It’s been a tumultuous journey along the Louisiana path to the Kentucky Oaks. The series began in predictable fashion with 3/5 favorite Stageplay winning the Silverbulletday, but the division was subsequently taken hostage by 74/1 outsider Venus Valentine in the Rachel Alexandra. Both of those winners will line up in the starting gate for this Saturday’s Grade 2, $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks, the final New Orleans prep for the first Friday in May.
Joining the local contingent are some intriguing new faces, including a couple of shippers from Southern California, the most noteworthy being the eternal bridesmaid, Land Over Sea.
The Pace Projector is not predicting an early scenario that will favor any running style, but it does illustrate that only #2 Midnight On Oconee has shown any significant amount of early speed in her recent starts, thus placing her on a clear lead.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, Northwest Tale (20/1): While it’s a good sign that Javier Castellano has accepted the mount, this filly was absolutely trounced in her only stakes try in the Silverbulletday back in January. She appears to be biting off more than she can chew here.
#2, Midnight On Oconee (9/2): The projected pacesetter should be able to dictate terms on the front end. Whereas she was forced to stalk the pace in the Rachel Alexandra, a race that featured a fast pace (color-coded in red), she figures to have a much easier time of it in the early going of this race. Larry Jones excels with his three-year-olds, getting a 100 trainer rating across the board with horses in this age group. This Midnight Lute filly has given a good account of herself this winter and figures to have a major say in the outcome once again today. If she’s going off at or above her morning line price of 9/2, she’s definitely worth a look.
#3, Venus Valentine (6/1): The surprise $150.40 winner of the Rachel Alexandra will hope that lightning can strike twice as she attempts to punch her ticket to the Kentucky Oaks. While she made a visually impressive late run last time, she was really the only horse that was completely disconnected from the fast early pace that compromised so many of her rivals. It’s highly unlikely that she’ll receive nearly as favorable a setup this time, so we believe her chances of a repeat are negligible.
#4, Stageplay (5/2): Her poor performance in the Rachel Alexandra helped trigger some gigantic post-race payouts, since she was an overwhelming favorite to win that race. While she did endure a wide trip, it’s not as if she lost by a small margin. This filly came up completely empty in the final eighth of a mile and was defeated by over six lengths. While we are willing to be forgiving of poor efforts under certain circumstances, we feel that this daughter of Curlin may have finally been exposed. Her two best performances in our eyes were her first couple of starts around one turn. We have not been thrilled with the way she’s finished off any of her two-turn races, even when winning the Silverbulletday two back. We believe that a race like the seven-furlong Eight Belles on Derby weekend would be a better fit for her than the Oaks. As for her chances in this race, it’s possible that her ample talent may still carry her to a win in spite of any apparent distance limitations, but we’re not willing to take a short price on that proposition.
#5, Adore (5/1):
Though she’s untested against stakes company, we like the progress that this Big Brown filly has made at Oaklawn Park this winter. She was a commanding winner of her maiden race, in which she was the only early player to stick around at the end of a fast-paced race that was collapsing late. Then last time, in her first start against winners, she easily negotiated today’s distance while earning a 98 speed figure, which puts her right on par with many of the fillies exiting these Fair Grounds graded stakes events. She possesses enough tactical speed to allow Julien Leparoux to place her close to the pace, so she figures to be in a position to win, if she’s good enough. At what should be a fair price, at or above 5/1, she is a prime threat to her more lauded rivals.
#6, Street Fancy (10/1): As time passes, the form of that Grade 1 Starlet at Los Alamitos has not held up. Like Venus Valentine, Street Fancy was the beneficiary of a very favorable pace setup that day. In fairness, she didn’t get nearly as good a trip in the Las Virgenes next time out, but she still lost to today’s rival Land Over Sea by over 20 lengths in that race. She would need to show up with a vastly improved performance to upset this field.
#7, Dream Dance (8/1): She progressed nicely through her two-year-old season and appeared to relish stretching out in distance towards the end of her campaign. She was a strong second to Stageplay in the Rags to Riches two back and then nearly caught her again as that one eased up in the final strides of the Golden Rod. While she appears to possess the ability to win a race of this caliber, she may not get the right pace setup today. Furthermore, she figures to need this race off the layoff, since Neil Howard gets a poor 23 trainer rating with horses coming off layoffs.
#8, Land Over Sea (3/1): If not for one horse, this filly would be a three-time graded stakes winner (and probably would not even be running in this race). However, due to the towering presence of champion Songbird out in California, Land Over Sea’s connections have decided to ship her to a different circuit in search of that elusive stakes win. If she brings the speed figures that she has been recording in Songbird’s wake, she is supposed to win this race. However, we’re hesitant to take a short price on a horse that underperformed in her only prior start outside of her home state and that has built her entire reputation on losing races. She’ll certainly be on our tickets, but we want to look elsewhere for our top selection.
The two fillies that figure to offer the best value are Midnight On Oconee and Adore. While we’ll certainly use the Larry Jones filly in our wagers, we prefer ADORE (#5), who appears to still have upside and may get slightly lost in the wagering as the less-fancied Asmussen runner.
Win: #5, ADORE, at odds of 5/1 or above
Exacta Key Box: 5 with 2,4,8