Kentucky Oaks 145: Breaking down every contender


A field of 14 three-year-old fillies was entered Monday morning for Friday’s 145th Kentucky Oaks, nine of whom call Churchill Downs home. The purse for the 1 1/8-mile Oaks is a record $1.25 million.

Kentucky Oaks
The 145th running of the Kentucky Oaks is scheduled for Friday at approximately 6:12 p.m.

Here’s a look at the field, in post position order (with jockey, trainer and program odds):

+ PP 1 Out for a Spin (Irad Ortiz Jr., Dallas Stewart, 15-1)
The upset winner at 52-1 odds of Keeneland’s Grade 1 Ashland Stakes could be hurt by drawing the rail in a capacity field of 14. In her three wins out of five starts, she’s been in second early on but within a length of the leader. Jockey Irad Ortiz might be forced to use the Hard Spun filly more than he wants to out of the gate in order to secure position. She is coming in off by far her fastest career effort and could be a candidate to “bounce” in the form cycle. That said, she’s a better filly than people probably give her credit for, and trainer Dallas Stewart pulled off the biggest upset in Kentucky Oaks history when Lemons Forever paid a record $96.20 to win in 2006.

+ PP 2 Chocolate Kisses (Julien Leparoux, Mark Casse, 20-1)
Out for a Spin gets a little break on the rail with the late-running Chocolate Kisses to her immediate outside. The cleverly named daughter of the stallion Candy Ride and out of the terrific mare Brownie Points would benefit from a contentious pace to set up her late kick, as occurred when she won Oaklawn Park’s Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes before finishing a non-threatening sixth in Keeneland’s Ashland on a day when speed was golden. Julien Leparoux obviously is looking for a better result than the last time he rode Chocolate Kisses, when the filly hopped at the start and unseated him at the beginning of Churchill Downs’ Rags to Riches Stakes.

+ PP 3 Lady Apple (Ricardo Santana Jr., Steve Asmussen, 20-1)
Lady Apple comes into the Oaks off three straight victories after starting her career 0-for-4. A daughter of the Asmussen-trained, two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, Lady Apple has thrived once she started running in route races, her three-race win streak starting with a maiden win in a sprint race that was followed by victories in an Oaklawn allowance race and the Grade 3 Fantasy, both at 1 1/16 miles. She has looked very good in training and could be a great play at her 20-1 odds. Asmussen knows how to point to the Oaks, winning in 2014 with Untapable and in 2005 with Summerly.

+ PP 4 Bellafina (Flavien Prat, Simon Callaghan, 2-1)
Bellafina is the prohibitive 2-1 favorite off three straight victories at Santa Anita, capped by a 5 1/2-length victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks over Kentucky Oaks rival Flor de La Mar. Still, since starting her career with a second, her only subsequent defeat was a well-beaten fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill Downs, her only race outside of California. She could be a horse to take a stand against, especially coming out of short fields (only four horses in the Santa Anita Oaks) and now facing 13 rivals, several of whom also will be seeking a position close to the lead. In her favor is the fact that she might just be the fastest filly in the race. She’s certainly the only three-time Grade 1 winner.

+ PP 5 Flor de La Mar (Joel Rosario, Bob Baffert, 20-1)
If it wasn’t for three-time Kentucky Oaks winner Bob Baffert, Flor de La Mar would be more than 20-1. Never count out Baffert, but this is only her third start and one wonders if her Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks runner-up effort behind Bellafina in a strung-out field of four was more a matter of someone having to come in second. But maybe the 1 1/8-mile distance will be to the liking of the daughter of two-time Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow. And maybe she’ll relish the change in venue from Santa Anita to Churchill Downs’ surface.

+ PP 6 Positive Spirit (Manny Franco, Rodolphe Brisset, 30-1)
You’d like Positive Spirit better if this race were at Aqueduct, where she won last fall’s Demoiselle by 10 lengths and was second in the Grade 2 Gazelle in her last start. That said, both those races were at 1 1/8 miles, so distance will not be the question. On paper, she can’t beat the top fillies. Even though she found herself on the lead in a race with absolutely no pace in the Gazelle, her best chance would be for a wicked speed duel to develop up front and let her come running late to pick up the pieces.

+ PP 7 Jaywalk (Javier Castellano, John Servis, 8-1)
When Jaywalk won her fourth straight race last year, capped by a romp over Oaks rival Restless Rider in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, the sky seemed the limit for the 2-year-old filly champ. But after two races this year (fourth at 2-1 in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Davona Dale and third by a total of two lengths after setting the pace in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Ashland), the suspicion is that she hasn’t quite “trained on,” as they say of horses going from 2 years old to 3. Breeders’ Cup aside, distance seems a question, and she could be part of a serious pace that proves to her detriment.

+ PP 8 Motion Emotion (Mike Smith, Tom Van Berg, 15-1)
It would be Emotion Emotion if this filly won for Tom Van Berg, who 1 1/2 years ago took over the Jack Van Berg stable upon the death of his legendary father, who won the 1987 Kentucky Derby and 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs with Horse of the Year Alysheba. She’s got a lot of speed, including setting the pace and finishing second in both Oaklawn Park’s Grade 3 Honeybee and Grade 3 Fantasy, both at 1 1/16 miles. But Van Berg believes she’ll be better coming from a stalking position, and her No. 8 post should facilitate that. She also has the biggest money rider today in Mike Smith, back after riding her for the first time in the Fantasy. She’s a live play at 15-1.

+ PP 9 Liora (Channing Hill, Wayne Catalano, 20-1)
There are some good value horses in here, and she’s one of them. Liora is 2 for 3 at Churchill Downs, starting out with a third in a maiden race, followed by a nine-length romp and then winning the Grade 2 Golden Rod by a nose over Oaks contender Restless Rider. Her worst finish was a fading fourth in her 3-year-old debut at the Fair Grounds when trainer Wayne Catalano didn’t have her cranked up. She came back with a second to Serengeti Empress and took a step forward again in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Only thing was, Street Band took a bigger step forward.

+ PP 10 Champagne Anyone (Chris Landeros, Ian Wilkes, 6-1)
Champagne Anyone never has run a bad race, and adding blinkers for the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks had the desired results in getting her to focus en route to a signature victory. As the co-second choice at 6-1 with Restless Rider, she could be the buzz horse of the Oaks. Trainer Ian Wilkes learned well from mentor Carl Nafzger about pointing horses for a single race and not getting excited along the way with wins or defeats as long as there was improvement. By the Nafzger and Wilkes-trained 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, she should relish going another sixteenth of a mile. Jockey Chris Landeros, Wilkes’ son in law, had a breakthrough meet at Gulfstream Park and is riding full of confidence. Champagne Anyone has a huge shot to be his real breakthrough horse. She also can be close or come from well off the pace. With a decent run to the turn, post 10 is a good one for her.

+ PP 11 Jeltrin (Luis Saez, Alexis Delgado, 15-1)
She won Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Davona Dale at 51-1 odds in a field in which Champagne Anyone was third. It also was a one-turn mile, and Jeltrin faces a tough spot to run around two turns for the first time. It would be a fairytale story if the $7,000 yearling purchase would win the most important race for 3-year-old fillies. But this is where the clock strikes midnight.

+ PP 12 Street Band (Sophie Doyle, Larry Jones, 15-1)
I love Street Band at 15-1. I’d love her at a shorter price. Before the Fair Grounds Oaks, I thought that she might run a “sneaky good” second or third and then be tough at Churchill Downs. Instead she won the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks, the race which has been an outstanding prep for the Kentucky Oaks. Larry Jones has won the Kentucky Oaks three times, including with Rosie Napravnik, the first female jockey to win the Oaks. Now Sophie Doyle hopes to become the second. The key with Street Band is that she’s starting to learn how to relax in the early part of a race. Doyle thinks the outside post will be a plus in helping her to relax in the Oaks and giving the jockey a chance to see what is unfolding to her inside. As with Champagne Anyone and Serengeti Empress, Street Band would be a shining advertisement for Ellis Park’s 2-year-old program, having won her second start there last summer.

+ PP 13 Serengeti Empress (Jose Ortiz, Tom Amoss, 8-1)
Trainer Tom Amoss calls the multiple stakes-winner the “wild card or joker” in the field. If she’s on her game, Serengeti Empress could blow this field away, as she did in winning the Ellis Park Debutante by 13 lengths, followed by Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Pocahontas by 19. Or she could be beaten by double-digit lengths. For instance, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, she never made the lead and finished a well-beaten seventh. She rebounded to take the Fair Grounds’ Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra by 4 1/2 lengths over Oaks contender Liora. She seemed to have an easy lead while setting (for her) a comfortable pace in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks but faded badly in the stretch to be eased and vanned off. She was determined to have experienced Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhaging (EIPH, also known as “bleeding”). Her Kentucky Oaks appearance was very much in doubt until she uncorked two strong workouts at Churchill Downs, with endoscopic examinations showing no sign of a recurrence of bleeding. She picks up 2017 Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz and is strictly the one to catch. You bet her at your peril and you leave her out at your peril.

+ PP 14 Restless Rider (Brian Hernandez Jr., Kenny McPeek, 6-1)
With three wins and four seconds in her seven starts, she is a major player, having taken Keeneland’s Grade 1 Alcibiades last fall, followed by runner-up efforts in Keeneland’s Grade 1 Ashland by a neck, Churchill Downs’ Grade 2 Golden Rod by a nose and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to the front-running Jaywalk. It’s becoming a fair question whether she just can’t pass that last horse, or if she’s just a hard-trying or overachieving filly who will get them this time at 1 1/8 miles. With her stalking style, drawing the extreme outside shouldn’t be an issue as Brian Hernandez can see what is unfolding inside him and adjust accordingly.

Also eligible if there are scratches:

+ PP 15 Dunbar Road (Jose Ortiz, Chad Brown)
With an 8 3/4-length win her March 3 racing debut at a mile, followed by second to Oaks contender Champagne Anyone in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, Dunbar Road will need a scratch by 9 a.m. Friday in order to run, but Mike Battaglia made her the 5-1 second choice if she does. It’s a big leap, but she’s a fast filly with a big future.

+ PP 16 Point of Honor (John Velazquez, George Weaver, 30-1)
The daughter of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin won her first two starts, including a $150,000 stakes at Tampa before finishing fourth in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. She needs two defections to join the field, but could get a piece of it at a huge price if she does.

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