A Dozen Plus One in the Oaks: The Final Novel Nine

The Kentucky Derby has been littered with defections left and right during the past month it seems, this past week alone three colts were removed from consideration due to injury or physical issues of some kind.

Unlike the Derby the Kentucky Oaks has remained virtually unscathed, losing just a few fillies here and there but no major defections resulting from physical injury. Aside from the removal of Dancinginherdreams, who was really no surprise after two consecutive dull efforts, all has remained incredibly strong on the filly front.

Sadly things shifted just a tiny bit south on Monday when expected Oaks favorite, R Heat Lightning, was pulled from race consideration after a knee injury was discovered. According to trainer Todd Pletcher the Trippi filly will be sent to Rood and Riddle equine clinic later this week for an examination that should determine whether or not her injury is career-threatening. R Heat Lightning was training exceptionally well leading up to the Oaks after winning the Davona Dale (gr.2) and Gulfstream Oaks (gr.2) by a combined margin of 15 ½ lengths. Here’s to hoping she heals up with no additional problems and is able to resume her brilliant career on the track later in the year.

With R Heat Lightning out of the picture it appears the way has been cleared for Joyful Victory to run as a clear and decisive favorite. Most of the contenders have arrived at Churchill Downs now for the big race and the field has been set. Thirteen fillies will contest the 137th running of the $1 million Kentucky Oaks on Friday May 6th,  and breaking from post number one is my Oaks pick the Larry Jones trained Joyful Victory. So here it is, the last Novel Nine of the year.

[Joyful Victory currently ranks #5 on HRN's 3 Year Old Filly rankings page]

The Novel Nine:

1)      Joyful Victory – Since winning the Honeybee Stakes (gr.3) this Tapit filly has done absolutely everything right. Her combined win margins in the Honeybee and Fantasy Stakes equal more than 15 lengths. In both races she showing explosive and sustained runs, launching from well off the pace each time to move herself into the lead entering the home stretch without any urging whatsoever. She finished fifth at Churchill Downs last November in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr.1) but it’s apparent she is a vastly improved filly this time around. She appears to be thriving at Churchill Downs as evidenced by her sparkling 5 furlong bullet on Sunday. Her #1 post isn’t ideal as all the speed will come piling towards her from the outside at the break but she should be able to find a spot behind to settle into before making her run and at the very least won’t be caught wide around the turn.  She will retain the services of jockey Mike Smith in the Oaks on Friday.
2)      Daisy Devine – I have been liking this Kafwain filly more and more since her arrival at Churchill Downs. Initially I treated her Fair Grounds Oaks (gr.2) win as a fluke but the more you look at her race record the more I realize it’s just more realistic to deduce that she is steadily improving and getting better. I like the way her training is being handled at Churchill as well, first a bullet 5 furlong work that she completed in :59.60 and then a bullet 3 furlong tightening on Sunday that went in :35.80. She will be back on the track Wednesday and according to trainer Andrew Mckeever it will all be left up to the filly as to what she wants to do. From what I’ve seen so far Daisy Devine has presented a fantastic physical image at Churchill. She retains the services of jockey James Graham and will break from post #9.
3)      St. John’s River – This filly has looked amazing in her morning gallops, right on her toes and prancing all the way. She finished second to Daisy Devine with a fast closing rush in the Fair Grounds Oaks, missing by half a length but had so much momentum going that she galloped out well ahead of the victor past the finish line. Her work at Churchill last Thursday was very strong when she got five furlongs in 1:00.80. After her 1 ¾ mile Monday morning gallop, exercise rider Robert Wright said that she’s been a lot more lively since her work and “She likes the track, [and] likes the mud.” If there is a filly coming into the Oaks with the most potential to improve and peak it could be St. John’s River. She breaks from post #13 on the far outside with jockey Rosie Napravnik riding.
4)      Zazu – Her seven furlong work at Hollywood Park on Saturday was excellent when she went in 1:24.40. She ships into Churchill Downs today and if it weren’t for that fact I would probably have her a little higher but I think there’s an advantage to coming over earlier rather than later. Hopefully we’ll get to see her stretch her legs within the next couple of days and get an idea of how she takes to the surface. All year she’s been racing in tough company and was always coming very strong in the end. If she presents a good image at Churchill before the Oaks I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a Tapit exacta light up the board. The grey filly will break from post position #6 with jockey Joel Rosario in the irons.
5)      Plum Pretty – I didn’t really care for her seven furlong work on April 26th when she went in a slow 1:28.40 but thankfully she looked very good in her Churchill work on Monday morning. She covered four furlongs in :48.80 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.60. She appeared to be very comfortable coming down the stretch, doing it all on her own with no encouragement from the rider. She could be a big surprise in the Oaks coming off her 25 length romp in the Sunland Park Oaks. Many people expect her to bounce but that seems unlikely to me, especially with Bob Baffert directing her course. She will break from post #12 under jockey Martin Garcia. Her post could go either way on Friday; with Holy Heavens and Street Storm to her inside, those two will probably drop back and she might be able to move herself into a good stalking position without too much trouble. She could on the other hand get caught wide into the first turn if Garcia can’t find a way to get closer to the rail after the break and lose some vital positioning.
6)      Kathmanblu – She hasn’t been turning many heads lately with her Oaks preparations and according to some eyewitnesses she appears to have lost a little weight, never a good sign in the week leading up to the biggest race of a fillies sophomore career. She turned in a solid 1:01.80 five furlong breeze Saturday, looking comfortable coming down the stretch with her ears flicking back and forth. Her last two starts make it looks as though she could be tailing off slightly from the excellent form she showed when winning the Golden Rod Stakes on Churchill’s dirt and the Sweetest Chant on turf earlier this year. She didn’t produce that explosive turn of foot I had come to expect of her in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes and still won, but her grind-it-out run in the Ashland couldn’t get the job done. I still expect her to run much better at Churchill but I’m not sure she is ready to win. The Bluegrass Cat filly will break from post #4 with regular rider Julien Leparoux up.
7)      Summer Soiree – Any filly that can win two consecutive starts by a combined margin of more than 20 lengths is worthy of consideration for the Oaks. In her last start Summer Soiree demolished the Bourbonette Stakes, winning by more than 10 lengths after leading gate-to-wire. Before that she won a 1 1/16 mile allowance race by more than 9 lengths, once again on the front end. As a daughter of War Front this filly’s greatest asset is her speed and ability to draw away in the stretch. Her form was flattered when fellow Bourbonette runner Lilacs and Lace returned to defeat a solid field in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes after being soundly defeated in the Bourbonette. The one drawback for Summer Soiree is that she is entering off a 1 mile race and does not run her best unless she can cruise out on the lead. There will be much more pressure in the Oaks than any of her other races so unless she can conserve some energy she might be spent in the stretch. She will break from post #3 under Gabriel Saez, a position that will give her a perfect jump on the lead.
8)      Holy Heavens – Holy Heavens has finished no worse than third in her last six starts and both of her most recent runs have resulted in fast closing second and third place finishes to Joyful Victory in the Honeybee and Fantasy Stakes respectively. In the Fantasy she began her rally too late and just missed catching Arienza for second but there was no hope at all of catching Joyful Victory. With the added 1/16 of a mile in the Oaks this Holy Bull filly will be able to fully extend her run and use the stretch to her greatest advantage. Trainer Benard Chatters doesn’t work his filly a whole lot and when he does speed isn’t the main ingredient to her moves. On April 26th Holy Heavens covered five furlongs in a slow 1:03.60 but judging from her past experiences her slow times shouldn’t worry potential backers as she seems to require remarkably little training to stay in top shape. She will break from post #11 with jockey Kent Desormeaux getting the mount.
9)      Lilacs and Lace – Lilacs and Lace turned in a comfortable five furlong work on Saturday, getting the distance in 1:02.60 in her first trip over the Churchill Downs dirt strip. She looked well within herself galloping down the stretch under no urging from the rider and actually seemed to get over the dirt surface very well. I’m still not sure how she’ll stack up against the other big fillies that have proven themselves on traditional dirt but from what I saw Saturday it looks like she won’t have too much trouble handling the track. She will break from post #2 right outside of Joyful Victory and inside Summer Soiree. After leading the Ashland gate-to-wire you have to wonder if a speed battle will ensue with Summer Soiree to her immediate outside, or if one of the fillies will be content to rate in behind.
All the rest:

10)   Her Smile – The recently acquired Bobby Flay filly actually looked pretty good in her first work at Churchill Downs on Sunday, going four furlongs in an easy :50.40 for trainer Todd Pletcher. She will break from post #7 and has secured the services of Garret Gomez to ride.
11)   Street Storm – This filly showed some guts winning the Mardi Gras Stakes over Aide after a series of bumping incidents early on but the Oaks seems a little out of her league right now. Her latest work at Churchill Downs on April 28th was a five furlong move she completed in 1:03.00. She will break from post #10 with Shaun Bridgmohan aboard.
12)   Bouquet Booth – Bouquet Booth looked very hard-pressed in her Churchill Downs work on Friday when she went five furlongs in 1:02.20. I think she’s going to be up against the odds on Friday in the Oaks. She will break from post #8 on Friday with jockey Robby Albarado up.
13)   Suave Voir Faire - She was scheduled to arrive at Churchill Downs today from Highpoint Farm and Training Center where she has been breezing over the polytrack. Her most recent move last Friday was a solid five furlong work she completed in a time of :59.80. It appears she’s fit for the Oaks but I don’t like the fact that she will have zero works at Churchill. She breaks from post #5 with jockey Miguel Mena aboard.
The way I see it now there are four fillies who have worked at Churchill and have really caught my eye. Joyful Victory by far looks the best, she has taken to her morning works and gallops like a duck to water. I see no reason why she won’t be ready to run the race of her life on Friday. Daisy Devine and St. John’s River have presented an equally impressive presence on the track. They look like they go out there and have fun and St. John’s River in particular is full of enthusiasm and appears to have energy to spare. Plum Pretty was the fourth filly who really looked great moving over the Churchill Downs strip. I’m not sure how good she is right now and where she will stack up against this competition but she sure looks wonderful and don’t forget the Oaks will only be her fifth lifetime start. Kathmanblu also looked good but not as exceptional as some of the others.

Photo Courtesy of Meathea Kelley



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Older Comments about A Dozen Plus One in the Oaks: The Final Novel Nine...

Does anyone know where there will be a live stream for the oaks and derby on the internet?
Lilacs and Lace has looked really good training over the dirt but she's not one of my top picks, especially if she tries to hold the lead.
Watch out for Lilacs and Lace
Thanks Andrew! I've loved doing it and I can't wait to actually watch the Oaks tomorrow, should be a race for the history books with this field. Daisy Devine has looked amazing at Churchill, I think she's going to run very well.
I enjoyed reading your lead-up to the Oaks this spring Brian. Great job! I'm really nervous about picking Joyful Victory after she drew the rail so even though I will be rooting for her I'm going to be picking Daisy Devine. The Fair Grounds horses are off to a good start at Churchill so far.
I agree Brian, I can't beleive she is at 30-1 on the morning line! Can you imagine an exacta with her and say Daisy Devine at 20-1 cashing in! There's some terrific value to win in the the Oaks this year!
Like to see the longshots coming in high the Novel Nine. I especially like #3 on your list ... a very LIVE longshot!

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