Our Top Picks for the 2015 Kentucky Oaks
Who does our team like best in Friday's Kentucky Oaks (G1)? Depends who's answering the question...
James Scully: Lovely Maria is my selection in Friday’s 141st running of the Kentucky Oaks. She opened 2015 with a nice allowance score at Fair Grounds, easily defeating odds-on favorite Shook Up to record her second career victory, and threatened to capture the Rachel Alexandra next time out before finishing second behind stablemate I’m a Chatterbox. The bay filly continued to improve off those strong efforts in the April 4 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, registering a career-best 96 BRIS Speed rating for an impressive 3 1/4-length tally, and the surging three-year-old can carry her form forward here. She drew well in post 7 and figures to settle into a good stalking trip with her tactical speed, just behind the early runners. Lovely Maria is trained by two-time Kentucky Oaks winner Larry Jones and regular rider Kerwin Clark will be up.
Vance Hanson: There is technically no standout in this year’s Kentucky Oaks as compared to last year, when Untapable romped as an odds-on choice. Stellar Wind’s California form does look relatively strong on paper, and I wouldn’t fault those taking her at 7-2 or higher. However, trainer John Sadler’s runners have a reputation for not always replicating their best form outside the Golden State, so I’m looking elsewhere. I’ve settled on the progressive gray Oceanwave, who has experience over this track and has run two bang-up races in a row at Oaklawn. She wasn’t facing the deepest group of fillies in Hot Springs, especially after the defection of champion Take Charge Brandi, but was a troubled second in the Honeybee two back and then narrowly missed catching fellow Oaks entry Include Betty in the Fantasy. Oceanwave is aching for more ground, and gets Oaks-winning rider Rafael Bejarano in the saddle. Another thing I love about her is her pedigree. She oozes class hailing from a family cultivated by Verne and Ron Winchell. Standouts like Tapizar, Olympio, Call Now, Pyro, and Wild Wonder have all come from the last several generations, and even Untapable herself hails from this female line. I think the morning line price of 30-1 is attractive enough and the hope is this family can take down the lilies for the second year in a row.
Kellie Reilly: Although it hardly qualifies as clever, I'm siding with morning-line favorite Stellar Wind, who might end up going off at a little better than her listed 7-2 odds. Privately purchased following her 8 3/4-length maiden conquest at Laurel in December, she was transferred to John Sadler at Santa Anita and nominated to the Triple Crown. Stellar Wind took a steep class hike, and stretch-out to two turns, in her raking stride in the Santa Ysabel (G3), drawing off to a 2 3/4-length decision. She was even more emphatic next time when romping by 5 1/4 lengths in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1). She faced completely different pace scenarios, but proved adept at rallying off both fast and tepid tempos, and notched a gaudy 109 BRIS Late Pace rating in the Santa Ysabel. And unlike deep closers who leave themselves too much to do, Stellar Wind has made eye-catching headway on the far turn, putting herself right into position to deliver the coup de grace at the head of the lane. To top it off, this daughter of Curlin is bred to excel at the Oaks trip of 1 1/8 miles -- and beyond.
Jennifer Caldwell: Birdatthewire didn’t dominate her competition like others in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks field, but the bay lass is just the sort of hard-knocking filly who shows up on the big days and that’s why she’s my top pick in the Run for the Lilies. Trained by Kentucky-based Dale Romans, she began her career in the Blue Grass State last year, breaking her maiden at Churchill Downs in her fourth start to be the only Oaks runner with a win under the Twin Spires. She wintered in Florida, and ended up taking the Forward Gal S. (G2) in her stakes, and three-year-old, debut by an easy 3 1/4 lengths. Next out the game filly just missed by a neck to another gusty rival in the Davona Dale S. (G2), but ran so well she earned a 104 BRIS Speed rating. Only two others in the Oaks field have broken the triple-digit mark on Speed ratings, and she’s beaten one of them in their past two meetings. Birdatthewire enters Friday’s race off a rallying win in the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2), where she had to overcome a troubled trip but still ran down the leader in the stretch. Irad Ortiz Jr. has been aboard for both of her wins this season and retains the mount on Friday.
Ed DeRosa: More so than the Kentucky Derby this year, the Kentucky Oaks has the feel of a race that people are looking to determine the leader of the division rather than as a coronation. The Derby is a talented group, but multiple Grade 1-winning stablemates champion American Pharoah and undefeated Dortumund will be the top two choices. The Oaks also features several impressive winners, but the odds will be more even among them from different regions. So for me, a big piece of the Oaks handicapping puzzle is determining the strongest region. Birdatthewire won the top Oaks prep in what I feel was the strongest region of the division: Florida. Getting the best horse in the best division as the fourth choice is a great bet.