Just as the top young colts and geldings move forward to the first Saturday in May, the best young fillies in the nation are currently jockeying for points and position for the 2020 Kentucky Oaks. Despite the tragic loss of the talented Taraz to a training injury on Monday morning, this division is full of strong recent performances, promising an intriguing run all the way to the lilies.
The big race at Churchill Downs, contested at nine furlongs and limited to a field of 14, is set for Friday, May 1. With just more than 10 weeks to go, let's take a look at a dozen of the current top contenders for this year's renewal listed in alphabetical order.
Bast (Uncle Mo) - Perhaps the most accomplished filly on this list, the Bob Baffert trainee has already won four graded stakes while racing exclusively in Southern California. Most recently she accounted for the seven-furlong Santa Ynez (G2) on Jan. 5. Before that, she turned the tables on one of the two fillies who finished ahead of her in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Donna Veloce, in the Starlet (G1) at Los Alamitos. With good tactical speed and proven class, she rates near the top of the division. Of some concern, she has not had a published workout since Jan. 18.
British Idiom (Flashback) - An undefeated champion at 2, the flashy chestnut suffered the first defeat of her career when she returned to the races on Saturday, finishing second behind Finite in the Rachel Alexandra (G2). All in all, it was not a bad performance for the champ, finding a little trouble early on a track not playing overly kind to closers. She kept trying down the stretch but was only second-best behind the impressive winner. It was a solid enough effort to expect improvement next time out. She's already well traveled and proven against top competition.
Donna Veloce (Uncle Mo) - After an eye-catching debut victory, this Simon Callaghan trainee came back to run a pair of very good second-place finishes behind British Idiom in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Bast in the Starlet to close out her season at 2. Yet to race at 3, the $800,000 2-year-old in training purchase shows two recent workouts at Los Alamitos as she gears up for her return to the races. While not (yet) a stakes winner, she proved that she belongs among the best by running so well last fall with so little experience under her belt.
Finite (Munnings) - She became to the first filly to win an Oaks prep race worth 50 points to its winner with a powerful victory over the returning champion in the Rachel Alexandra. After finishing second at Saratoga in both of her first two starts for trainer Steve Asmussen, she's rattled off five consecutive victories, starting with a win on the turf at Kentucky Downs. Her last was her most impressive yet, and with two stakes wins already at Churchill Downs, she clearly has moved near the top of any Kentucky Oaks list.
Harvey's Lil Goil (American Pharoah) - Following a decent rally in her career debut, this Bill Mott trained filly really turned it up a few notches in her last two. In both a maiden race at Aqueduct and the listed Busanda Stakes, the daughter of a Triple Crown champion displayed a strong kick to dominate her competition. Already a winner at nine furlongs, she won't have a problem with the distance, but the big gray will need to step up in class before the Kentucky Oaks. She's also never raced anywhere but Aqueduct, but her talent is obvious.
Lake Avenue (Tapit) - Also from the barn of Bill Mott, this Godolphin homebred was one of the most impressive juvenile fillies in New York in 2019. After a good runner-up debut in a Belmont Park maiden sprint, she stretched out beautifully with a 12 3/4-length romp in an Aqueduct maiden, followed by an easy gate to wire win in the nine furlong Demoiselle (G2). Like the one above her, she also will need to prove herself against top competition, but currently working at Payson Park in Florida, she would seem to have a very high upside.
Lucrezia (Into Mischief) - After finding a bit of success sprinting on the turf, this Arnaud Delacour trained filly has looked like a serious horse since returning to the dirt in her last two starts. Both came at Tampa Bay Downs, where the competition is sneaky good. In the Feb. 8 Suncoast Stakes, she turned what looked like a deep and competitive field into a one-filly show. That was her first try at a mile, and she gave every indication that the increase in distance suited her just fine. It remains to be seen how she will fare outside of Tampa, but I have a feeling her back-to-back stakes win form will carry over elsewhere.
Maedean (Tapit) - Another New Yorker, she was beaten by Lake Avenue in the Demoiselle but finished with a good late kick to get up for second in the 10-horse field. Before that, she rolled right on by to easily dispatch her competition in the listed Tempted Stakes. Despite having less brilliance as most on this list, she has rallied strongly consistently in her career and is bred to run all day. She also has the pedigree to get better with age. Recent works in south Florida signal that she will be soon ready to roll for trainer Mark Hennig.
Spice is Nice (Curlin) - Speaking of brilliance, that is exactly what this filly displayed in her career debut. Bred to the hilt, she was a million-dollar yearling who ran to her purchase price while romping by a dozen lengths in a one-mile maiden race at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 12. Trained by Todd Pletcher, she has not missed a beat in recent workouts. Look for the impressive physical specimen to soon graduate to graded stakes racing in her second career start.
Tonalist's Shape (Tonalist) - Not talked about as much as most on this list, this Saffie Joseph Jr. trainee has done absolutely nothing wrong while winning all of her four career starts. Her best performance to date came when she won the listed Hut Hut stakes by nine lengths to close out her juvenile season, which was also her longest career race at a mile. A daughter of a Belmont Stakes winner, she returned to the races in a fine style with a solid win in the Forward Gal (G3). She's yet to race outside of south Florida, and the competition will certainly get tougher. Still, so far, so good.
Venetian Harbor (Munnings) - Although she has yet to face the best out West, it certainly looks like trainer Richard Baltas has a good one in this bay filly. After running a solid second in her career debut at Del Mar, she has dazzled in back-to-back efforts at Santa Anita. First, she rolled by more than 10 lengths in a fast 6 1/2-furlong maiden race. Then she became a graded stakes winner in style with a dominant performance in the Las Virgenes (G2) on Feb. 8. Bast and Donna Veloce were the top two in California in 2019, but it looks like they will have their hands full with this one.
Wicked Whisper (Liam's Map) - A very impressive winner of both a maiden at Saratoga and the Frizette (G1) at Belmont Park in her first two career starts, this Asmussen-trained filly looked like any kind before failing as one of the favorites in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. As the only blemish on her resume, the $500,000 yearling purchase deserves another shot, and she'll get that in Oaklawn Park's upcoming Honeybee (G3).