With all the Kentucky Derby hype, don't ignore the Oaks
April 24, 2018 3:00 AM
by Steve Davidowitz
While the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby is attracting almost all of the media attention, the 144th running of the Kentucky Oaks may prove to be an equally compelling betting race.
The Oaks, which has been run at several distances since it was born in 1875 as the companion stakes to the Derby, frequently provides a field of closely matched 3-year-old fillies. That seems to be true for this year’s $1 million race to be run at Churchill Downs at the 1-1/8 mile distance, the day before the Derby.
Among the most likely contenders for this classic are Monomony Girl, Midnight Bisou and My Miss Lilly, all of whom have earned Beyer Speed Figures in the 90’s in their last two starts. Beyond that trio, there are four other fillies who have earned Beyer Figs in the 80’s in their last two outings, including Chocolate Martini, Wonder Gadot, Eskimo Kisses and Classy Act. Four more possible Oaks starters have run that fast in a relatively recent outing.
Of course, it is not merely the power of Beyer Speed Figures that will compel horseplayers to consider relatively deep tickets for their Trifecta and Superfecta plays.
Given the depth of the group, the final Oaks field could reach the maximum 14 starters – based on the respective points the fillies under consideration have earned during a special 30 race series that assigned eligibility points to the top four finishers.
To demonstrate the quality that will be on display at Churchill on Friday, May 4, I’m spelling out below the strongest credentials for five of the most intriguing contenders:
Midnight Bisou, trained by Bill Spawr, will go into the Oaks with Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith off three straight stretch running victories in Graded Stakes at Santa Anita in March and April. Along with most of the field, her last two outings were at 1-1/16 miles; but this also will be Midnight Bisou’s first try away from California.
Monomoy Girl is trained by Brad Cox and is likely to be ridden by Florent Geroux – America’s leading money winning jockey this year. More than any other 3-year-old filly, Monomoy Girl has been a versatile impressive winner of five of her six previous starts at four different tracks with one second place finish. Interestingly, that second was at Churchill Downs in the Golden Rod Stakes last Fall. More recently, this daughter of Tapizar was a dominating winner of the Grade-2 Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds in February and a runaway winner of the Grade-1 Ashland at Keeneland earlier this month. Those performances suggest Monomoy Girl just might go to the post as the probable betting favorite.
My Miss Lilly, trained by Mark Hennig and shipping in from New York, is very lightly raced, with two wins and two thirds from her four career starts. Yet, she hardly should be underestimated after her recent stretch running victory in Aqueduct’s G-2 Gazelle at the Oaks distance of 1-1/8 miles! She in fact is one of few fillies in the Oaks field with experience at that distance. The probable jockey will be Joe Bravo or Javier Castellano.
Chocolate Martini was claimed – yes claimed – out of a $30,000 race by Tom Amoss two months ago in New Orleans. Amoss promptly improved this daughter of Broken Vow to win an allowance race eight days later. With jockey Mitchell Murrill riding her again, Chocolate Martini followed that modest score a month later, with a win in the Grade-2 Fair Grounds Oaks at 1-1/16 miles to earn her way into this field. Not many horses move up so sharply in class so quickly and not many trainers ever make something like that happen with a claiming horse. This filly looms a possible longshot that should not be taken lightly.
Reyya is another filly who will deserve a close look even though she is coming to this important stakes almost as an afterthought. First, her original connections in the United Arab Emirates were thinking Kentucky Derby until she could only manage a distant second in the $2 million UA Derby to the promising Derby threat Mendelssohn. Once reality set in, her UAE connections made arrangements to send her to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert to consider her for a spot in the Kentucky Oaks. A recent workout at Santa Anita for Baffert convinced him this filly could be a great fit with top 3-year-old fillies – especially at the 1-1/8 mile Oaks distance! “She has real class and a lot more ability than I realized before I saw her train here,” he said.
So with just those five probable Oaks starters and so many more worth a close look, you probably can see what I meant in my first paragraphs about the competitive betting possibilities this race will offer. Perhaps a good Trifecta or Superfecta?
You can bet I will be looking for possible logical plays that could offer generous payoffs. Beyond that of course, next week’s column will be devoted to the Kentucky Derby. Until then, Good Luck and Good Racing!