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Kentucky Oaks 2013: Contenders & Pace

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While Derby talk dominates horse racing discussion all over the country, let's not forget about the Lilies for the Fillies on the first Friday in May, the Kentucky Oaks.

Rob Carr

One of the most popular bets at the Kentucky Derby the last few years has been the Oaks/Derby Daily Double. Since 2001, the Oaks/Derby double has has averaged $1.8 million in handle, as compared to the approximately $750,000 in handle for the Woodford/Derby Double. It's a bet brought to the forefront by the increasing coverage and popularity of the Oaks over the last decade; no longer is the Friday before the Derby just "Louisville's Day"; Oaks Day is a major day for all racing fans.

The potential field for this year's Kentucky Oaks not only looks deep and contentious on paper, but the expected pace battle between Beholder and which ever of the rest of the field decides to go hard early, should be quite the sight. Somewhat similar to this year's Derby, the Oaks appears to be a race filled with stalkers and pressers and a couple of speed fillies, and very little that prefers to sit well off the pace and make one big run in the stretch.

Below is a look at the contenders for this year's Oaks, along with their current Bris Run Style designations:

Points Filly Bris Style
164 Beholder E 8
164 Rose to Gold E/P 7
160 Unlimited Budget E/P 5
132 Dreaming of Julia E/P 5
100 Close Hatches E/P 5
60 Flashy Gray E/P 7
50 Midnight Lucky E/P 6
50 Silsita E/P 8
50 Princess of Sylmar P 6
50 Fiftyshadesofhay E 7
34 Seaneen Girl P 3
20 Pure Fun P 1
11 Broken Spell P 1

If this were any other race with a different collection of contenders, that "E7" next to Fiftyshadesofhay would catch my eye as a possible pace duel threat to Beholder. Problem is: in her last two races, both of which came against Beholder, Fiftyshadesofhay has been unable to get the lead from the speedy Mandella trainee. So, I'm not sure I see her fighting for the lead in the first quarter to half mile unless they decide to absolutely gun it into the first turn. Fiftyshadesofhay dominated the G3-Santa Ysabel in pretty much gate-to-wire fashion but that was a race over a Wet/Fast surface at Santa Anita and against a field of just five fillies. On a fast dirt surface, she hasn't shown that kind of front-running ability other than her maiden win.

Dreaming of Julia has transitioned from the "need to lead" style of her first three races as a juvenile, to a much more comfortable pace pressing in her two starts in 2013. While it remains to be seen whether she can duplicate her runaway victory in the Gulfstream Oaks (and I think most will be trying to beat her), she's clearly taken a big step forward as a three-year-old. Even her loss in the Davona Dale back on Feb. 23 wasn't bad at all when you consider the layoff and the way the race unfolded.

I've been quite surprised at all the Midnight Lute offspring that have run well at two-turns, including Midnight Lucky, the dominating winner of the ungraded Sun Park Oaks back on March 24, but I'm still hesitant to really get behind any of these as the distance gets longer.

The running lines for Close Hatches paint the picture of a filly that appears to have a good deal of versatility in her game. She's gone gate-to-wire in her last two races but closed from the back of the pack when she broke her maiden in late January. Her two-turn races have been all about controlling the pace but both of those races involved :24+ seconds for the opening quarters, suggesting she inherited the lead out of the gate as opposed to her fighting to get to the front.

With all of the E and E/P fillies in this race, could we see the winner come from off the pace in the Oaks? I suppose anything's possible but from the looks of the contenders, the only stone-cold closer in the field is Pure Fun, and she's struggled in her last two races (one against the boys in the Lexington). She's also spent the majority of her career on grass and synthetic surfaces. I suppose we could toss Broken Spell into the off-the-pace contenders but it's tough to back a 1-for-14 filly against a field of this quality, especially when you consider the fact that she appears to be much better on turf than dirt.

Perhaps Fair Grounds Oaks winner Unlimited Budget is the off the pace filly to beat in this race. She won the G2-Demoisel in gate-to-wire fashion but came from well off the pace when she won the G3-Rachel Alexandra and she stalked the leaders in her Fair Grounds Oaks triumph. Like Close Hatches, she's displayed the versatility to run a different style if necessary.

Oaks Backside Buzz with Jill Byrne

Jill Byrne took a look at some of the recent works by Oaks contenders over at the Kentucky Derby YouTube page. Additionally, if you want to read a great piece on the success of Oaks winners as broodmares, check out the article by Patrick Reed over at the Daily Racing Form. Sneak peek: 2000 Oaks winner Secret Success has foaled two multimillion dollar Keeneland sales grads.