Well, it's that time of year again. The first weekend in May is the Super Bowl of Horse Racing. For the average sports fan, let's be honest...they don't really care. For the casual horse racing fan, they may check the blurb on ESPN, look at the Morning Line favorites and think they've struck oil! For Horse Racing aficionados, this weekend is the culmination of almost 1-1/2 years of watching horses develop from 2-year olds into legitimate contenders for the Triple Crown. Owners, trainers, and jockeys alike are vying for an opportunity to be enshrined in greatness, and earning the highest paydays that Horse Racing has to offer. We, as fans and handicappers, also have an opportunity to capitalize on the biggest races of the year, so let's take a look.
The Kentucky Oaks
Inaugurated in 1875, the Kentucky Oaks is the Kentucky Derby for 3-year old fillies. The race is held annually at Churchill Downs the day before the Kentucky Derby (on Friday). Post time is at 5:45 pm EST, and the weather is iffy at this point, with scattered thunderstorms in the forecast both Friday and Saturday. However, it seems the bulk of the rain and showers will be Saturday, so Friday may turn out all right. Just have to wait and see.
This year’s Kentucky Oaks field is perhaps one of the deepest fields seen in many years (see below). There's 10 horses running this year, which is a bit less than the last three years (14, 13, and 14, respectively). It's worth noting that it was 11 horses, but Flashy Gray scratched the day after the post-selection due to a foot bruise. Below are the entrants, along with their post position, jockey, trainer, and morning line odds (courtesy of anddownthestretchtheycome.com).
So who do I like? Well, first, let’s take a look at some statistics regarding the Oaks. Did you know that nearly half of the favorites in the last 20 years finished either 1st or 2nd? Also in the last 20 years, only three horses have won from outside post 9? Ok well that may not play as big a role, but inside position helps in this race. Statistically, the best post position in the Oaks is the 5th post, followed by the 4th post.
Winner: Dreaming of Julia (3-1) ridden by J. Velazquez
Why she’ll win:
This horse is a straight-up BEAST. She won the Gulfstream Park Oaks by nearly 22 lengths! She posted a BRIS figure of 107 in that race and a Beyer Speed figure of 114!!! It’s very rare that those type of numbers are flukes, and while she may not top that effort, I think she’ll be pretty darn close. For what it’s worth, her time at the Gulfstream Oaks was nearly 2 seconds faster than Orb’s time in the Florida Derby that day (I don’t like comparing times across races because there’s always different factors). One other fact most people are leaving out, is that the Gulfstream Oaks is a 1-1/8 mile race, the same as the Oaks. Her workouts at Churchill Downs have been solid, so she has no faults in that department.
Why she’ll lose:
I hope not! Let’s be honest though, this race is the best of the best. None of these horses have faced the competition that they will face tomorrow. Julia will be facing a much faster pace than she’s used to, and will have champion horses up front to catch like Beholder, and Unlimited Budget. She’s not a lock to win, but I would be absolutely shocked if she didn’t hit the board.
Runner-Up: Midnight Lucky (9:2) ridden by R. Bejarano
Why she’ll place:
She broke the track-record in her win at the Sunland Park Oaks running 1-1/16 miles in 1:41.06! It seems that track was fast (see Governor Charlie), but opening up to win by 8 lengths and setting a track record is still impressive. Even more impressive, have been Lucky’s works at Churchill Downs this week. She made Code West look silly, and has had some of the best works an owner could ask for. A very solid pedigree doesn’t hurt her chances either.
Why she won’t place:
She’s very inexperienced (only run twice), and hasn’t faced very stellar competition. This is a BIG leap up for her, and many feel she won’t be able to handle it. Despite the fact that she set the track record at Sunland, her speed figures weren’t anything to write home about.
Show: Unlimited Budget (7:2) ridden by J. Castellano
Why she’ll show:
Undefeated and battle-tested, she’s the real deal. Let me make this clear, she could WIN. She’s raced at 1-1/8, and defeated Emollient in the process. Her style indicates she will be there in the end, and her works have indicated that too. Perhaps no one has put in more eye-catching works at Churchill than Unlimited Budget. Great post position doesn’t hurt either.
Why she’ll miss:
Her speed figures did regress a small bit in her last race, and she doesn’t have the flashiness and finishing touch of Julia or Lucky. It’s hard to find any faults with her as of yet. I just like Midnight Lucky a bit more, that’s all.
Hitting the board: Beholder (7:2) ridden by G. Gomez
I think Beholder is overmatched in this race. I know some people are ranting and raving like lunatics that he will win. Who knows, its horse racing…it’s always a possibility! I just don’t think he will. I think the pace is too much for him and he gets caught by Julia, Lucky and Budget after the final turn. I also like Rose to Gold as a longshot, but am worried she just may be too slow to keep up with the rest of these top Fillies, especially since she likes to be on or close to the lead.
I hope you guys enjoyed my first (of what I hope to be regular) ‘official’ selections and feel free to comment on who you like. Tomorrow I’ll post my Kentucky Derby selections.