The Kentucky Oaks, which will run at Churchill Downs Friday, May 3, is one of the most competitive fields we’ve seen in the past few years. At first glance, it’s a one-horse race. At second glance, maybe a couple more. The longer you analyze the field, the harder it becomes to narrow in on the winner.
The obvious choice, and the lukewarm favorite at a morning line of 3-1, is Dreaming of Julia. The Todd Pletcher trained daughter of A.P. Indy exits a win in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks on the Florida Derby undercard. She bested the field by nearly 22 lengths and earned a Brisnet speed figure of 107. Her performance was reminiscent of Rachel Alexandra’s romp in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks. Under a hand-ride, with little urging, Dreaming of Julia decimated the field which included the very talented Live Lively. Jockey John Velazquez, who’s been out the last few weeks with an injury, will be aboard for Friday's race.
Dreaming of Julia is clearly at the top of her form and boasts the fastest last race speed figure, but the Kentucky Oaks includes the top three-year-old fillies running and, as such, anything can happen.
One would think a 107 Brisnet speed figure by a three-year-old a quarter into the year, would be the top among her rivals, but Richard Mandella’s Beholder turned in a 110 in an allowance race prior to her Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies win in November. Yes, that means she accomplished that at age two. Given, it was a six furlong sprint and she was the easy favorite, but if she’s capable of it once, she could hit it again. In three starts this year she’s finished first two times and second once. Her last two victories came in Grade 1 events—the Santa Anita Oaks and the Las Virgines, both at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Cal. Garret Gomez will be in the irons.
Stablemate to Dreaming of Julia, Unlimited Budget, comes into the Oaks undefeated in four career starts. After breaking her maiden last November, she jumped up to graded stakes company and has never looked back. This daughter of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense has wins in the Grade 2 Demoiselle Stakes, the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra, and the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks. In a field of fast runners that like to get the lead, one that can sit off the lead like Unlimited Budget, may be able to take advantage.
Each of the three aforementioned fillies is a likely winner and definitely the ones to play around with in the win and place slots on your wagering ticket. To add some value to these girls, a longer price filly with good potential is a must.
Close Hatches, at 6-1, is undefeated in three starts and didn’t get to the track for the first time until Jan. 26. In three months time, trainer Bill Mott has taken this Juddmonte filly from maiden to allowance to graded stakes winner. The word around the backside is that Mott, who can’t help but show his happiness when things are going his way, has been in exemplary spirits and talking smack, saying this filly is winning the Oaks. Add this to the fact Close Hatches retains regular rider Joel Rosario, who has been on a blazing-hot win streak, and it’s hard not to include Close Hatches.
Rose to Gold, at odds of 15-1, has to be the best value in this field. Once people start analyzing the stats, this daughter of Friends Lake may drop her odds. Rose to Gold has seven career starts, all of them stakes races and four of them graded stakes. She’s won five races and placed once. Her worst finish was 12th in the Darley Alcibiades over Keeneland’s Polytrack. Throw out that race and this Sal Santoro runner has all the makings of a potential upset winner. Plus, she has a win over a sloppy track (in case we get the showers forecasted for Friday)and gets jockey Calvin Borel as her pilot.
The field for the 139th running of the Kentucky Oaks, from the rail out with odds, is: Silsita 20-1, Midnight Lucky 9-2, Beholder 7-2, Unlimited Budget 7-2, Seaneen Girl 30-1, Princess of Sylmar 20-1, Pure Fun 30-1, Dreaming of Julia 3-1, Rose to Gold 15-1, and Close Hatches 6-1. Flashy Gray scratched Wednesday afternoon when it was learned she'd suffered a bruised foot after morning training.
The Kentucky Oaks is the 11th race on Friday’s card with a scheduled post of 5:45 p.m. EDT. The Oaks will be aired live on NBC with replays on HRTV and TVG.
Photo: Gulfstream Park: Coglianese Photos/Courtney Heeney