Kentucky Oaks analysis: Travel Column looms large

Kentucky Oaks analysis: Travel Column looms large
Photo: Parker Walters/Eclipse Sportswire

A full field of 14 fillies will line up beneath the Twin Spires to contest the 147th running of the $1,250,000 Kentucky Oaks. Undefeated Malathaat was awarded slight favoritism on the morning line, being installed at 5-2 versus the 3-1 co-second favorites.

Search Results also enters the Oaks with an unblemished record. The Gazelle (G3) heroine was made co-second choice on the morning line along with Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) victress Travel Column. Both co-second choices should be involved early while Malathaat will attempt to run them down in the stretch.

Oddly enough, this year’s Kentucky Oaks will be run without any of the West Coast’s top stars. Las Virgenes (G3) winner Moonlight d’Oro was sidelined in February because of a knee chip. Undefeated Santa Anita Oaks (G2) winner Soothsay was under consideration for the Oaks, but trainer Richard Mandella ultimately opted to skip the Run for the Lilies. Bob Baffert shipped Santa Ysabel (G3) winner and Santa Anita Oaks runner-up Beautiful Gift to Churchill Downs, but he also chose to skip the Kentucky Oaks.

Stonestreet Stables has three opportunities to be the toast of the town Friday evening. With Steve Asmussen as their trainer, Stonestreet will be represented by a pair of homebreds, Pauline’s Pearl (out of Grade 1 winner Hot Dixie Chick) and Clairiere (out of multiple Grade 1 winner Cavorting). Should morning line favorite Malathaat cross the wire first, Stonestreet still would be the winning breeder. Malathaat is out of Stonestreet’s Grade 1 winner Dreaming of Julia and was purchased by Shadwell Stable as a yearling for $1,050,000.

From the rail out, here is the field for the Kentucky Oaks.

Pauline’s Pearl 20-1:
Pauline’s Pearl strikes me as a filly on the upswing. After breaking her maiden in her third career start, this well-bred filly ran a bang up second to Will’s Secret in the Honeybee (G3), her graded stakes debut. When Will’s Secret rerouted to Kentucky for the Ashland (G1), Pauline’s Pearl took advantage, nailing Ava’s Grace late in the stretch to take the Fantasy (G3). My biggest concern here is the rail draw. Pauline’s Pearl likes to sit an outside, pressing trip, and unless Ricardo Santana Jr. uses her early, she will be in danger of getting trapped on the rail. The plus side is that the rail post is producing 31 percent winners.

Maracuja 20-1: By Honor Code, Maracuja has never been out of the trifecta, though it took her three tries and a jockey change to finally get her picture taken. In her most recent start, she was all out to get second in the Gazelle (G3), which was her graded stakes debut. She tried her best, but there was just no running down undefeated Search Results. Now, it was the filly’s first attempt at two turns, and she was stretched out from 6 1/2 furlongs to nine furlongs, making her eligible to improve in her second start routing. But trainer Rob Atras is getting 0 percent winners from that angle.

Clairiere 5-1: A homebred for Stonestreet, Clairiere is half of a rivalry that I hope continues to flourish. This daughter of Curlin debuted a winner, defeating eventual Honeybee (G3) heroine Will’s Secret. In her next three starts, all grade two events, she faced rival Travel Column, defeating her in the Rachel Alexandra (G2) but losing to her in the Golden Rod (G2) and the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2). Clairiere likes to come from off the pace, a style that has resulted in a 4: 2-2-0 career record. Tyler Gaffalione hops aboard for the first time; Ricardo Santana Jr. rode the filly in her first two starts while Joe Talamo was aboard in her two most recent starts. Clairiere’s debut came at Churchill Downs, where she is 2: 1-1-0, with her second-place finish being to Travel Column.

Crazy Beautiful 15-1: “Beautiful, crazy/ She can’t help but amaze me/ The way that she dances/ Ain’t afraid to take chances/ And wears her heart on her sleeve/ Yeah, she’s crazy/ But her crazy’s beautiful to me”

Yes, I have lyrics for everything. And Crazy Beautiful showed us a bit of her crazy prior to the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2) when she balked and kicked up her heels a bit before loading into the gate. Her pre-race antics did nothing to deter the beautiful performance she put on, charging from last to first to win going away. Jose Ortiz stays with the Liam’s Map filly after their triumph in Florida, and the pair will be ready to pounce in the far turn. Additionally, Crazy Beautiful does have experience under the Twin Spires, having finished second in the Pocahontas (G3) as a juvenile.

Pass the Champagne 15-1:
George Weaver’s Pass the Champagne was game as could be in her graded stakes debut. The Flatter filly broke her maiden in her second start and then immediately jumped into the deep end in the Ashland (G1). She hit the gate at the break but gathered herself to press the pace, riding the rail while patiently waiting for running room. When an opening finally presented itself, Pass the Champagne rocketed to the lead exiting the turn and drew off by four lengths in the blink of an eye. She then proved hard to overcome, conceding to Malathaat only in the final strides to lose the win by a head. Javier Castellano, who rode her for the first time in the Ashland, stays aboard for the Oaks. Her tactical speed and comfort running on the inside will be an asset here, especially since she is light on experience.

Travel Column 3-1:
This daughter of Frosted hasn’t done much wrong. She debuted a winner and immediately went straight into grade one company in her second start. There was no keeping pace with the winner that day, but Travel Column bravely battled Crazy Beautiful for second, though she eventually had to settle for third. Since then, Travel Column beat archrival Clairiere in the Golden Rod (G2) and Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) while losing by a head to her in the Rachel Alexandra (G2). This filly typically likes to be close to the pace, but in the Golden Rod (G2) she showed that she can come from slightly off the pace too. Travel Column has the added advantage of being a perfect 2-for-2 at Churchill Downs.

Ava’s Grace 50-1: SCRATCHED 
While competitive thus far in her career, Ava’s Grace has only one win to her name, her debut victory. In her most recent start, Ava’s Grace set the pace in the Fantasy (G3) and battled hard to the wire, stubbornly giving way late to Pauline’s Pearl. While Ava’s Grace is sure to be part of the early pace scenario, she would need to take a large step forward to threaten for the win.

Moraz 30-1:
Moraz will represent the West Coast by default. In five career starts, the filly has only one victory. Her last three starts all were graded Oaks preps, resulting in a third in both the Las Virgenes (G3) and Santa Anita Oaks (G2) and a second in the Santa Ysabel (G2). Moraz will likely be part of the early pace, but she showed declining form in the Santa Anita Oaks, making her unlikely to hang around in the stretch.

Coach 50-1:
Coach rattled off three straight wins to begin her career but has not since found the winner’s circle. In her last four starts, she has finished behind fellow Oaks entrants Travel Column, Clairiere, Will’s Secret, Pauline’s Pearl, and Ava’s Grace. I do not expect her to turn the tables here.

Malathaat 5-2:
I find that I am not nearly as enamored with Malathaat as most seem to be. Despite the 97 she earned in the Demoiselle (G2), one of the highest speed figures in the field, she does not strike me as particularly fast. I found her effort that day quite bizarre, and after the race her connections were quoted as saying that she was uncomfortable on the rail, green, and was on and off the bridle. She should easily avoid that type of trip here having drawn to the outside. She is eligible to improve second off the layoff and clearly knows where the wire is if her last two races are any indication. So Mom, if you’re reading this (and I know you are), your persistence made me take a second, longer look at this superbly bred filly, and I’m coming around.

Will’s Secret 30-1:
Will’s Secret annexed two of Oaklawn Park’s Oaks preps before shipping east for the Ashland (G1). The daughter of Will Take Charge wired the field in the Honeybee (G3) but raced at the back of the field in the Ashland. She then mirrored Malathaat’s move in the far turn and the stretch but flattened out, finishing 5 1/4 lengths behind Malathaat and the incredibly game Pass the Champagne. Trainer Dallas Stewart is known for sending out long shot runners-up in the Derby, but don’t look for that to happen here.

Search Results 3-1:
Undefeated Search Results made quick work of the Gazelle (G3) field in her most recent start. She made her presence known from the start, closely chasing pacesetter Always Late. She collared Always Late in the far turn and pulled away in the stretch. The 9-furlong trip was no problem for the Flatter filly, and she earned a 96 for that effort, only one point off the 97 Malathaat received for the Demoiselle. Both those races were run at Aqueduct, which played deep and slow all meet. Additionally, Search Results earned a 100-speed figure, the highest in the field, for her Busher Invitational victory. If you love Malathaat, you have to like Search Results.

Competitive Speed 50-1:
Sixth upon debut, Competitive Speed then rattled off three straight victories, culminating in an upset win in the Glitter Woman Stakes. That also would be her last win; she has since finished sixth in the Forward Gal (G3) and third in both the Davona Dale (G2) and the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2). Her third-place finishes came at long odds, but I do not anticipate her accomplishing the same feat under the Twin Spires.

Millefeuille 20-1: Another daughter of Curlin, Millefeuille enters the Oaks off a runner-up finish to Crazy Beautiful in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2). Prior to that she was a well-beaten seventh in the Davona Dale (G2). She closed out her juvenile season with a second in the Demoiselle (G2). She took over in the backstretch and sprinted out to a 3 1/2-length advantage in the stretch but could not hold off the charging Malathaat. While undoubtedly talented, the Oaks will not be where Millefeuille shines.

With Ava's Grace out, I do not foresee a punishing pace. Travel Column and Moraz have the inside speed and will be joined by Search Results to their outside. Those three will sort themselves out on the front end, while Malathaat, Will’s Secret and Millefeuille also will be forwardly placed, though they will likely tuck in behind that first flight. The key at the break is for John Velazquez to not allow Malathaat to get boxed in as the filly has shown a clear distaste for running on the inside. If she can run her race, she also will have the jump on talented closers Crazy Beautiful and Clairiere, as will Pass the Champagne and Pauline’s Pearl.

I think Travel Column is sitting on a big effort and a victory. She is undefeated at Churchill Downs, and her best career race came under the Twin Spires. Rival Clairiere should be a big factor, along with Malathaat, Search Results and Pass the Champagne. Those five fillies all will be on my tickets, but I also would use Crazy Beautiful and Pauline’s Pearl on a ticket or two.

Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, which led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation covering racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues and, from time to time, offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry. A move North to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the From Coast to Coast blog for HRN. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband, Chris, and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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