Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Jockey Club Oaks

Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Jockey Club Oaks
Photo: NYRA

The $700,000 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational going 1 3/8 miles is the finale of NYRA’s Turf Triple for 3-year-old fillies. The series also includes the Belmont Oaks Invitational (G1), won by European invader Santa Barbara, and the Saratoga Oaks Invitational (G3) won by Con Lima.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast weed out the contenders from the pretenders.



1. Creative Flair (IRE) (7-2)

Irish-bred Creative Flair made her U.S. debut a strong one, closing to grab third with an outside bid once she was uncovered in the Saratoga Oaks. She could not, however, run down winner Con Lima and runner-up Higher Truth. Another performance like that puts her squarely in contention.

Creative Flair got a cozy rail trip following Higher Truth in the Saratoga Oaks (3); however, when she shifted out for running room, Creative Flair tried lugging in. Mike Smith got her sorted out late, and she gradually made up ground in a one-paced fashion. When Charles Appleby ships to the U.S., pay attention. In the last two years, six of his shippers to the U.S. hit the board.


2. Higher Truth (IRE) (3-1)

Higher Truth has been knocking at the door of a Grade 1 victory for a couple starts now. She ran 3rd in the Belmont Oaks Invitational in July and then was runner-up in the Saratoga Oaks Invitational. In both races, she was less than a length from winning it all. With none of the three opponents that finished ahead of her in this race, Higher Truth looks poised to finally nab a victory at racing’s highest level. The fact that she’s 3: 2-0-1 at Belmont only helps.

Higher Truth hopes for the victory in the third leg of the turf triple after placing third in Belmont Oaks, and second in the Saratoga Oaks. The Chad Brown trainee was bested a combined 1 1/4 lengths.  She’s the one to beat.


3. Baby Blythe (9-2)

Baby Blythe appears to be a filly that wants to run all day. She could do no better than third for Shug McGaughey in her first two starts, which were both at a mile. When stretched out to 1 3/16-mile, there was no stopping Baby Blythe, who stormed to a 7-length win. This is a huge step up in class for the daughter of American Pharoah, but her speed figures do fit with the field.

Last out maiden winner Baby Blythe jumps into Grade 3 competition. By American Pharoah out of a Giant’s Causeway half-sister to Group 1 winner and first-crop sire Caravaggio, Baby Blythe is a later maturing type.  Shug McGaughey is a conservative trainer; however, 16% of his last-out maiden winners find the winner’s circle in their next start. Baby Blythe’s speed figures aren’t as flashy as some of the others, and as much as I love her pedigree, I have to pass.


4. Be Up (15-1)

Every field needs a longshot, and Be Up will do the honors here. Her two victories came in a maiden claimer and an optional claimer. The spot of positive news is that she does seem to prefer longer distances and gets Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the irons. I don’t think that will even the odds that much though.

Be Up returns 17 days after beating optional claimers by a length at Colonial Downs. She was all out to win by a length. The Jonathan Thomas trainee is facing a tougher group here, and her speed figures are low. Be Up raced close to the pace early in her career, and if Irad Ortiz, Jr. can switch tactics and stick her on the lead, Be Up has a longshot chance of upsetting the field. I’m not convinced.

5. Madone (6-1)

For the most part Madone has been tearing it up on the West Coast, earning five victories in eight career starts. She has had some miscues, though. The races she has not won resulted in off the board finishes, including in her most recent start, the Del Mar Oaks (G1). Her only other trip to the East Coast was for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1) in which she finished eighth. John Velazquez hops aboard her for the first time, but I would only use to fill out exotic wagers.

Madone, a four-time stakes winner in California, has carved out a niche as a turf miler. Unfortunately, she has finished off the board in two starts at nine furlongs and had the worst finish of her career the only time she traveled east.

6. Shantisara (IRE) (7-2)

This will be Shantisara’s third start in the U.S. In her debut here, she was second in the Boiling Spring Stakes. She then won the Pucker Up (G3) at Arlington by three lengths last month. That effort earned her one of the best turf speed figures in the field. Flavien Prat was aboard for that win and retains the mount here. With Chad Brown at the helm, you have to give this filly a hard look.

Shantisara was the impressive three-length winner of the Pucker Up Stakes (G3). Flavien Prat had to steady the Irish-bred earlier and lost some ground, but it didn’t matter, as Shantisara took off once she saw daylight in the stretch. Chad Brown and Flavien Pratt, what’s not to like?


7. Harajuku (IRE) (4-1)

Harajuku will be making her U.S. debut in this spot. The Deep Impact (JPN) filly hails from France, where she is a Group 3 winner and Group 2 placed. Regular jockey Stephane Pasquier made the trip across the pond to ride Harajuku here, so take that into consideration.

Harajuku faced more challenging Group 1 and Group 2 fillies in France and was no match. However, in May, she beat a small group of Group 3-types by 1 1/4 lengths in the Prix Cleopatre (G3) over good turf. The Andre Fabre trainee dislikes the soft turf, and her only on-the-board finishes were over good courses, so there’s a possibility that she could improve her form on firm turf. Additionally, she can press or set the pace.



Final Thoughts

Ashley: This is a tough field to sift through. I can make a case for most of these fillies, but there can only be one winner. There’s no real speed in this field, so I expect to see either Higher Truth or Be Up setting the pace, in which case Higher Truth has this in the bag. Set the pace. Don’t go too fast early. Leave enough in the tank for the stretch.


Laurie:  This small field of up-and-coming 3-year-old fillies has very little early speed and no confirmed front runner. So, whoever hits the front early and slows the pace has a good shot of staying there.  Harajuku, Higher Truth, and Be Up have shown signs of early life in previous races, so any one of the three could head for the front.

Higher Truth is a half-length shy of being a Grade 1 winner, and that’s the tipping point for me.  





2. Higher Truth (3-1)

2. Higher Truth (3-1)

1. Creative Flair (7-2)

6. Shantisara (7-2)

3. Baby Blythe (9-2)

7. Harajuku (4-1)

5. Madone (6-1)

1. Creative Flair (7-2)


Meet Laurie Ross

 HRN Pedigree Analyst 


 Published Author

 Pedigree Research/Consultation/Sales 

 ThoroFan Board Member

 Member – NTWAB

Through hands-on work at barns, I learned valuable lessons about Thoroughbred conformation, gait, and temperament and later worked withThoroughbred rescue/re-train organizations. I have committed my passion for horses to the intensive study of pedigree and breeding theory for the last 20 years. 

I support clients with all aspects of pedigree/breeding analysis, research, sales, catalogue review, and recommendations on claims or private sales. Clients include national leading owners, racing/breeding syndicates, the little guy with one mare, and everyone in between. 10-20% of all proceeds are donated to Thoroughbred rescue & retraining groups. Check out my website, Iron Maidens Thoroughbreds, and the IMTBreds blog.

I welcome your questions regarding pedigree, handicapping, and breeding. If you would like me to cover a specific topic, please contact me. 

Twitter: @IMTBreds
Facebook: IMTBreds
LinkedIn: Laurie Ross

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