Scully: Handicapping Kentucky Oaks Day

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September 3rd, 2020

The $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks highlights a stakes-packed, 13-race program at Churchill Downs on Friday. I’ll start with the big race for fillies and give some thoughts on the undercard.

Kentucky Oaks (G1)

#1 Swiss Skydiver is my top pick, and I expect the Grade 1-winning filly to show speed from her rail post. The classy front-runner has proven capable of delivering her best after setting opening splits in the :22 and :45 range, and it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the early stages. While many expect Gamine to be the pacesetter, I think the last thing Gamine’s connections (Bob Baffert and John Velazquez) want is to be dueling through fast splits on the front end with a filly who must get nine furlongs for the first time.

A convincing winner in her last four stakes starts for fillies, Swiss Skydiver has run as fast as Gamine based on Brisnet Speed ratings, registering a 109 for her sterling 3 1/2-length triumph in the Alabama (G1) (Gamine also owns a career-best 109 Speed figure), and I will tab her wire-to-wire.

#4 Speech will also be on my tickets.  I like how she is progressing for Michael McCarthy, registering a career-best 104 Speed rating for her dominant win in the July 11 Ashland (G1), and the Florida-bred miss projects to sit a perfect trip just behind the early leaders. Speech has trained well over the track in preparation, and she could be rolling into contention when the field reaches the top of the stretch.

I will try to beat Gamine, whose connections elected to bypass a two-turn stakes prep.. It was no surprise to see her dominate the Acorn (G1) and Test (G1) – last year’s champion female sprinter Covfefe would have won both races impressively as well – and I thought the way Gamine weakened in the stretch of her lone two-turn start, a 1 1/16-mile allowance at Oaklawn Park, was indicative of her two-turn prowess. She might be able to overwhelm lesser rivals at the 1 1/8-mile distance with her natural talent, but the likely odds-on favorite must get past a pair of quality rivals in this spot.

Alysheba (G2)

The Alysheba kicks off the two-day, $2 Pick 6 that includes the Kentucky Oaks and La Troienne on Friday (Kentucky Derby, Derby City Distaff & Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic on Saturday), and #6 By My Standards should prove tough to beat. A non-threatening second in the Whitney (G1) and Stephen Foster (G1) in his last two, the 4-year-old colt should be happy to get away from Tom’s d’Etat and Improbable in this spot. By My Standards is a multiple graded winner at nine furlongs, but I think today’s 1 1/16-mile trip is a better fit and expect him to sit a great trip from post 6.

#3 Owendale should also appreciate the cutback in distance following his rallying fifth in the Stephen Foster. The confirmed closer is eligible to receive a favorable set-up. I will also use #1 Silver Dust, who has run some his best races under the Twin Spires, on my multi-race tickets. Silver Dust is eligible to show speed from his inside post, and he’s a threat to wire the field at long odds (15-1 morning line) is seizes the early initiative.

I am against defending champ McKinzie, who exits a dull showing in the Met Mile (G1) and doesn’t appear to be in top form presently in my estimation.

La Troienne (G1)

It’s interesting to see #2 Vexatious discover her best form at age 6. A versatile sort who was running in graded turf stakes last year when based with another conditioner, Vexatious has really taken off in her last two dirt appearances for Jack Sisterson, out-dueling Midnight Bisou through the stretch of the Personal Ensign (G1) in her last start.

#8 Monomoy Girl will be included in multi-race tickets, but Vexatious is my win play.

TwinSpires Turf Sprint (G3)

The 5 1/2-furlong TwinSpires Turf Sprint serves as the finale, and Bound for Nowhere will scratch according to Wesley Ward. The defection should benefit #2 Wellabled, who looks like the one to catch beneath Manny Franco. The 6-year-old turned in a pair of superb efforts in stakes-caliber allowances during Churchill’s spring meet, and I will give him the edge on the front end.

If the speed falters, #5 Extravagant Kid looks like the likely beneficiary. Both will be used prominently in the multis.

Good luck!