If anyone thought that somehow, by virtue of Unique Bella’s defection from this year’s $1 million Kentucky Oaks (GI) due to injury, the race lots its luster, nothing could be further from the truth. A top-notch, talent-filled field will line up and face the starter for the Run for the Lilies, including nine graded stakes winners in the field of 14.
Over the course of history, the Oaks has been run at several distances from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/2 miles, but has been contested at the current nine furlongs since 1982. Unfortunately the rainy weather that’s plagued the Louisville area will continue through the day on Friday, so a wet track is likely for the nine-furlong Oaks, which has been carded as the 11th race on the 12-race card.
Since it was first contested in 1875, some amazing ladies have worn the blanket of Oaks lilies after a victory, including Modesty, Princess Doreen, Black Maria, Easter Stockings, Alcibiades, Wistful, Real Delight, Cicada, Blue Norther, Dark Mirage, Susan’s Girl, Bold ’n Determined, Princess Rooney, Fran’s Valentine Open Mind, Lite Light, Silverbulleday, Bird Town, Ashado, Rags to Riches, Blind Luck, and, perhaps most notably, 2009’s Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra.
In many ways, this year’s Oaks will be a matchup between the best runner in the West, the top filly in the Southeast and the princess of the Northeast with a few possible upset types sprinkled in between for good measure. Since the weather calls for upwards of an 80 percent chance for rain in the afternoon, picking out the girls who have some off-track ability may be a good place to start.
Coffeepot Stables homebred Farrell is riding a four-race stakes-winning streak, which includes the Fair Grounds Oaks in her last, all by a combined 15 ½ lengths. The Wayne Catalano-daughter of Malibu Moon and the stakes-placed Unbridled’s Song mare Rebridled Dreams owns some very strong pace and speed figures and hasn’t flinched when looked in the eye by a rival for six months. The best thing is she’s improving with each start and is also an accomplished off-track runner, having won the Silverbulletday Stakes over a muddy Fair Grounds oval back in January. Regular jockey Channing Hill is back to ride and the pair will likely deliver their typical early stalking trip after breaking from post position seven.
The very lightly raced Paradise Woods is the early favorite off her Santa Anita Oaks win. She is trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, which says a lot about how he thinks she’ll do in this talent-filled race and in front of a crowd of upwards of 120,000 fans, since he’s never known to have Derby/Oaks fever and push a horse to get there. It took the Sarkowsky and Wygod-owned daughter of Union Rags two chances to break her maiden and she hasn’t slowed down since, improving with each start and showing different running styles by breaking her maiden from of the pace and scoring gate to wire in the Santa Anita Oaks.
Her figures are solid and she’s been training amazingly at her home base of Santa Anita for a month, including a bullet six furlongs in 1:12 2/5 last week. Her biggest question marks are that she’s never shipped and she lacks experience, but she may be more mature than what her record indicates. Santa Anita leading jockey Flavien Prat returns to ride in his second Kentucky Oaks.
Miss Sky Warrior’s romp in the Gazelle was nothing short of spectacular and she also won her three previous starts in graded stakes company. She hasn’t done a thing wrong in her career and has shown a versatile running style, winning from off the pace or leading the field from gate to wire. She seems to be a bit of a Derby week “wise guy” horse, but if she runs to what is now her typical form, she will be dangerous.
Salty is another lightly raced filly who has shown some maturity beyond what her record indicates. The Mark Casse-trained daughter of Quality Road is coming off a nice win in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII), where she beat a quality field — including a few rivals in here — off a nice maiden score in what was her stakes debut. She’s another with solid figures, though she seems to have regressed a bit in her last off a career-best maiden win. She drew the outside, which isn’t ideal, but since she seems to be a later runner the post position isn’t as much of a hindrance as it would be for some other rivals. Joel Rosario is back aboard and the pair may offer some value with many of her rivals getting more attention. Her pedigree indicates mud shouldn’t be a huge knock against her as well.
Abel Tasman also drew near the outside but is another who will close into what is expected to be a quick pace. This grade 1 winner had the unfortunate luck of having to deal with Unique Bella in her sophomore debut, then had a trainer switch to Bob Baffert before squaring off with Paradise Woods in her last. A good second behind Paradise Woods brings her to Kentucky for this race and, if she runs to the form she showed last out, she could be dangerous. This is another daughter of Quality Road who may like the mud.
Sailor’s Valentine comes into this race off an upset win in the Ashland Stakes (GI) at Keeneland. That effort was so much bigger than her previous five starts one has to wonder if a bounce is in order.
Tequility won the Forward Gal Stakes (GII) before her second in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. She is bred to run the extra distance and may have run out of room last time. She is in very capable hands with Michael Matz, who trains the daughter of Union Rags for his wife.
Ever So Clever won the Fantasy Stakes (GIII) last out from way off the pace and will love a quick early pace in front of her here. She’s definitely improved with each start and her best makes her legitimate for any exotics ticket.
Daddy’s Lil Darling doesn’t win too often, but she’s pretty consistent. Her second in the Ashland last out is better than it looks on paper, as she seemed to run out of running room late and gets an extra sixteenth of a mile here. She’s a longer shot in here compared to the rest of her races, so she may be worth some wagers at a decent price.
Lockdown was second in the Gazelle last time in her first graded stakes attempt and first start of the year after breaking her maiden for trainer Bill Mott and winning the Busanda Stakes last year. She probably needed the outing and should run better here, but it may not be enough against this field.
Wicked Lick has three seconds in her last five starts in allowance and stakes company, including her last to Farrell in the Fair Grounds Oaks. It’s hard to bet her to win with confidence considering she doesn’t like to win much, but she may be worth a shot on an exotics ticket.
Jordan’s Henny has a second and third to the top choices in here in her last two, so she figures for the exotics at what will no doubt be a long price.
Mopotism won the Island Fashion Stakes at Santa Anita in February and was a well-beaten fourth in the Santa Anita Oaks. She has winning connections, but she may be a touch below the top here.
Vexatious is another with some placings in graded stakes to top choices here who will need a career best to hit the board.
Summer Luck is on the also-eligible list and is a longshot to get in the main body, let alone win, the race.
Post time for the 143rd running of Kentucky Oaks has been set at 6:12 p.m. ET.