The 2017 portion of the Road to the Kentucky Oaks kicked off January 7 with the Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) going seven furlongs at Santa Anita Park. Two more points races followed in the coming weeks at Aqueduct and Fair Grounds.

Each contest awarded points on a 10-4-2-1 basis and were more preps for other major events that will assign even more points and lead up to the Kentucky Oaks. Nonetheless, these three offered a glimpse of some talented runners and shouldn’t be discounted.

Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) – Santa Anita Park – January 8, 2017

The Santa Ynez Stakes (G2) featured only five runners, but UNIQUE BELLA easily stood out as the filly to watch. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, the gray miss settled behind three dueling leaders while four wide on the backstretch. She tugged her way forward entering the turn, cruised up to take command and drew off under her own power to be 7 1/2 lengths clear on the wire with Mike Smith aboard.

Unique Bella looked like she was out for a morning stroll in the Santa Ynez. While the other four toiled in the lane under encouragement, she floated over the fast dirt with Smith standing up nearly the entire way. Perhaps it was the ease with which she won that only saw the Tapit filly earn a 93 BRIS Speed rating, because she definitely looks like the type to post triple-digit numbers.

Busanda Stakes – Aqueduct – January 15, 2017

The Busanda Stakes was another small field only drawing five runners, and LOCKDOWN pressed the pace the entire way. Libby’s Tail led the way but Lockdown latched onto her flank and never budged on the backstretch. She pulled her way to run in tandem before surging past entering the lane.

Libby’s Tail was game in defeat, re-rallying after angling out, but could not catch Lockdown and finished 2 1/2 lengths behind in second.

Lockdown entered the Busanda following a 3 1/2-length maiden victory over Aqueduct’s inner dirt on December 17. She ran well but appeared to be shortening stride in the stretch; could be jockey Kendrick Carmouche knew he had the race wrapped up and allowed her to dial it back. Whatever the reason, she only earned a 91 BRIS Speed rating for the effort.

Trainer Bill Mott shipped Lockdown to Florida following the Busanda so it appears she could be taking her chances in Gulfstream Park’s Kentucky Oaks prep events.

Silverbulletday Stakes – Fair Grounds – January 21, 2017

In my opinion, FARRELL is the top Kentucky Oaks contender at this point. She owns dominating wins at Churchill Downs, has proven she can stretch out, and has successfully competed on both fast and muddy tracks.

The most recent of her races, the Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds, emphasized this even more. The Wayne Catalano pupil stalked the pacesetting Gris Gris in the three path, was wide on both turns of the mile-and-70-yard event, grabbed control in upper stretch and drew off for the 2 3/4-length victory under Channing Hill.

The Silverbulletday took place over a muddy, sealed track on an overcast day, but Farrell kept her Kentucky Oaks dreams bright with this score. Like the others in this report, her numbers exiting the race weren’t all that impressive, as the Malibu Moon miss was only awarded an 88 BRIS Speed figure for her effort, but that in no way detracts from her ability to get the win.

February has a slew of points races, including the Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) and Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2), so stay tuned.