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Kentucky Oaks Report
The Kentucky Oaks (G1) is fast approaching, and this week will be the final Report before the race. I'll finish my analysis of the runners, starting with the bottom five of my Top 10 list and continuing with the rest of the prospective field, including recent defectors.
KATHMANBLU (Bluegrass Cat) -- Following her dominating 8 1/2-length victory in last November's Golden Rod S. (G2) at Churchill Downs, Kathmanblu was the early favorite for the Oaks, but has yet to live up to that billing in my opinion. She captured her initial two starts this season, the grassy Sweetest Chant S. at Gulfstream going a mile and the 1 1/16-mile Rachel Alexandra S. (G3) on Fair Grounds' main track, in good order but her final prep leading into Friday's big race was the Ashland S. (G1) on the Polytrack at Keeneland. That probably played a big roll in her third-place run as the bay miss just never seemed comfortable on the synthetic surface. Considering her two best runs -- a third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Fillies (G2) and Golden Rod -- both came at Churchill, seeing the Twin Spires again may rejuvenate the filly. However, she's going to have run a BRIS Speed rating better than the lower 90s she's been posting to capture Joyful Victory (Tapit) and R Heat Lightning (Trippi). Her Saturday morning workout could be a good indicator of whether the track has injected new life.
DAISY DEVINE (Kafwain) -- The Andrew McKeever trainee has already answered one big question in my mind -- can she handle a less-than-fast track at Churchill? Daisy Devine drilled a bullet :59 3/5 work on Tuesday in sloppy conditions to ready for the Oaks, and that could prove invaluable considering the way the weather has been lately in Kentucky. Her only non-top two finish from five career starts came as a ninth on Keeneland's Polytrack in her racing debut, but she proved nearly unbeatable when showing up at Fair Grounds over the winter. Breaking her maiden, the bay filly next took an allowance and then ran a nice second in the Silverbulletday S. after running wide on both turns. She rebounded to take the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) to stamp her ticket to the first Friday in May, and has steadily increased her numbers this season. Daisy Devine could be the wise-guy horse in this year's Kentucky Oaks.
ST. JOHN'S RIVER (Include) -- This filly owns four lifetime starts and only one victory, and that could stand in her way of an Oaks victory. The closer has been professional in every race, but she hasn't really had a break since beginning her racing career in December. The bay lass will actually enter the Oaks following her longest layoff yet of six weeks. She ran terrifically last out to be second, just a half-length back, in the March 26 Fair Grounds Oaks, but will be facing an altogether different story in the Kentucky Oaks. Based on talent alone St. John's River has a shot, but the crowds, noise and general Oaks atmosphere could prove too much for this lightly-raced filly.
HOLY HEAVENS (Holy Bull) -- The chestnut took on a juggernaut named Joyful Victory in her past two and ran decently to be second in the Honeybee S. (G3) and third in the Fantasy S. (G2). She earned a very nice 101 Speed rating for her Honeybee effort, but dropped off sharply in the Fantasy last out to just an 83 figure. There's an opportunity for Holy Heavens to rebound in the Oaks, but her one work so far at Churchill didn't exactly burn up the track. Trainer Benard Chatters was happy with it, though, saying that's her usual manner of working. I can't see Holy Heavens winning, but she was rallying well on Arienza in the Fantasy and could run down quite a few tired horses next Friday.
LILACS AND LACE (Flower Alley) -- She's on my Top 10 for one reason and one reason only: I've already been bitten by one synthetic specialist and Ashland winner in the Oaks and refuse to be again. Evening Jewel's (Northern Afleet) first race on a conventional dirt track came in last year's Oaks, and she nearly held off the winning Blind Luck (Pollard's Vision), just missing by a nose on the wire. Lilacs and Lace did try dirt at Santa Rosa in her debut last summer, ending up seventh that day, but she suffered a rough trip on that occasion. She's run well in California, taking the California Oaks at Golden Gate Fields on New Year's Day, and has steadily progressed the past few months. However, the filly entered the April 9 Ashland off two-week break, having finished fourth in the Bourbonette Oaks (G3) at Turfway Park on March 26. She jumped up on the quick turnaround to be a length best in the Ashland, but is a major bounce candidate for the Kentucky Oaks.
Remaining Hopefuls (alphabetical order)
ARIENZA (Ghostzapper) -- According to Daily Racing Form on Friday, Arienza has been ruled out of the Oaks in favor of the seven-furlong Eight Belles S. (G3) earlier on the card. This is a really smart move by trainer Dan Peitz. The chestnut filly has plenty of ability, as evidenced by her easy wins in her initial two starts and second in the Fantasy last out, but to throw her to the wolves this early could end up ruining her completely. Backing her up, both in distance and talent level she'll be facing, could see Arienza be a force in the distaff ranks later in the year.
BOUQUET BOOTH (Flower Alley) -- The dark bay beat Daisy Devine in the Silverbulletday S. and has run fourth in both the Rachel Alexandra and Ashland in her past two. She definitely deserves a shot in the Oaks, and could even end up challenging at the end. Bouquet Booth is one of those inscrutable horses who could be any kind on race day and customarily gets part at least.
DELIGHTFUL MARY (Limehouse) -- Like Arienza, DRF reported Friday that trainer Mark Casse has taken Delightful Mary out of Oaks consideration. She'll be shipping back to Canada to recoup. The chestnut filly, second in the Mazarine S. (Can-G3) and third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) last season, opened her sophomore season with a win in the OBS Championship S. on the Tapeta, but faded to seventh of nine in the Ashland after pressing the early pace. She would have been way in over her head in this year's Oaks.
HER SMILE (Include) -- She's only in the race because celebrity chef Bobby Flay purchased and sent her to trainer Todd Pletcher following a second in the one-mile Comely S. (G3). Leigh Delacour, the dark bay's original trainer, probably wasn't even thinking Oaks for Her Smile. The filly's two tries beyond a mile resulted in a fourth in the grassy Florida Oaks and a third in the mile-and-40-yard Suncoast S. At this point, Her Smile just doesn't appear a distance horse. She ran really well to be second in the Comely following a wide trip, but probably doesn't want any part of nine furlongs.
STREET STORM (Stormy Atlantic) -- Though she's yet to be ruled out completely, Street Storm will likely show up in the 1 1/16-mile Edgewood S. on Churchill's grass the same day as the Oaks. Trainer Steve Margolis has gone on record saying the gray filly prefers turf, so why take her out of her game? The $1 million purse and Grade 1 status of the Oaks is a tempting lure, but not when she's likely to be in the back of the field on the finish line. Much better to go for the sure thing -- a $100,000 stakes win.
SUAVE VOIR FAIRE (Suave) -- Thirds in the Golden Rod and Bourbonette Oaks gave Suave Voir Faire enough earnings to make it into the field, but she was well back on both of those occasions. Her numbers are low, even compared with the less-than-stellar figures that have been thrown up this year, and she would be better served to go in the Eight Belles or even the Edgewood. The Speedy Smithwick trainee ran well on the turf at Ellis Park and Keeneland last year.
1. Joyful Victory
2. R Heat Lightning
4. Plum Pretty
5. Summer Soiree
7. Daisy Devine
8. St. John's River
9. Holy Heavens
10. Lilacs and Lace