This year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) has come up just as strong as the Kentucky Derby (G1) one day later. Friday’s contest drew a full field of 14, plus one also-eligible, and three in the group have dominated the competition at their respective tracks.
Condo Commando romped at Aqueduct over the winter, I’m a Chatterbox (Munnings) was unbeatable at Fair Grounds and Stellar Wind (Curlin) made it look easy in both of her Southern California starts.
It’s impossible to pick against three such outstanding fillies, but that’s never stopped me in the past. And it isn’t stopping me this time.
1st -- Birdatthewire (Curlin) hasn’t displayed the same dazzling turn of her foot that’s characterized her rivals but the Dale Romans pupil is just the sort of hard-knocking filly who can come running late for the upset.
It took Birdatthewire a few races to figure out what needed to be done, but she finally broke her maiden at Churchill Downs in her juvenile finale last November 29. Given a two-month break, the bay miss returned for a drawing-off score while making her stakes debut in the Forward Gal S. (G2) at Gulfstream Park.
Next out Birdatthewire ran into another gusty filly named Ekati’s Phaeton (Tale of Ekati) in the Davona Dale S. (G2). She lost the battle that day, but only by a neck, and turned the tables next out when stretching out to 1 1/16 miles for the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2).
Birdatthewire overcame trouble in that contest, something that could come in handy Friday. She settled in the back, was steadied from the seven-eighths to the three-quarter pole, but still managed to run down fellow Oaks contender Eskenformoney (Eskendereya) to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths.
There is a lot of speed in the Kentucky Oaks, and Birdatthewire could take full advantage of that with another late-running victory. At 6-1 on the morning-line, she would prove quite valuable.
2nd -- Stellar Wind is hard to pick against but I’m willing to at 7-2 on the morning-line. This is a really nice group of fillies and anything is possible on a big day like Oaks Day.
Nonetheless, if Stellar Wind runs anywhere near her Santa Anita Oaks (G1) form, everyone else will be running for second.
The John Sadler filly bobbled at the start of that contest when the ground broke out from underneath her as the gates opened. She settled in last early, put in a three-wide move on the turn, then merely sailed on by the leader to draw off for a 5 1/4-length score.
Jockey Victor Espinoza, who is aboard for the Kentucky Oaks, said after the race he rode Stellar Wind a bit harder, but it still looked like she was doing it under her own power.
That sort of effortless motion is reminiscent of another top California distaffer who ran in the Oaks -- dual champion Beholder, who was just caught on the wire in the 2013 edition. Stellar Wind could avenge that loss on Friday, but I’m willing to take a shot against.
3rd -- One whom I’m not willing to completely ignore is I’m a Chatterbox. That filly comes from a barn known for producing top-notch fillies -- Larry Jones’ barn to be precise.
I’m a Chatterbox has even more going for her in that she went three-for-three at Fair Grounds, including taking the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) by 2 1/2 lengths. That race has produced a plethora of Kentucky Oaks winners in the past 10 years, including champion Untapable and the Jones-trained Believe You Can from the past three runnings.
While I’m a Chatterbox seems ready to enhance those stats, the chestnut filly has yet to break a 100 in BRIS Speed ratings. In fact, she fell four points in the Fair Grounds Oaks from her prior two efforts. Now that could have been because she didn’t have to expend any effort, but it would have been nice if she’d faced a bit more adversity to prepare for Friday’s big race.
Another knock against I’m a Chatterbox is that she suffered her worse loss to date at Churchill when closing out her juvenile campaign with a fourth-placing, beaten eight lengths, in the Golden Rod S. (G2) last November.
With her connections and race record, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see I’m a Chatterbox in the Churchill winner’s circle come Friday, but I’m tabbing her for third on this occasion.
Longshots -- I always like to give out a longshot play or two, though Birdatthewire could be considered a bit of a longshot against my other two picks.
However, I’m going with a bit higher price thanks to Puca (Big Brown) and Oceanwave (Harlan’s Holiday). Neither one was able to score against others in this field during the prep season, but they have steadily shown improvement with each race.
Puca, listed at 15-1, is well-traveled already in her short six-race career. She started off in California, breaking her maiden by 16 lengths at Santa Anita Park in her third try, traveled to Gulfstream Park for a fourth-placing in the Davona Dale in her sophomore debut and then headed to New York for a runner-up effort in the Gazelle S. (G2) last out at Aqueduct.
Oceanwave looks just as good, if not better, at 30-1. The dark bay lass opened 2015 with a nice win against allowance/optional claiming rivals at Oaklawn Park, then ran second in the Honeybee S. (G3) and Fantasy S. (G3). In the latter 1 1/16-mile contest she just missed by a neck when rallying from eighth, so the Oaks’ nine furlongs could be right up her alley. Her numbers have also steadily increased this season.
Puca and Oceanwave both have plenty of ability and they could be blossoming at just the right moment for a big win on Friday.