A few of the prominent Southern California runners on Kentucky Oaks Day

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TwinSpires Staff

May 3rd, 2017

by Scott Shapiro

The 143rd Running of the  Kentucky Oaks headlines Friday’s 13-race card at Churchill Downs. The day before the Kentucky Derby slate offers racing fans six graded stakes events and a plethora of wagering options throughout the day.

The stakes action attracted runners from across the globe, including several from the West Coast. Some of the Southern California based horses are in with big chances, while others may be vulnerable on the over two thousand mile trek from Arcadia to Louisville.

Here are some quick thoughts on a few of the prominent West Coast participants on the Kentucky Oaks card:

American Freedom (Race 6, Alysheba, Grade 2)

The Gary and Mary West owned son of Pulpit makes his first start since a non-threatening runner-up effort to Arrogate in last year’s Travers Stakes. The winner of 3 of 6 has only been worse than second once, but it did come during Kentucky Derby weekend last year in the Grade 3 Pat Day Mile.

The Bob Baffert conditioned colt appears ready to roll for his four-year-old debut based on a strong series of works at Santa Anita Park over the past two months. He meets a stiff test facing older runners for the first time on Friday, but Baffert is exceptional off the layoff.

I picked Honorable Duty to win the Alysheba due to his current form and success over this racetrack, but American Freedom is a must use in horizontal and vertical wagers.

Union Strike (Race 8, Eight Belles, Grade 2)

This $375,000 OBS April 2016 purchase was extremely impressive in her three-year-old debut in winning the non-graded Santa Paula Stakes at Santa Anita Park. The Union Rags filly earned a Brisnet Speed rating of 95 in capturing the $75,000 event at six and a half furlongs under the handling of veteran rider Brice Blanc.

Trainer Mick Ruis ships his filly out of Southern California for the first time for Friday’s 8 Belles in hopes she can make it two in a row. She has put forth two bullet works over the Santa Anita track since the April 9th victory suggesting she came out of the race well.

I respect the effort Union Strike put forth last time out, but have my concerns that she can replicate that effort in Kentucky. I expect regression after her career best in her second start off the layoff and will play against her as the 3-1-morning line favorite.

Paradise Woods (Race 11, Kentucky Oaks, Grade 1)

The highly regarded daughter of Union Rags ships into Louisville after running a field of 7 fillies off their feet in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks last month. The Richard Mandella trainee was highly regarded from the start by the Hall of Fame conditioner, but even he was surprised when she went wire-to-wire and won by eleven lengths without being asked earning a 110 Brisnet Speed rating in her first try around two turns.

Paradise Woods has looked great since the race and Mandella has suggested she may even moving forward since dominating graded stakes competition in her first try.

While normal fillies would be regression candidates off of the Santa Anita Oaks win this is no ordinary horse. Assuming she can relax just off the pace in the Kentucky Oaks she is the clear one to beat. The lack of foundation and the ship from Arcadia to Churchill Downs are slightly concerning, but she is my pick to take the 143rd running of the million-dollar event.

For my full card selections/analysis of check out my Spotlight Selections.

Paradise Woods photo courtesy of Churchill Downs/Coady Photography