07 May 2005, Louisville, Kentucky, USA --- The field of 20 horses round the first turn during the 131st Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Winner, Giacomo, ridden by Mike E. Smith, is on the far left in the pink and green silks. --- Image by © Steve Boyle/NewSport/Corbis

Can Secret Oath knock off the favorites in the Kentucky Oaks?

At just after 2:51 p.m. PDT today (May 6), the 14 best 3-year-old fillies will take to the track for the Kentucky Oaks, the premier race of the year for fillies.

And as is always the case for races such as the Oaks and the Kentucky Derby, there is a good chance that there is money to be made in the race!

The two favorites are Nest (5/2) and Kathleen O (7/2) and while on paper they look like the horses to beat, there are others I feel have a great shot at much more favorable odds.

Let’s look at the favorites and others I like!

Nest (Todd Pletcher trainer, Irad Ortiz jockey, 5-2): Is the favorite in the morning line and based on that smashing win in the Ashland at Oaklawn Park is deserving of the early favoritism.

Starting mid-pack and bidding her time, by the time Nest hit the top of the lane, she was gone, winning by over 8-lengths. The horse broke last year September at Belmont, then was third in her second start. Since then, she has not lost and is on a three-race winning streak.

The question that looms large is – how Nest would have fared in the Ashland had Secret Oath not opted to take the boys in the Arkansas Derby. That is a question that will be answered today!

Kathleen O (Shug McGaughey, Javier Castellan, 7/2): One of three unbeaten horses in the race, the horse has come through the always tough Florida ranks to get to this spot. Has come from off the pace in all four starts, with the last being April 2 in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, crossing the line two lengths clear of the second-place runner. There will be some speed here, so look for there to be a target to chase.

Echo Zulu (Steve Asmussen, Joel Rosario, 4/1): One of the speed horses, and has used that early turn of foot to win her first five starts. After winning three starts easily, she had all she could handle in the Fair Grounds Oaks, holding off a game Hidden Connection by a nose after a thrilling stretch run. Will see much tougher closers here.

Secret Oath (D Wayne Lukas, Luis Saez, 6-1): This horse must be right there – doesn’t it? Until Lukas made the bold choice to jump the filly in to the Arkansas Derby and take on the boys, she had been talked about the possible favorite here.

Watching that race, I don’t feel she did much wrong to not warrant being the favorite here. She had a bad break, went six wide turning for home and got up to third from the back of the pack. Lukas makes a jockey change from Luis Contreras to Saez, which is a decent step up. Coming from off the pace, her running style will not be compromised with the rail post draw.

Here are some of the longer odds runners.

Goddess of Fire (Pletcher, John Velazquez, 15-1): The second of the Pletcher runners has not won a race this year, but does have three, second-place finishes so could be one to throw in your exotics. Another that likes to run off the pace, she was second to Kathleen O in the Gulfstream Oaks, finishing a fading two-lengths back.

Nostalgic (William Mott, Jose Ortiz, 15/1): Has won two straight, but neither was much of a race. The first was in an optional claimer, with the second coming in the light on talent Gazelle on April 9 at Aqueduct. Not giving this one much of a chance.

Hidden Connection (Bret Calhoun, Reylu Guiterrez, 20/1): Could be an interesting one here. The last start nearly saw the horse take down Echo Zulu, losing by a nose. The question – did the light go off with the horse or was the race an anomaly. The previous two starts were clunkers, but to put a positive thought on the effort, it was the second off a layoff and often the third race off a break can be the money maker.

Guiterrez has had the mount in all five starts so he knows the horse. Does have a win at Churchill, taking the Grade III Pocahontas by over 9-lengths last September. That led to being one of the favorites in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile before finishing fourth, beaten by 13-lengths. If she is finding her form, she will tough in the lane at some pretty good odds.

Shahama (Pletcher, Flavian Prat, 15/1): Feel that I had to include this runner as the horse is 4-for-4, but all those races have been at Meydan in the UAE.

Still, unbeaten in four starts, came to the Pletcher barn when she got to the states, and drew off in all four makes the horse worth a look. Has had time to acclimate to the trip over.

My plays

The way to the money is to hit big on the exotics in these bigger, talented fields. Find the one decent price – or two – that can break up the favorites.

I just can’t look away from Secret Oath and this will be my win play. I would be happy to ultimately get 4/1 when the race goes off.

As for my exotics, let’s put together an exacta box and a trifecta box. Secret Oath, Hidden Connection, Nest, Goddess of Fire, Kathleen O, and Echo Zulu will make up my boxes.

Secret Oath will get $20 win, $40 to place – a personal favorite move of mine – for a $60 bet.

The .50 cent exacta box for the six will run $15, with the six-horse, .10 cent trifecta box costing $12, making the total investment at $87 for the race.

Good luck!

By Dennis Miller