Horse Racing: Full Analysis of the 2014 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs

With the biggest race in the world, the Kentucky Derby, and one of the biggest races for three year old fillies in this country, the Kentucky Oaks, this week’s Horse Racing Race(s) of the week will be broken down into two parts.

We’ll be looking at the 2104 Kentucky Oaks, which will feature leading three year old filly Untapable listed as the heavy 4/5 morning line favorite, today and the 2014 Kentucky Derby, featuring west coast sensation California Chrome, tomorrow.

On any ordinary weekend, I will talk about other major races being run around the country but since this is no ordinary weekend, please forgive the fact I’m zeroing in on just the Derby and the Oaks.

That being said, Churchill Down has a bonanza of stakes races being run on Friday and Saturday. Of all the talent that will be on display these two days be sure to catch the $300,000 Alysheba Stakes for four year olds and up going 8 ½ furlongs on the Oaks under-card.

The race drew 2013 three year old champion Will Take Charge, who will take on eight others including three other runners from last year’s Kentucky Derby in runner-up Golden Soul, fourth-place finisher Normandy Invasion, fifth-place finisher Mylute as well as 2013 Travers winner Golden Ticket. All of whom finished in front of Will Take Charge in the Derby, but keep in mind, that was a long time ago.
The Alysheba serves as an ideal prep race for the $500,000 Stephen Foster Handicap that will be run on June 14 also at Churchill Downs

“The Foster is the main the one,” said trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Will Take Charge and is listed as the odds on favorite at 4/5 on the morning line. “It’s a ‘Win and You’re In’ and there are so many benefits to it. I don’t know what the entry fee is in the Classic, but it’s big; it’s huge.”
Will Take Charge, who worked five furlongs last Sunday in 1:00.4 and looked good doing, will be making his fourth start of the year. He ran second to Lea in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park Feb. 14, then shipped to California to run second to Game On Dude in the Santa Anita Handicap March 8, and then won the Oaklawn Handicap April 12 in Hot Springs, Ark.

“He’s having a good month,” Lukas said. “I was agonizing a little bit whether I should go in this race or go the full 60 days to the Foster, which is our immediate goal, but I felt like we needed to get one under him. He’s just doing so damn good. He was full of himself out there this morning. I even changed up his morning; I had him down to have a light morning jog but I gave him a gallop.
“One of the things about this horse is his extreme soundness,” Lukas said. “He’s maintenance free, he really is. He loves to train. I don’t see any reason not to jump right in.”

Normandy Invasion has made only two starts since finishing fourth in last year’s Derby. He won an allowance at Gulfstream Park, and was second to Palace Malice in the New Orleans Handicap. He is listed as the 3-1 second choice in the wagering.

Mylute, who was fifth in the Derby and third in the Preakness Stakes, was given time after a horrible effort in the Jim Dandy Stakes, came back and won an allowance race on March 27 and worked a half in :50.2 (both at the Fair Grounds) last week in preparation for this.

 
Golden Ticket will be running for the third time this year after missing by a head to Palace Malice in the Gulfstream Park Handicap and coming fourth in the Carter Handicap April 12 at Aqueduct.

Golden Soul, who was second to Orb in last year’s Derby, hasn’t done all that much since. In fact, he still shows just one career won out of 11 starts and is listed at 20-1 on the morning line.

One other item to take note of on Friday is the return of 2013 two year old champion filly She’s a Tiger. She’s a Tiger, who was disqualified from a win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in her final start of 2013, makes her first start of the year in the $175,000 Eight Belles Stakes

She’s a Tiger, who has never been worse that second in now six career starts, comes into the Eight Belles with a half-mile breeze in :48 3/5 last Sunday in tow.

She’s a Tiger’s main competition appear to be the unbeaten Our Amazing Rose, who is two for two and Fiftyshadesofgold, who began this season with an easy score in the Two Altazano Stakes at Sam Houston..

 

Friday May 2, 2014

Churchill Downs

Race: 11

The Kentucky Oaks

Purse $1,000,000

For Fillies, Three Years Old

Distance: One And One Eighth Miles.

 

P# PP Horse A/S Med Jockey Wgt Trainer M/L
1 1 Please Explain 3/F L J Lezcano 121 T F Proctor 50/1
2 2 Ria Antonia 3/F L M E Smith 121 B Baffert 10/1
3 3 Sugar Shock 3/F L C H Borel 121 D L Anderson 12/1
4 4 Rosalind 3/F   J Rosario 121 K G McPeek 8/1
5 5 Thank You Marylou 3/F L J R Leparoux 121 M J Maker 30/1
6 6 Kiss Moon 3/F L V Espinoza 121 D R Vance 30/1
7 7 Fashion Plate 3/F L G L Stevens 121 S Callaghan 6/1
8 8 Aurelia’s Belle 3/F L C Hill 121 W M Catalano 50/1
9 9 Unbridled Forever 3/F L R Albarado 121 D Stewart 12/1
10 10 Empress of Midway 3/F L C S Nakatani 121 D F O’Neill 50/1
11 11 My Miss Sophia 3/F L J Castellano 121 T A Pletcher 8/1
12 12 Got Lucky 3/F L J R Velazquez 121 T A Pletcher 20/1
13 13 Untapable 3/F L R Napravnik 121 S M Asmussen 4/5

 

 

Analysis (By Post Position order, selections below)

 

PP#1- Please Explain- is a late running, good looking bay filly by Curlin who shows six on the board finishes out of seven career starts.

This well traveled filly seems to have hit a pinnacle over this past winter/early spring when she broke her maiden by 5 ½ “much the best” lengths at Gulfstream Park, then came back about six weeks later to trounce her foes by six in a $100,000 stakes race at Tampa Bay Downs.

Her connections, trainer Thomas Proctor and Niall Racing, then bring her back five weeks later in the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn Park where she was next to last early but uncorked a strong late run on the turn for home, split horses at the eighth pole and was closing ground fast, late to get beat less than two lengths for all the money. Albeit DQ-ed (and placed 11th) for interference in the stretch, it was a very nice effort.

Not sure what happened in that last race (the April 5 Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn) but she trailed through-out, was never a factor and was beaten 10 lengths. That bad effort and the fact she shows no published works in the month of April makes me think she’s possibly peaked out and her form is on a downward trend. I’m not sure I would have listed her as 50-1 on the morning because she does have some ability and I won’t be completely shock if she runs well Friday afternoon. But I have to admit, I like others a lot more.

 

PP#2- Ria Antonia- won the 2013 Breeders Cup Filly Juvenile on one of the worse DQ’s I’ve ever seen, but she did run a good race that day so I can’t completely kill her for that.

The problem I see is she really hasn’t done too much before, and for the most part, after that as she’s still only crossed the finish line first once in seven starts.

After her BC “gift”, she was given three and a half months off and return in the Feb 22 Rachel Alexandra Stakes at the Fair Grounds where after being hammered down to 5/2 on the odds board, she was promptly hammered again by Untapable while finishing fourth, beaten over 14 lengths in that race while scoring a 75 speed figure.

She was taken away from trainer Jeremiah Englehart after the Rachel Alexandra and turned over to Bob Baffert.

Baffert takes her, puts two enormous works into her (March 31- 4F :46.1 and April 18- 5F- :59.2) and presto…she runs a good second to the streaking Fashion Plate in the Santa Anita Oaks and records an 85 speed figure, a marked improvement from the Rachel Alexandra.

So, yes, it appears she is heading in the right direction form wise especially after another good work this past Tuesday (4F- :47.3), but although it was just 1 ¼ lengths, she was beaten fair and square in the SA Oaks by Fashion Plate, who in turn, will be just five horses away in the same starting gate come Friday.

 

 

PP#3- Sugar Shock- is a well bred chestnut filly (by Candy Ride out of Enthusiastically by Distorted Humor) that comes into this riding a four race winning streak.

She has crossed the finish line first in all four 2014 starts including a maiden win, an allowance win, the Honeybee Stakes (where she was later DQ-ed) and the Fantasy Stakes in her last (April 5).

She likes to be on the lead or assume a stalking position early and those tactics that could play out favorably for her in this race. “She will put herself in position,” trainer Dave Anderson said. “She is very quick from the gate and I can see her being in front early”

It seems to me she’d be best off taking a stalking position early, but either way you cut it, she’s a contender.

 

PP#4- Rosalind- has consistently picked up checks in Grade: 1 and Grade:2 races throughout her career (seven starts, six on the board finishes) and broke thru in a big way with a dead heat win the prestigious Ashland Stakes by 7 in her last start.

But please note, that break thru race was on the synthetic surface and her only other career win was on the turf….meaning, although she’s run well over them, she is 0 for 3 on the traditional dirt surface.

Trainer Kenneth McPeek hit the nail right on the head when he said yesterday “We are going to need the early speed to set her up.”…agreed, she’ll need a fast pace in front of her to have any chance.

 

PP#5- Thank You Marylou- started her career by winning a (turf) stakes race last summer, which doesn’t happen all too often.

She followed that up with a solid third (beaten just two lengths) in the Adirondack at Saratoga (Aug. 11) before taking almost seven months off.

She returned a winner at Gulfstream on March 9 while winning a minor stakes race, completing seven furlongs in a lightening 1:21.2.

Her connections, the Ramsey’s and trainer Mike Maker, then put her in the aforementioned Ashland Stakes where she finished a well beaten but not horrible third in her first start in anything other than a sprint race.

I’m not totally convinced she can handle the distance, although jockey Joel Rosario has confidence: “The distance I think is still a little question, but I think the race at Keeneland (the Ashland) definitely set her up for it here.”

I’m thinking even if she does get the distance, winning the Kentucky Oaks in just her fifth career start could prove troublesome.

 

PP#6- Kiss Moon- this filly by Malibu Moon appears to be rounding into form.

She won her first two starts by open lengths before being buried in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn over the winter.

Her connections then gave her five weeks off and brought her back in the Honeybee Stakes (March 8) where she ran an even fourth before being placed third via DQ.

But from that race on, she seems to be getting better as a) her speed figures have began to rise rapidly, b) she fired a pair of bullet works towards the end of March and c) ran a huge race to finished second, beaten just a half length to Sugar Shock on April 5, who figures prominently in this race.

This dark bay filly took a walk thru the starting gate on Tuesday, jogged to the seven-eighths pole and then galloped a mile and looked good doing it.

Lastly, she shows versatility as she has won from both on and from well off the pace. It sounds as though she’ll be taken back off the pace come Friday as when trainer David Vance was asked what he thought of this filly drawing the #6 post said: “That’s good, that might make somebody else do something they might not want to do.”

Interesting quote from former rider Terry Thompson who said recently “we haven’t gotten to the bottom of this filly yet, every time I ever ask her to run she did and seemed to have something left”

Overall, this is another filly who, if she runs well, I won’t be shocked and boy, those 30-1 morning line look awfully generous.

 

PP#7- Fashion Plate- I’m not sure if it took this filly two races to get going or the change in surface (from synthetic to dirt) …but whatever it was absolutely turned her around.

She came seventh in her racing debut on August 4 at Del Mar (synthetic surface) and really showed very little. She then ran back four months later (Dec 8) at the now defunct Hollywood Park (synthetics surface) where, albeit she didn’t run poorly, she did come third and but probably should have held second.

Exactly three weeks later (Dec 29), she runs at Santa Anita (and the first time on the dirt) and she absolutely airs it out. She developed a boatload of early speed (:21.4 & :44.4) to make every step a winning one, wiring a field of maiden by 6+ lengths and stopping the clock in a hot 1:09.1

She gets a rider switch and comes back on Feb 1 to wire the field in the Grade:1 Las Virgines Stakes (also at Santa Anita) and in the process adds two more impressive dimensions to her game (the ability to stretch out and courage under fire). On top of the new found early speed, she stretches out for six furlongs to a mile and, although clearly tiring late, she was able to fend off a late run from the very talented Streaming.

In her last race, the April 5 Santa Anita Oaks, she once again fired out of the gate, and kept between a one and two length lead all the way around to score her second Grade:1 win in as many tries.

So looking at the big picture, what do we have here? An improving filly with a ton of early speed (she hasn’t been behind at any point in her last three races) who has proven she can get a distance of ground and has won not one, but two Grade: 1 races? that sounds like the recipe for a winner….her competition better not let her get out on an uncontested lead, because if they do, she’ll be long gone and be wearing the lilies in the winners circle.

 

 

PP#8- Aurelia’s Belle- is a good looking, well bred filly (by Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid out of Aurelia by the great Danzig) who has been a model of consistency while showing a 5-2-1-2 career record.

Amongst those past performances she shows a third in a Grade:3 race, and a pair of seconds in Grade:2 races in Florida (Gulfstream Park) this past winter.

Her last start was a very nice win in the Bourbonette Stakes at Turfway Park (over the synthetics), she’s recorded a pair of good works in the month of April and in the hands of a very capable trainer. (Wayne Catalano)

When asked what he though of Churchill odds maker Mike Battaglia installing her at 50-1 on the morning line, Catalano chuckled and said: “What’s wrong with him? Maybe it’s time for a new odds-maker.”…does Mr. Catalano know something we don’t?

 

PP#9- Unbridled Forever- is yet another well bred filly (by Unbridled Song out of Lemons Forever, who was a Kentucky Oaks winner herself, by Lemon Drop Kid).

It took this filly two races to break her maiden (Nov 30), then came back about seven weeks later (Jan 18) to capture the Silverbulletday Stakes at the Fair Grounds.

Trainer Dallas Stewart, who is among the best, then gave her some 10 weeks off and ran her back in the Fair Ground Oaks where she was walloped by Untapable (beaten almost 10 lengths).

“I thought she ran pretty good off a (10 week) layoff in her last race” Stewart said. “I actually thought she was a little bit fitter than she was. She worked a couple of really good three-quarters, and I came back two weeks before and just worked her half-miles, easy, and I guess that might have been a little short on fitness looking back. But she came out of it very healthy. … She had a black-letter work here the other day, did it very easy. So she seems like she’s moved her game up since the last race to me.”

The Oaks will be just her fifth career start, but looks to be versatile enough to adapt to any pace scenario.

“She’s handy and can show a little speed. If she can lie back, we’ll see what dictates and hopefully we’ll have a good trip.” Stewart said after the filly jogged a mile this past Tuesday.

“It looks like she likes the track. … The main thing is, it seems like she’s doing well. She’s very healthy, knock on wood. She’s into the feed tub. She’s into her training. She had a good work coming into the race. That’s all you can ask for, training a horse. There’s really no other secret recipe.”

“A win (in the Oaks) would be pretty special considering her mother won it,” said Stewart. “She (Unbridled Forever) is a pretty remarkable filly too.”

 

PP#10- Express of Midway- is by Empire Maker out of a Carson City mare who has just three races under her belt, a third in a maiden race, a maiden win and a good second (to Awesome Baby) in the Sunland Park Oaks at the end of March.

She also shows a strong work (6F- 1:12.2) on April 16…but still…if she were to win this race, it would be considered a catastrophic upset…..pass.

 

PP#11- My Miss Sophia- has gone from an unraced three year old to one of the betting choices in the Kentucky Oaks in three months….that, readers, is what I call a quick development.

This chestnut filly, by Unbrideld’s Song from the powerhouse Todd Pletcher barn, came second in her racing debut on Feb 2, then came back exactly a month later to annihilate a field of maidens (she won by 11) while leading every step of the way and finishing the mile distance in a solid 1:35.2.

Pletcher runs her back in the April 2 Gazelle, where she galloped along on an uncontested lead, before dusting her five other rivals down the lane and cruised home under the line 7 ½ lengths in front.

The speed figures she recorded (in order) were 85, 87 and 93…signaling an (obviously) improving filly.

If she continues to improve…look out….however, she will not or at least should not under any circumstances, get an easy lead like she did in the Gazelle especially with the likes of Fashion Plate in here. So if you decide to bet on her, you may have to sweat it out early.

The slower the early pace, the more of a threat she becomes with a  threat to take the field gate to wire.

 

PP#12- Got Lucky- is an uncoupled stable mate of My Miss Sophia as this filly is also from the Todd Pletcher barn.

Yet another well bred filly (by A.P Indy out of Malka by Deputy Minister), that shows five career starts with a win and four seconds, so you have to like the consistency.

But I’m going to shy away from her after looking at those last two races.

Going back to the Feb 22 race (the Rachel Alexandra Stakes), she actually ran a good race. Last early on, she circled the field five wide on the turn and passed everyone except runaway winner Untapable.

Then her last race (April 5, Gazelle), she didn’t run badly either. After hitting the gate on the break, she once again rallied on the turn for home and finished (a well beaten) second well behind the winner (My Miss Sophia).

I like the way she closes ground late (her internal closing fractions aren’t all that bad), but the fact she’ll need to make up 7 ½ lengths on My Miss Sophia and almost 10 lengths on Untapable are the reasons I’m shying away.

 

13) Untapable- is the 4/5 morning line favorite and rightfully so.

This filly by Tapit has blossomed into quite the racehorse in 2014. So far, she is 2 for 2 with both wins (the Rachel Alexandra by almost 10 and the Fair Grounds Oaks by almost eight, both at the Fair Grounds) coming by colossal margins.

She cracked triple digit speed figures in both of those races as well (100 and 106 respectively).

“She’s obviously a filly with a tremendous amount of talent,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “We’re just trying to keep her on the ground, keep her running.”

“She trained so well at the Fair Grounds and her races were just tremendous,” Asmussen added. “With her, I think just trying to keep her on the ground and hold what we’ve got.”

But what really grabbed me about this filly was her final prep for this race, which was a :48.3 half mile work last Sunday.

With regular exercise rider Angel Garcia aboard, this filly grabbed a hold of the bit, tossed her head up and down in an act of begging to do more but remained under stout restraint from Garcia, who did a great job keeping a hold of her.

“She was very full of herself. I thought Angel did a good job of getting her to the (half mile) pole because she’s very physical,” Asmussen said. “She went around there really smooth’.

When asked about the dreaded #13 post, Asmussen shrugged as if unfazed by it and said: “It will afford her a clear run into the first turn of the 1 1/8-mile race. It’s fine”

Asmussen said last Tuesday that “the stage is set” for Untapable to take the major step from “talented filly to superstar” in the Oaks.

“She’s not there yet,” Asmussen added. “A lot of these horses, it’s how they handle the circumstances in front of them. She’s done everything right to this point. She’s training beautifully, and all signs are good. Now she just has to go out and do it. We’re just hoping for a nice, smooth, clean trip. Rosie (Napravnik) has ridden her extremely well the last couple of times. We hope she’s able to show who she is.”

She looks far superior on paper as she has been nothing short of a beast at the Fair Grounds lately. This is your winner provided she a) gets a clean trip and b) transitions from the Fair Ground surface to the quirky Churchill Downs surface.

 

Selections:

1) Untapable

2) Sugar Shock

3) Fashion Plate

 

Honorable Mentions:

My Miss Sophia

 

2014 Record: 7-24 = 29% 

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Little Bets N’ Pieces:

 

**** On a personal note, my racing stable and website are now up and running. My partners and I have worked diligently the last 18 or so months putting this together and I can’t believe how much fun it is.

Currently, we have two in training in New York and I’ll go ahead and tell you, we have targeted horses #3 and #4 and hope to have them in our barn within the next several weeks/months.

Information (pricing, breeding, race record) about our newest acquisition, Street Thug (by Street Sense) who is available for sydication, is posted on the site. If you ever thought about getting into the game and enjoying all the perks of an owner, in a very inexpensive manor, let me/us know. My contact info is on the site or you can use my isportsweb email which is isportswebgerard@yahoo.com

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