Racing’s day of pink has arrived. In just a few short hours Churchill Downs will slowly begin to fill with thousands of fans ready to witness an exciting day of racing and the stands will rapidly become a sea of pink. Pink has become the color of preference at the Kentucky Oaks since it began to partner with the Susan G. Komen for the Cure in 2009, a joined effort to bring a broader awareness to breast cancer. This year the Survivors Walk will be held for the third consecutive year; 137 survivors of breast cancer will parade past the stands down the track followed by the cheers and applause from the many thousands of supporters and well wishers. It is easily one of the most heartwarming and inspiring moments I have witness while at the track.
At approximately 5:45 P.M. Eastern time today, a field of thirteen fillies that comprise one of the most talented Oaks fields in history, will break from the gates at Churchill Downs, run around the dirt oval and lay their hearts out on the line in the final furlong, but only one will cross the finish wire first. When those thirteen fillies hit the head of the stretch in the Oaks all the best laid plans, analysis and theories will be forgotten as the rush of the moment takes over and all that matters is winning.
This year’s Oaks is an exceptionally tough race to handicap and I have been picking my brain trying to decide how the race will play out. To be completely honest I would only be surprised to see Suave Voir Faire, Her Smile, Bouquet Booth and Street Storm win. Of the remaining ten fillies each and every one has proven themselves to be a gifted athlete, worthy of exceptional racing ability.
As a fan I will be rooting for Joyful Victory to win. The more I see of this filly the more I like her. Not only has she proven herself to be one of the most brilliant performers of the year with two consecutive victories, she also has one of the most amiable trainers in the game in Larry Jones, a trainer I hold in very high regard. Jones won the Kentucky Oaks in 2008 with Proud Spell but has never had a filly quite this good leading up to the big dance. This week Joyful Victory has been training like a monster and appears ready for another huge performance.
Summer Soiree has been gaining some buzz around Churchill Downs during the past few days as she has appeared exceptional in her gallops during the morning training hours. She will undoubtedly be on the lead or at the very least contesting the pace throughout. 1 1/16 miles was not a problem for her in the least two starts back against allowance company but the question now remains if she can sustain her lead gate-to-wire. I’d have to say no, not in the Oaks when you’ve got Zazu, St. John’s River and Holy Heavens coming from far back while mid pack runners like Joyful Victory and Kathmanblu will be close behind on the final turn and fillies like Plum Pretty, Lilacs and Lace and Daisy Devine who should be right at her throat near the head of the stretch.
As long shots go this year I think everyone has pretty much been brought up to speed on how amazing St. John’s River and Daisy Devine have looked but one filly that seems to be getting completely overlooked at staggering odds of 50-1 is Holy Heavens. This daughter of Holy Bull has shown admirable consistency all year long while facing graded stakes quality fields. In her last two starts she proved no match for Joyful Victory in the Honeybee and Fantasy Stakes but launched fantastic rallies that saw her take second and third place respectively. If she makes her move earlier in the Oaks there’s a good chance she could take a piece of the action.
Kathmanblu has been steadily making a much better appearance at Churchill in her morning gallops. A return to Churchill could just mean a return to glory for this game and talented filly. We all know what she’s capable of and at the beginning of the year she led virtually every Oaks top 12 list. Is she still good enough to wear the garland of lillies?
However the Oaks turns out it should produce a show worthy of such a glittering field and I can tell you it’s a no brainer that I’ll be jumping up and down, hands in the air shouting at the top of my lungs when the fillies come off that last turn. Good luck to all and may the best horse win.
I'll be tweeting updates from 3:30 on today so feel free to check in on twitter: BArailrunner
Image Courtesy of KentuckyOaks.com