The 2011 Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks is scheduled for a post time of 5:45 Eastern post time on Friday evening at Churchill Downs. You can find my full, filly-by-filly preview of the Oaks on the SBNation.com home page. (Link: Kentucky Oaks Preview)
I found handicapping this year's Oaks a pretty dicey endeavor because while I found Joyful Victory's last two races to be superb I wondered if they possibly overstate her talent level. That's not to say that I don't believe she's a good filly, she obviously is. But I'm trying to reconcile the face that her splits and come home times were nothing spectacular in either of those races but she absolutely destroyed those fields. I wouldn't expect her final splits to be fast when Mike Smith had hear geared down in the final furlongs. But I would at least expect to see some kind of big move within the fractions, and I can't find it. Smith never had to touch her in the Fantasy, so we can reasonably assume that she can probably run faster than she did that day, but what does that say about her rivals in that race?
Honestly, I don't know what to really think of the favorite. You don't dominate a couple of graded races like she did at Oaklawn without possessing some quality. And Joyful Victory's two morning works at Churchill Downs since the Fantasy were both strong, including a bullet five furlong blitz in the slop on Sunday, so she's appears to still be in good form. But the major question I have is this: if she runs the same race in the Oaks as she did in the Fantasy and the Honeybee, will that get it done? I have my doubts.
There appears to be enough speed to set the race up nicely for a couple of closers, Kathmanblu and Zazu. I'm not loving the form that Kathmanblu showed her last two starts and I'm beginning to feel that she's a lot better on grass than dirt. As for Zazu, she's shown a strong ability to close out in California (a difficult thing to do this meet), including an excellent rally from last in the Santa Anita Oaks to lose by a neck to Turbulent Descent at the wire. That 29.90 final 3/8ths was quite impressive, although Santa Anita has been kicking out quick fractions on the main track all meet long, so we probably have to take that with a grain of salt.
The question marks I had with the two closers leaves me with what I hope will be a price play in the Oaks, Daisy Devine. Her tactical speed should be an advantage in this spot should jockey James Graham be able to settle her two or three lengths off the early speed for the first six furlongs. If he can do that, and find an extra gear coming off the final turn, I think this filly might be able to get the jump on the big names and pull off a bit of an upset.
My bets in this race will depend greatly on how the board is looking prior to post time, but right now, I'm planing on a win bet on Daisy Devine and then an exacta with Kathmanblu, Zazu and St. John's River. If the will-pays are good enough with Joyful Victory, I may toss her into the mix, but I'll have to wait to see how that plays out.
|1||Joyful Victory||M. Smith||L. Jones||5/2|
|2||Lilacs and Lace||J. Castellano||J. Terranova, II||12/1|
|3||Summer Soiree||G. Saez||H. Motion||5/1|
|4||Kathmanblu||J. Leparoux||K. McPeek||4/1|
|5||Suave Voir Faire||M. Mena||D. Smithwick, Jr.||50/1|
|6||Zazu||J. Rosario||J. Sadler||4/1|
|7||Her Smile||G. Gomez||T. Pletcher||20/1|
|8||Bouquet Booth||R. Albarado||S. Margolis||20/1|
|9||Daisy Devine||J. Graham||A. McKeever||20/1|
|10||Street Storm||S. Bridgmohan||S. Margolis||50/1|
|11||Holy Heavens||K. Desormeaux||B. Chatters||50/1|
|12||Plum Pretty||M. Garcia||B. Baffert||5/1|
|13||St. John's River||R. Naprivnik||A. Leggio, Jr.||30/1|