt as to whether or not the Juvenile Champion would carry her immense talent over into her three-year-old season were erased in the time it took her to make every pole a winning pole in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes. I certainly can understand why many people have her in the top spot in their Oaks list, as she still may be the most talented horse on this list, but I still have serious doubt as to how strong she will be when the real running in the Oaks begins. There is bound to be strong pace pressure on May 3rd, and considering that I believe that she is probably better shorter than longer, this is one favorite that I look forward to trying to beat.
6. Flashy Gray (Flashy Bull-Pleasure Cat, by Cat's Career) Bill Mott - The good news is that I'm still convinced that West Point got something good when they shelled out $775,000 to grab this roan filly in the Dolphus Morrison dispersal sale last fall. The bad news is she lost at odds-on last time in the Honeybee. That's okay, as she fell victim to a beautiful Calvin Borel ride on winner Rose to Gold that day. It was her first stakes race, and her first try around two-turns, and much like Dreaming of Julia's recent defeat, the fact that she was still trying to the wire gives me strong hope for her future. Look for her to be better prepared for her next start, which should get her to Churchill Downs, a track that I already knows she likes, in good form.
7. Live Lively (Medaglia d'Oro-Glacken's Gal, by Smoke Glacken) Mark Hennig – Super impressive in consecutive wins this winter at Gulfstream Park, including defeating the top one on this list last time. The only reason that she is not higher on this list is that I expect what she will see on Oaks day is drastically different than what she has enjoyed in South Florida. The pace is going to get stronger, the distance longer, and the track will be less speed favoring. Having said all that, she is one of the more interesting lightly-raced fillies in the nation, and further improvement above and beyond her already proven class will make her a real threat on the first Friday in May.
8. Midnight Lucky (Midnight Lute-Citiview, by Citidancer) Bob Baffert – Depending on your point of view, this one is either ranked way too low, or way too high. Her debut performance last month was a real eye-opener, but a 6 1/2 furlong maiden race at Santa Anita is a far cry from what she will see at Churchill Downs. In the Sunland Oaks, Baffert has found what looks like an easy spot for her to gain both stakes and two-turn experience. I expect her to win that, but I'll be watching closely how she does it, before I start to decide if she can really go from unraced to Kentucky Oaks winner in a span of less than three months.
9. Rose to Gold (Friends Lake-Saucy, by Tabasco Cat) Sal Santoro - She's already proved an incredible bargain, but can she really go from a $1,400 yearling purchase to Kentucky Oaks champion? The answer might just be yes. Given a series of stamina building works by trainer Sal Santoro, the daughter of Friends Lake rebounded from a disappointing loss with a big gate-to-wire in the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park last out. She sports a sparkling record on dirt, and the way she handled Flashy Gray last time helps me believe that she can compete with the best. I can't see her wiring the Kentucky Oaks, but on the other hand, she doesn't need to be on the lead to win. What a story she would be if her and Calvin copped the Oaks. I'm starting to believe.
10. Unlimited Budget (Street Sense-Unlimited Pleasure, by Valid Appeal) Todd Pletcher - There is a lot to like here including an undefeated record, and an absolute runaway victory in her only start this year. That win in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes says she can be any kind, so why don't I believe in her more. Perhaps it was the relative weakness of that field at Fair Grounds, or perhaps I cannot shake the feeling that Emollient would have run right by her if she was completely healthy and not so green in the Demoiselle. It's good advice to beware the undefeated horse, but I believe she is slightly overrated at this time.
11. Close Hatches (First Defence-Rising Tornado, by Storm Cat) Bill Mott – Don't get me wrong, she has done absolutely nothing wrong in her first two races, but honestly, I was a little disappointed with her recent allowance win. First, she was scratched out of a stakes race at Tampa, and then I found her performance the following day at Gulfstream to be only moderately impressive, and not nearly as flashy as her debut win. On the positive side, it did give her two-turn experience, and there is no reason to believe that she will not continue to improve for her master conditioner.
12. Executiveprivilege (First Samurai-Refugee, by Unaccounted For) Bob Baffert - What to do with the undisputed leader of the juvenile fillies division for most of last year? While her works have been sporadic, she has looked good over the track, and her last work was sharp. Obviously there are issues, and I was tempted to drop her from the list completely, but I remember how good she was for much of last year. If she can get it all together, and get in one meaningful prep before May, maybe we see that near-champion again? Her hopes are dwindling with each passing day.
13. Fiftyshadesofhay (Pulpit-Quiet Kim, by Real Quiet) Bob Baffert – Ran into a buzzsaw last time in the form of a freewheeling juvenile champion. While the third filly on this list for the fun-loving pair of Pegram and Baffert was no match for Beholder in the Las Virgenes, there is reason to hope for a turnaround as we move farther down the Oaks trail. First off, Beholder is not likely to enjoy that kind of loose-on-the-lead trip in Kentucky, and just as importantly, this one has given every impression that she appreciates a route of ground, with both of her wins coming in her two longest races.