Analysis: Top alternatives to Kentucky Oaks favorite Bellafina

May 01, 2019 10:15am
With a clear pace scenario and fewer horses to consider, Friday's Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs can be argued as a more inviting betting race than Saturday's Kentucky Derby. The Oaks is a race players can approach with strong opinions rather than guess which horse will get sent or if the pace will turn out fast.

The latter contest lacks a true need-the-lead type, while the Oaks features two of them, allowing handicappers to toss both and attack with other fillies. Plus, a 14-horse field instead of 20 means fewer legitimate options and cheaper tickets in general, giving casual bettors a shot. From multiple standpoints, the Oaks is quite appealing...even if it is not the Derby. 

Because of the expected pace scenario, the favorite, Bellafina, is vulnerable. An off track might affect her as well, as she has only raced one time on wet dirt labeled “good.”

I've honed in on Out for a Spin as the best alternative -- especially if the track turns out sloppy -- followed by past rival Restless Rider and the improving Lady Apple.

Out for a Spin won the Ashland Stakes (G1) by a neck in a major 52-1 upset over the more popular Restless Rider.  
To win, she pressed the pace set by the reigning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies champion Jaywalk, and then took over in the stretch and held off Restless Rider. 

Critics can argue the track was speed-favoring (and even I suggested that not too long ago). But TimeformUS believes the track was neutral, as it did not mark the card’s races in red.

Others will also point out that Restless Rider is cycling into her best form, as she makes her second start off the layoff. Out for a Spin made her third start of the year in the Ashland and ran her career best race. 

But to put another checkmark in Out for a Spin’s column, she is 2-for-2 on wet dirt, and the forecast calls for rain on Friday. Restless Rider finished second by a nose in the Golden Rod Stakes (G2) in her only try on slop, but it was considered a disappointing effort as she was less than even money. 

Relying on more than a singular option, Restless Rider certainly can move forward in the Oaks and pick up another Grade 1. 

Her first such score came in the Alcibiades Stakes (G1) at Keeneland last fall, when she stalked the pace in third and won comfortably. Restless Rider then finished second in the Juvenile Fillies before another second in the aforementioned Golden Rod to Liora. The pace was slow. 

In this spot, Restless Rider may fall more toward midpack. As long as she stays at least four or five lengths behind, she can win. 

Both fillies are "A" selections for this writer in horizontal tickets.

A third option is Lady Apple, who won the Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn Park with a good inside trip, although she did need to squeeze through late.

While Motion Emotion did most of the hard work in the Fantasy, Lady Apply wasn't too far behind. At worst, Lady Apple sat only four lengths off the pacesetter, meaning she endured some of the fast pace, too. 

In her previous races, she ran as a presser, but with the fast pace she might repeat her position in the Fantasy and fall four lengths back again or more. 

As an extra plus, Lady Apple does own successful experience on a wet track. After a layoff, she returned on Feb. 7 and broke her maiden over the slop.

While she is not as appealing as Out for a Spin or Restless Rider, Lady Apple makes her third start of the year in the Oaks and might run a big race. It is not often that bettors get double-digit odds on the Santana Jr./Asmussen combination. 

Who are the need-the-lead pacesetters that will cause a collapse? On paper, Motion Emotion and Serengeti Empress only know one way to run. Motion Emotion has secured the lead in her past four races, usually at a moderate to fast clip. Serengeti Empress led in four out of her past five races. Thus, worlds will collide and neither of them will probably stick around late.

Serengeti Empress still remains a popular choice among bettors, but this is an almost impossible scenario for her unless she magically shows she can rate. The same logic applies to Motion Emotion. Perhaps if one of them breaks poorly, the other one can get a break. But otherwise they will duel.

I recommend tossing both of them from horizontal tickets.

One filly that may join them is Jaywalk, who has not looked the same in her two starts this year. The speed figure she received in the Ashland is fine, but with all the talk of a Keeneland speed bias it is still disappointing she gave up the lead late after early pressure. Sometimes 2-year-old fillies fail to progress.

If Jaywalk is used, she fits more underneath. She needs to prove herself a winner again before accepting her on top.

To close, Bellafina is worth more discussion. Nothing is wrong with her as she comes into this race on a three-race winning streak, including the Santa Anita Oaks (G1). She also won on a “good” dirt surface in the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) two starts ago.

However, Bellafina will race up close to Motion Emotion and Serengeti Empress, and staying within range of those two should soften her up.

Also, the flat effort Bellafina put up in the Breeders’ Cup over this surface is still locked into memory. She is usable as an extra horse in horizontals, but I will toss. 

Out for a Spin and Restless Rider are the best options, followed Lady Apple. All three of them are usable in the Oaks/Derby double or boxed in an exacta. This is a good race for value, and one far less confusing than the Derby. 


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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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