Kentucky Oaks preview
By Anthony Stabile
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Before the boys take the stage for Kentucky Derby 134 on Saturday, eleven of the nations’ best three-year-old fillies are set to go to post in the 134th running of the $500,000 G1 Kentucky Oaks going 1 1/8 miles at Churchill Downs.
While a dozen were entered on Tuesday, morning line favorite Eight Belles is almost certain to run in the Derby after drawing the outside post 12 in this while faring much better in the Derby draw, where her connections chose post 5 for the daughter of Unbridled’s Song. Don’t be too upset for her trainer Larry Jones, as he’ll still saddle the probable post time favorite, the multiple graded stakes winning Proud Spell.
In six career tries on dirt, Proud Spell has won four times, counting the G2 Matron at Belmont last year and the G2 Fair Grounds Oaks two starts back, as a pair of her wins. In fact, Indian Blessing, the filly she finally got the better of in the Fair Grounds Oaks is the only filly to ever beat Proud Spell on dirt when she finished second in both the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and G3 Silverbulletday.
In her final prep for the Oaks, Proud Spell tried the Polytrack at Keeneland in the G1 Ashland. After breaking a bit awkwardly at the start, Proud Spell put in a determined run throughout and finished third, beaten less than three lengths.
After toying with the idea of a Derby run, her connections decided earlier in the week that she’d run in the Oaks instead and worked a sensational five furlongs in :58 2/5 for the event. Regular rider Gabriel Saez, who’ll pilot Eight Belles in the Derby, has the call. They’ll break from post 8.
Speaking of the Ashland, the first, second and fifth place finishers are also here. They are, in order, Little Belle, Bsharpsonata and Country Star. Let’s start by talking about the winner
Since finishing second in a maiden race at Aqueduct back in mid-January, Little Belle has made plenty of noise winning three in a row. A maiden win, followed by a victory in the Busher, both at Aqueduct gave her trainer Kiaran McLaughlin enough of a push to try her against graded stakes types in the Ashland.
Also making her Polytrack debut, Little Belle was sent to the lead under Rajiv Maragh and led until mid-stretch when Bsharpsonata put her head in front. Instead of folding her tent, Little Belle fought on and battled back to win by a long neck. Since that gutsy effort, Little Belle has trained brilliantly over at Keeneland and from post 7 should be able to control the pace in the Oaks.
Tim Salzman, trainer of Bsharsonata, certainly hopes that someone other than his filly keeps Little Belle company on the front end as it was her who had that task in the Ashland. A bit out of her element in the stalking position last out while making her first start on Polytrack, it’s easy to see why many are making a case for this lassie to turn the tables in here. Earlier this season, Bsharpsonata, who’ll break from post 10 in the Oaks, won a pair of Grade 2 events – the Forward Gal and Davona Dale – at Gulfstream Park under regular rider Eric Camacho, who’ll be back aboard in here.
The biggest disappointment in the Ashland was undoubtedly Country Star. After winning the G1 Alcibades at Keeneland and Hollywood Park’s G1 Hollywood Starlet last year in her first two starts over synthetic surface, Country Star was sent off as the even money favorite in the Ashland in spite of the fact that she was making her first start in nearly four months.
After acting up a bit at the start, Country Star never raised her legs and raced evenly in mid-pack throughout under Robby Albarado. Leaving from post 6, she’ll be reunited with Rafael Bejarano in the Oaks, her first start on conventional dirt.
Pure Clan will try to return to her winning ways after finishing second and third in her first two starts this year, the G2 Fantasy and G3 Honeybee, both at Oaklawn. She’ll be making her third start off a layoff for trainer Bob Holthus, gets a positive rider switch to Edgar Prado and won both the G3 Pocahontas and G2 Golden Rod at Churchill last year.
If you’re looking for a live longshot, look no further than G3 Florida Oaks winner Awesome Chic. She’s 3 for 4 on dirt in her career and improved dramatically in her first try around two turns last out for trainer Rafael Ramos. Robby Albarado rides from post 3.
The Oaks field is completed by G1 Las Virgenes winner Golden Doc A; Absolutely Cindy, winner of the Battaglia at Turfway; Florida Oaks runner-up Elusive Lady; $25K supplemental nomination Rasierra and longshot A to the Croft.
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