Our top picks for the 2016 Kentucky Oaks
Our team members offer their approaches to Friday’s Kentucky Oaks (G1).
James Scully: Lewis Bay reeled off two straight wins, including the 1 1/8-mile Demoiselle (G2), to complete her 2-year-old campaign and returned this year with a non-threatening second to one-turn specialist Cathryn Sophia in the Davona Dale (G2). Stretching back out to a route in the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle (G2), the Chad Brown-trained filly improved off her seasonal bow, posting a convincing score, and registered a career-best 99 BRIS Speed rating. The 9-furlong specialist has trained splendidly at Churchill Downs, according to reports, and I’ll look for another forward move in the third start off the layoff. Lewis Bay drew well in post 3, with several main rivals stuck outside, and should sit a good stalking trip behind the front-runners before offering her best.
Jennifer Caldwell: Lewis Bay (#3, 8-1) is the only filly in Friday’s Kentucky Oaks field with prior experience winning at the 1 1/8-mile race distance, and I think that’ll be the determining factor. The bay daughter of Bernardini scored a 1 3/4-length victory at nine furlongs when taking the Demoiselle (G2) in her juvenile finale last November. Last out on April 9 she triumphed by 1 1/2 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle (G2) over a muddy surface at Aqueduct, which boosts her chances even more considering the rain forecasted for the rest of the week. Talented jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. has been aboard Lewis Bay throughout her career and will be holding the reins as the filly attempts to prove herself outside of the Empire State on Friday.
Vance Hanson: Last month's Ashland (G1) at Keeneland attracted a field of five, but all the attention centered on three fillies: Rachel's Valentina, Cathryn Sophia, and Carina Mia. A complete afterthought going in, and for much of the race, was the deep-closing Weep No More, who entered off a victory in the $60,000 Suncoast at Tampa Bay Downs. Dropping well behind the rest of the field, the 30-1 chance was still 12 lengths behind the leading Carina Mia with five-sixteenths to go. Her task looked impossible, especially with the short stretch taken into account, but the Mineshaft filly kicked into high gear and made up more than six lengths in the final furlong to edge Rachel's Valentina by a neck. The latter was arguably a bit short in her season debut, odds-on favorite Cathryn Sophia finished third and was perhaps exposed as a better one-turn filly, and Carina Mia ran herself out of the Kentucky Oaks by finishing fourth. I think Weep No More is capable of repeating that effort in the Oaks, especially with extra distance and a longer stretch working in her favor. After fat prices were available in the Suncoast and Ashland, her odds drop dramatically for this race, but anything close to the 9-2 morning line would be attractive enough.
Kellie Reilly: While the prevailing school of thought holds that Cathryn Sophia lost the Ashland (G1) because of distance limitations, I’m willing to give her another chance around two turns. Partly that’s because she was the second-most exciting filly in the country all spring, other than Songbird. And she had crushed her prior one-turn races so effortlessly, that the Ashland marked not just her first try at a route, but her first-ever battle. Although she’s by a sprinter in Street Boss, her dam is by Mineshaft, and her second dam’s by Unbridled. On pedigree, Cathryn Sophia has a reasonable chance of staying the Oaks trip. I’ll entertain the possibility that the Ashland may toughen her up and bring her on. Jockey Javier Castellano probably learned something that day too. She’s trained sharply in the interim for John Servis, making her an attractive play at the price (9-2 on the morning line).
Ed DeRosa: An efficient Kentucky Oaks pick and longshot method.
If Songbird were in this race I’d have no problem advocating betting her to win and not worrying about a longshot to beat her, but she’s not, so we’re in need of a top pick and a longshot.
Thankfully, the Gazelle Stakes on April 9 at Aqueduct provides both as what I think is the key race on the Kentucky Oaks trail. One feather from the Gazelle, certainly, is that it’s the only 1 1/8-mile prep for the nine-furlong Oaks.
Lewis Bay won and Royal Obsession finished second. Lewis Bay is the one I most want, but Royal Obsession might have more upside and will be double or triple the price as the other logical contenders.
Other top choices include Rachel’s Valentina, who will be overbet given her dam Rachel Alexandra won this race in 2009, and Land Over Sea, who will be overbet off a win in the TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks after finally escaping California and Songbird.
But the reality is that either of those fillies are only as fast as the Gazelle pair, and those two will be much higher prices.