Horses of interest: Kentucky Oaks Day edition
A few scribblings on Friday’s graded stakes at Churchill Downs, culminating in the Kentucky Oaks (G1).
5TH Race, the La Troienne (G1)
Not overthinking this one, with #4 Paid Up Subscriber (2-1) striking me as too logical in a field that doesn’t have a compelling alternative. Three-for-three at Churchill Downs, the Candy Ride mare dominated last summer’s Fleur de Lis (G2) and held her own at the Grade 1 level when second to a razor-sharp I’m a Chatterbox in the Delaware H. (G1) and Spinster (G1). Paid Up Subscriber was subsequently sold for $1.1 million and transferred to Chad Brown. After resuming with a closing third in the seven-furlong Madison (G1) at Keeneland, this is the perfect progression to a route, and the right spot for her to get a Grade 1 laurel.
The ultra-consistent #6 Streamline (8-1) offers value as the Azeri (G2) winner who’s placed in the past two runnings of the Apple Blossom (G1) and finished second in last November’s Falls City (G2) at this track. For a more speculative stab, comebacker #9 Go Maggie Go (8-1) is an inscrutable read after her form tailed off last season. But she’s proven in the slop and ran a terrific fourth in the 2016 Kentucky Oaks in only her third start. It wouldn’t be a shock if Dale Romans has her ready to go on the big day.
6TH Race, the Alysheba (G2)
While I still feel foolish for siding with #9 American Freedom (3-1) in last year’s Pat Day Mile (G3), circumstances are different in his return visit here. He brings more experience to the table, and the highest level of form through his seconds in last summer’s Haskell (G1) (in the slop) and in the Travers (G1) behind Arrogate. On both occasions, American Freedom beat Gun Runner, who would be the clear favorite in this spot. The Bob Baffert trainee has been working up a storm at Santa Anita, and if he’s a skimpy price, he strikes me as the best horse in the race for a Hall of Famer who has them primed to fire off the bench.
Grade 1 formlines similarly make me respect #2 Breaking Lucky (4-1), although he’s not the most consistent type. Perhaps picking up Javier Castellano will help. But I’m very intrigued by #5 December Seven (20-1), a progressive four-year-old for Paul McGee. His lone stakes try was a disappointing fifth in the Mineshaft (G3) two back, but he bounced back last time at Keeneland. He’s unbeaten from two starts at Churchill, and also with Corey Lanerie.
7TH Race, the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G3)
Here’s where I’m tempted to look for a price and landed upon #9 Partly Mocha (15-1). Trained by Mike Maker for Ken and Sarah Ramsey, who often come up with winners on these occasions, the eight-year-old veteran was a troubled fourth in the Shakertown (G2) last out. Prior to that, he’d won a pair of Sam Houston stakes at this five-furlong trip. The well-named gelding (by Half Ours-Chocolate Mon) is two-for-two on the Churchill turf, both times with Julien Leparoux. And one of those local wins came on a “good” course, which could be significant with all the rain around.
#8 Pure Sensation (5-2) remains the one to beat, between his class, proficiency at the distance, and soft-ground aptitude. Yet it’s a hotly competitive race to dive into as your seasonal reappearance. Same goes for #4 Why Two (5-1), who holds an early entry in the King’s Stand (G1) at Royal Ascot. The Southern California shipper is two-for-two since switching to turf sprints, but hasn’t raced since last summer and will find a soggier surface. Both are entitled to win if at their best. Aside from Partly Mocha, the Shakertown principals all make sense too, so this might be a good spot to spread.
8TH Race, the Eight Belles (G2)
Call me blindly stubborn, but I’m giving #4 Pretty City Dancer (8-1) one more chance, back at the track where she first burst onto the scene at two. Her only poor efforts have come at or beyond a mile, so maybe the sprint game is really her bailiwick. There’s no shortage of speed signed on to set up her rousing late kick, and fingers crossed we see it again from this Tapit blueblood.
If the track is as wet as forecast, #14 Cajun Delta Dawn (15-1) has upset potential. The David Fawkes shipper is a perfect four-for-four around one turn, and her only loss on an off track came over a route. That’s not to ignore obvious players like #2 Union Strike (3-1) and #10 Ghalia (7-2), but the race may be a little more open.
10TH Race, the Edgewood (G3)
At this writing, La Coronel is expected to tackle the boys in Saturday’s American Turf (G2). So I’m sticking with #7 Proctor’s Ledge (5-1), a tough-trip third to her in the Appalachian (G3). She’d looked like a budding star at Gulfstream this winter, and the descendant of blue hen *Rough Shod II can make good here. [Update: #1A La Coronel is staying in today's race after all, so can't leave her out.]
Although their posts may be problematic, #12 You Missed It (12-1) and #11 Emphatically (15-1) are coming off placings to unbeaten Sircat Sally in the Providencia (G3). That formline could get boosted here. And last year, You Missed It twice lost by only a half-length to With Honors, a mightily promising type before her swift retirement. She might be a maiden, but one with a string of quality efforts. #1 Dream Dancing (8-5) is an able deputy for stablemate La Coronel, but one eligible to be overbet. [A point that's lost its saliency since La Coronel is still engaged.]
11TH Race, the Kentucky Oaks (G1)
If Paradise Woods replicates her Santa Anita Oaks (G1) stunner, her rivals are all in trouble. But that is an “if” for an inexperienced filly shipping away from home for the first time. It’s easy to forget now that she was 8-1 in the Santa Anita Oaks, stretching out off a 5 1/2-furlong maiden. Now she’s facing a stiffer test, possibly on a muddy surface that will present her with another variable.
So I’m inclined to go for experience in the form of #7 Farrell (5-1), who’d already won three stakes, all routing, before Paradise Woods broke her maiden. The winner of four straight, between the Golden Rod (G2) here last November and a sweep of the Fair Grounds’ series, she’s also proven on off tracks. The Wayne Catalano pupil is well drawn in post 7, allowing jockey Channing Hill to monitor developments aboard the tactical filly.
Even Beholder lost the Kentucky Oaks, narrowly, so there’s no knock on #4 Paradise Woods (5-2) if she needs this battle to bring her on. #13 Abel Tasman (5-1) is entitled to improve in blinkers, and her biggest calling card is taking a run at Unique Bella. #14 Salty (6-1) took a leap forward in the Gulfstream Oaks (G2), but now must translate that to her first start away from Gulfstream.
The Oaks filly with bomb potential is #6 Vexatious (20-1) for the hall of Fame combination of Neil Drysdale and Kent Desormeaux. Third to Kentucky Derby (G1) runner Battle of Midway in an allowance, the full sister to Destin and Creative Cause has run a better-than-appears third in both the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) and Fantasy (G3). She’ll get pace, and the distance she’s been wanting.
Good luck on Oaks Day!