While every racing fan surely would have loved to see Songbird do her best Rachel Alexandra impression and destroy this Kentucky Oaks field, she’s been forced onto the sidelines, so we’re left with an oversubscribed field of fillies, all of whom have something to prove. Coincidentally, the favorite in this year’s race is a daughter of that 2009 Horse of the Year, whose record 20-length margin of victory is unlikely to be approached in this year’s wide-open edition of this race. That morning line choice, Rachel’s Valentina is one of just two Grade 1 winners in the field—along with Ashland winner Weep No More—having won the prestigious Spinaway Stakes as a two-year-old.
The Pace Projector is predicting that Go Maggie Go (#4), Paola Queen (#9), and Rachel’s Valentina (#11) will be vying for the lead through fast early fractions.
Given that Go Maggie Go and Rachel’s Valentina have never actually made the lead during the early portions of their races, we think that Paola Queen is the most likely pacesetter. Stalkers like Terra Promessa (#1) and Cathryn Sophia (#12) also figure to be right up on the pace in the early going. A potentially swift pace could hinder some or all of these fillies and potentially help a late runner such as Weep No More (#2).
Let’s take an in-depth look at each contender:
#1, Terra Promessa (10/1): Steve Asmussen certainly knows how to win this race, having won it twice before, with Summerly and Untapable. Ever since he stretched this filly out around two turns following a losing effort in her sprint debut, she has been perfect. Terra Promessa swept the final two Oaklawn preps, taking the Honeybee by an impressive six and a half lengths prior to just holding off her stablemate, Taxable, in the Fantasy last time. She paired up 107 speed figures in those stakes wins, which puts her just a notch below the fastest fillies in this race, who at their best are running about 4 to 8 points higher. She has drawn very well down on the rail in this large field where trips will be key to the success of all runners, and her handy style should have her placed up close to the pace and out of trouble. Our only concern is the extra sixteenth of a mile that she has to deal with, since she was getting pretty tired at the end of the Fantasy and her dam was primarily a sprinter. She’s one to consider underneath, but we prefer others on the top of our tickets.
#2, Weep No More (9/2):
This daughter of Mineshaft has improved in each of her four career starts, culminating with a last-to-first victory over the morning line favorite for this race last time out in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland. While the Ashland pace was not coded as fast in the TimeformUS PPs, the leaders (Carina Mia, Rachel’s Valentina, and Cathryn Sophia) did go after each other aggressively midway through the race, separating themselves from the rest of the field. As the leaders were staggering home through the final sixteenth, having already battled hard for a quarter of a mile, Weep No More was able to take advantage of their tired legs and run them down late. If she is able to take another step forward today and improve on the 111 speed figure she earned last time out, she will likely beat this field, especially considering the likelihood of a fast pace. She is predicted to be last of all in the early going, so she will have to work out a trip past thirteen rivals, but she very well may possess the talent to do so. She’s by a stamina influence in Mineshaft and is out of a daughter of Kentucky Oaks winner Flute, so stamina should not be an issue for this proven strong finisher. She is a win candidate.
#3, Lewis Bay (8/1): She is the only filly in this race to have won at the nine-furlong distance, and she’s already done it twice. Her two-year-old races were on the slow side, but she seems to have returned as a better filly now at age three. While she was no match for today’s rival Cathryn Sophia going a one-turn mile down at Gulfstream, she may have needed that race off the layoff. She certainly showed no signs of residual rust last time, taking the Gazelle by a comfortable one-and-a-half lengths after quickly opening up a commanding lead past midstretch. She clearly relished the sloppy going, but we don’t believe that it moved her up that much. While we respect her solid lifetime record and stamina-oriented pedigree, we can’t shake the feeling that she’s done her best work against significantly weaker fields than the one she meets today, and the Race Ratings of her prior starts don’t suggest otherwise. She’s also had very advantageous trips in every single one of her races, and it’s possible that she’s going to face real adversity for the first time in this 14-horse affair. We can use her in larger exotic wagers, but we prefer others in the top slot.
#4, Go Maggie Go (12/1): She’s done absolutely nothing wrong through two career starts, having handled both sprinting and routing with aplomb, seemingly unfazed by vastly different track conditions. She obviously has quality and her precocity is admirable, but she now steps up to face what is by far the toughest field of her career at an unfamiliar venue. The Race Rating of the Gulfstream Oaks, at just 101, is the lowest of any of the major prep races, so we are inclined to take a stand against the fillies exiting that race. We’ll pass.
#5, Dream Dance (30/1): She got a late start to her three-year-old campaign in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Neil Howard has poor numbers off layoffs and usually gives his horses a race first time back, but this filly ran on well to be second after encountering some minor traffic in upper stretch. She used her grinding late run to wear down an overmatched field of allowance rivals last time out and now steps back up in class to face the best runners in her division. With nine starts under her belt, she’s the most experienced runner in the race and another step forward is not out of the question considering Neil Howard’s 94 trainer rating with horses making their third starts back from a layoff. We believe that there are more talented runners in this race, but her running style does fit the projected race flow. She’s one to consider using on the bottom rungs of trifectas and superfectas.
#6, Mokat (20/1): She’s one of the many fillies that were left in Songbird’s wake this spring. She was beaten by Land Over Sea two back in the Santa Ysabel, where she merely picked up the pieces once Songbird had obliterated her pace rivals. The ground she appears to have made up late in each of her last two starts was more due to Songbird easing up at the wire than to Mokat’s finishing speed. She’s never won a race on dirt, and we feel she’s inferior to the other California shipper in this race. We’ll pass.
#7, Mo d’Amour (30/1): The connections that brought us the long shot winner of the 2014 Kentucky Oaks, Princess of Sylmar, are back with this filly, who may go off at even higher odds. A large price would certainly be justified since she simply has not run fast enough to even be considered a superfecta contender in this deep field. She appears to be overmatched.
#8, Royal Obsession (20/1): While Lewis Bay is widely considered to be one of the top contenders in this race, we think this filly will potentially offer the best value of those exiting the Gazelle. For such a big filly, she handled herself well over a muddy surface last time out, finishing up with some interest while cutting into Lewis Bay’s lead late. Previously, she was against the track profile when wide over a speed- and rail-favoring surface at the Fair Grounds. She hasn’t yet run fast enough to win the race, but she does appear to be improving at the right time and possesses the stamina to stay on for a minor award. She’s another long shot to consider throwing into trifectas and superfectas.
#9, Paola Queen (30/1): As we previously mentioned with regard to Go Maggie Go, we’re inclined to take a stand against the two fillies coming out of the Gulfstream Park Oaks, which was one of the weaker preps for this race. Furthermore, the Pace Projector is predicting that she faces a tall order trying to survive a fast pace while racing near the front. We’ll pass.
#10, Venus Valentine (30/1): She was aided by a very fast pace (color-coded in red) as well as a rail bias in her Rachel Alexandra win. She was exposed next time out when facing a better field in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Her best speed figure of 96 does not make the cut. She’s appears to be overmatched.
#11, Rachel’s Valentina (7/2):
This regally bred filly has a chance to live up to her bloodlines in this prestigious race. Todd Pletcher has handled her very carefully since last summer at Saratoga, selectively picking his spots to get her to this race. Whereas Ashland rivals Weep No More and Cathryn Sophia had plenty of three-year-old starts under their belts coming into that final prep, Rachel’s Valentina was making her seasonal debut. All things considered, she ran an admirable race in defeat, staving off the challenge of Cathryn Sophia in upper stretch before just succumbing to the winner late. The 115 speed figure that she earned in that runner-up finish is the highest number in the field, but it’s not significantly greater than her previous best of 110, which was earned in a game second-place finish to Songbird in last year’s Breeders’ Cup. All reports indicate that she’s thriving coming into this race, and her tractable running style should give John Velazquez options from this outside post position. We have no knocks against her, and our support for her on the win end will depend entirely on price.
#12, Cathryn Sophia (9/2): In terms of raw ability, Cathryn Sophia has no equal in this field. She has consistently recorded some of the fastest speed figures of any runner in this field, and her versatile running style should give Javier Castellano plenty of options in the early going. While her Ashland effort was disappointing, she was making her first foray around two turns. And attempting to make her move into one of the fastest parts of the race could not have helped. Her connections, still smarting from the loss, quickly decided that she would be pointed towards one-turn races and target the Eight Belles. However, the defection of Songbird from this race swayed them back in the direction of the Oaks. Is that a vote of confidence in the filly, or just a practical decision? While we acknowledge that a mile and an eighth may be pushing her past her limit, we still believe that her talent could ultimately carry her through. She remains a candidate for top honors.
#13, Land Over Sea (5/1):
After dropping five straight decisions to Songbird, she finally got out of that one’s shadow when shipped across the country to impressively take the Fair Grounds Oaks over a few of today’s rivals. Her recent speed figures of 110 and 111 are certainly fast enough, and she has a seasoning edge on everyone except Dream Dance, who finished far behind her last time. While she is a closer, she does not have to drop out to last like the plodding Weep No More and instead figures to be placed somewhere in midpack. A mile and an eighth does not figure to be a problem considering the way she finished up in the Fair Grounds Oaks, and her pedigree, which contains a ton of stamina influences, including a half-brother that won going a mile and a half. Mario Gutierrez will have to work out a trip from this wide draw, but we think this filly is improving at the right time and could be dangerous at a decent price. This is a major contender.
#14, Taxable (20/1): While she lost to Terra Promessa by only a head last time, our feeling is that her stablemate ran the better race considering that she had to attack a solid pace while this filly was able to bide her time and make the last move. She certainly has the pedigree to win a race like this, since her dam is a half-sister to Steve Asmussen’s first Kentucky Oaks winner, Summerly. However, she’s yet to run fast enough to put herself in the conversation for trifecta consideration, and this outside post position does not help. We’re leaving her out.
#15, Dothraki Queen (AE – 30/1): The third place finisher in last fall’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies is left on the outside looking in after getting her three-year-old campaign off to a late start last month. While she obviously showed real talent at two and may turn out to be a player in this division later in the year, her non-effort on turf in the Appalachian last time out is not the kind of prep that produces a Kentucky Oaks contender. She won’t be on our tickets even if she draws into the race.
To see how we’re going to play the race, get our Betting Strategies as Part of the TimeformUS Kentucky Derby Weekend Package: