It’s become arguably the second most watched day of horse racing each year as the Kentucky Oaks, the filly version of the Kentucky Derby, is set for Friday at Churchill Downs.
The race is the 11th on the Oaks card on Friday and is schedule to go to post at 3:12 p.m. The forecast calls for a 90 percent chance of rain.
On paper there is an overwhelming favorite, but the races are never run on paper and when it gets to this weekend, anything can and often does happen.
Let’s take a run through the field.
Bellafina (2/1, Flavian Prat jockey, Simon Callaghan trainer): Interesting on social media this week, there are great many of people poking holes against Bellafina, even to the point of leaving her off the ticket. Mistake – big mistake. Sure, she might not win, but leaving her off the ticket is throwing away money. Perhaps it has something to do that she finished fourth on the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies over the Churchill Track last November after hopping and bumping at the start. But since then she’s come back to win three-straight, including the Santa Anita Oaks by over five lengths. She got bored in the stretch ad drifted but still won easily over the four-horse field. I don’t care about the lone race she has run outside of California she was fourth. This is a new year and she has been looking good.
Champagne Anyone (6/1, Chris Landeros, Ian Wilkes): Won the Gulfstream Park Oaks in her last start at 7/1, but that broke a three-race streak where she was no better than third. Amazing enough if she goes off at 6/1 or under it will be the lowest odds of her career. She does have a strong closing kick and if a speed dual develops up front, this might be one to watch in the lane, but I prefer to look elsewhere.
Restless Rider (6/1, Brian Hernandez Jr., Kenneth McPeak): It’s either win or finished second for this runner over her seven career starts. Been well bet in her last six starts so those three second place finishes burned some cash. Lost by a neck and a nose in her last two starts. Does have two wins over the track, as well as a pair of seconds, including a second by a nose in the slop in the Golden Rod back in late September – something to note if the weather is bad.
Jaywalk (8/1, Javier Castellano, John Servis): This was your winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies back at Churchill in November, a race that capped a four-race winning streak, all by comfortable margins. Since then it’s been a pair of uninspiring efforts, both times as the favorite. There was a fourth in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream, followed by a third in the Ashland at Keeneland about a month ago. This is the third start off a break, so there may be reason to hope, but there has been regression since last year.
Serengheti Empress (8/1, Jose Ortiz, Thomas Amoss): Has been an every-other-race type of horse the last four races. Four back she crushed the field in the Pocahontas over the track at Churchill by 19 lengths. The next start she was a badly beaten seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. She rebounded in the Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds, winning by four lengths. Finally, in her last start she bled and was vanned off in the Fair Grounds Oaks on March 23. She’s back and has been turning in great works at Churchill. Tough to get a read here.
Motion Emotion (15/1, Mike Smith, Thomas Van Berg): I like her better than most of the horses with single-digit morning lines. Only two wins in six career starts and those came in a straight maiden and an optional claimer, but she has been a close second in two stakes over the Oaklawn surface in the last two starts. In both races – the Honeybee and the Fantasy – she set the pace and was caught late. There’s every reason to think she will be the front-runner here again and with other speed in the race there must be concern of a duel ensuing. So. What’s different here? Mike Smith in saddle. Big Money Mike may send her to the lead but he’s not going to let the horse burn out. Smith was up in the Fantasy and did lose the lead late, but it was a gutsy run and I am not saying to go out on the win end here. With Omaha Beach scratching out of the Derby, this turns out to be Smith’s Big Money Race.
Lady Apple (20-1/Ricardo Santana, Steve Asmussen): Winner of three straight, including the Fantasy in her last start at 9/1. The other two wins were a maiden and an optional claimer, but it is clear a light has gone off. If you like Motion Emotion, then you must take a long look here as she sat patiently in fourth throughout the race, then pounced in the lane for the win. That was as far back as she had sat in her eight-race career, so is it signs of maturing? If so, here’s your value play.
Out for a Spin (15/1, Irad Ortiz, Dallas Stewart): Three wins in five starts and the winner of the Ashland in her last start. The win came at 50-1 as it was her first start in a stakes race. Appears to prefer to push the pace, then take on the leader in the lane. Also has shown versatility having won over a fast track and a muddy one. An interesting runner to look at as you will get nice odds here. The toughest start yet? Sure, but if you want value on your ticket, look as possibly the fourth or fifth horse you add in your mix.
Jeltrin (15/1, Luis Saez, Alexis Delgado): Two wins in six career starts with her last start a win in the Davona Dale at Gulfstream back in early March at 51-1. She hung near the lead throughout the race, the just got up for the win. In her other start – her maiden win – she went wire to wire in late October. I think it is way too much to expect of her to hit the board.
Street Band (15/1, Sophie Doyle, Larry Jones): The winner of the Fair Grounds Oaks at 11-1, Street Band has three wins in eight career starts. In her only other stakes race she was fourth in the Rachel Alexandra. Before then it was a series of optional claimers after she broke maiden in her second start. A lot to ask.
Chocolate Kisses (20/1, Julien Leparoux, Mark Casse): Was a fairly badly beaten sixth in the Ashland in a race where she never got going. Before that, it was a win in the Honeybee at Oaklawn at 7/1. Likes to run on late and there will be speed here, but I think it’s a bit much to ask in this spot.
Flor de La Mar (20/1, Joel Rosario, Bob Baffert): Not a lot to endorse here which seems strange for a Baffert horse. Was second, five-lengths back of Bellafina in the Santa Anita Oaks, her third career start. Before then it was a maiden win followed by fifth in an optional claimer. A big work on April 26 was nice but is not enough to sway my opinion. Pass.
Liora (20/1, Channing Hill, Wayne Catalano): Comes back to Churchill after running three straight races at the Fair Grounds. She was second in both the Racheal Alexandra and the Fair Grounds Oaks. She did break her maiden over the Churchill surface and came back with a win in the Golden Rod, also at Churchill in November. Can she win? Probably not, but she could show up on the board with her preferred stalking trip.
Positive Spirit (30/1, Manuel Franco, Rodolphe Brisset): Should be way more than 30/1 by the time the race goes off. Two wins in six career starts with a second in her most recent start, the Gazelle at Aqueduct on April 6. Never been a fan of horses that come to the first weekend in Kentucky from New York and I am not going to start now.
Dunbar Road (5/1, Jose Ortiz, Chad Brown): If she can draw in, could be a tough runner. Just two career wins – a maiden score followed by a second Gulfstream Park Oaks. In what would be her third career starts, she would figure to be someone to take a good look at with her up close, stalking style.
I can’t assume Dunbar Road will draw in so will leave her out of these projections. If she does get in, I would add the horse to my ticket.
Even though there are many that want to knock Bellafina out of the race, I think she’s the one to beat. I will make a win wager and then double that amount on a place bet. For my exotics put Restless Rider, Lady Apple, Motion Emotion and Out for a Spin into a box wager. That’s a $20 bet for a $1 exacta and $60 for a $1 trifecta.
By Dennis Miller