Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, May 5, 2016 at 9:04 AM
LADIES FIRST...2016 KENTUCKY OAKS GAINS SPECTACULAR POTENTIAL WITH DEFECTION OF SONGBIRD
One month ago the connections of a number of the top rated 3-year old fillies in the nation were looking for spots other than this year's Kentucky Oaks. And that avoidance scramble could be summed up in one word...or two words combined into one...SONGBIRD.
The seemingly invincible daughter of Medaglia D'oro was undefeated and unchallenged after winning the Santa Anita oaks in the seventh start of her career. Few fillies would have faced her in this year's Kentucky oaks. But a few weeks back she came down with a low-grade fever and went to the sidelines for what will be a brief period of time.
What subsequently became the loss of watching a spectacular filly continue her career in the historically iconic Kentucky Oaks now becomes an amazingly competitive race that includes a field of 15, including an also entry.
How competitive is this Grade 1 mile and an eighth $1 Million race? Five of the entrants come off a Graded Stakes win in their final prep. Five others finished second in a Graded Stakes in their final prep and an additional two finished in third vs Graded Stakes foes in their final prep. Collectively their career Graded Stakes record is 39-14-12-6. That is indeed a competitive field.
This kind of competitive filed has been the rule rather than the exception as over the last five years it was only in 2014 when the then brilliant Untapable won at even money and keyed short payoffs. Even given that, however, pver those five years the average win payoff has been $28.48, the average Exacta payoff $276.56 and the average Trifecta Payoff $1,326.12.
Expect nothing less than more of the same on Friday. Let's take a look at the fifteen runners from the rail out.
TERRA PROMESSA (10-1) - One of the three Steve Asmussen fillies entered this daughter of Curlin will be ridden by the trainer's go-to jock Ricardo Santana, Jr. She'll be racing vs Grade I rivals for the first time after winning the Grade III fantasy and the Grade III Honeybee (both at Oaklawn) in her last two and her good tactical speed and the fact that Curlins get better with distance and racing makes her worth a look.
WEEP NO MORE (9-2) - A winner of three straight from a four race career, none was more eventful than her sweep from far back to win the Grade I Ashland Stakes at 30-1 at Keeneland 4 weeks ago. The George Arnold trained daughter of Mineshaft jumped up big time figure-wise in that race and while the possibility of a bounce is very real, a repeat of that effort makes her competitive again under Corey Lanerie, who was aboard the first time in the Ashland.
LEWIS BAY (8-1) - Another bred for the distance filly this daughter of Bernardini is in the very capable hands of trainer Chad Brown and has a pair of Grade II wins and a Grade II placing in her last three. Ridden in exclusively by Irad Ortiz, Jr. she has solid tactical speed and unlike the Kentucky Derby, where Aqueduct runners have not done well of late, fillies exiting Aqueduct preps have held their own in the Oaks. She has two half mile breezes over the track since arriving and should be able to get good position early.
GO MAGGIE GO (12-1) - The lightly raced Dale Romans trained daughter of Ghostzapper has become a bit of a buzz filly despite just two career races. After breaking her maiden she went directly to the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks and after pressing the early pace easily took command and drew off. Regular jockey Luis Saez will be aboard and her three breezes over the surface since arriving in mid-April indicate she is working forwardly. Might be worth the buzz.
DREAM DANCE (30-1) - Only a two time winner from nine career starts the Neil Howard trained daughter of Afleet Alex is tough to gauge. After seven races as a juvenile she finished second at 23-1 in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks behind Land Over Sea, who herself finished second in two straight Graded Stakes at Santa Anita behind Songbird. In addition, Fair Grounds shippers have done very well in this race the last few years so how much of surprise would it be if she grabbed a piece? See what we men about competitive?
MOKAT (20-1) - On one hand the daughter of Uncle Mo is still eligible for non-winners of two races lifetime. On the other hand, in her last two races she finished second behind Songbird in the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks and third behind Songbird and Land Over Sea in the Grade III Santa Ysabel. The Richard Balthus trainee turned in a strong 6 furlong drill at Santa Anita on 4/26 and just adds another puzzling longshot to the herd.
MO D'AMOUR (30-1) - One of two Todd Pletcher fillies in the race this might be one of the short-listers that it is difficult to make a case for. Although she finished third she was up the track behind Lewis bay and Royal Obsession in the Grade II Gazelle at Aqueduct in her last and in her only other Graded try from six career starts was a well-beaten seventh by Lewis Bay in last year's Grade II Demoiselle. If you are looking for one bright spot, Joel Rosario takes the mount.
ROYAL OBSESSION (20-1) - The second of three Asmussen runners the daughter of Tapit will be making her fifth career start after running a closing second behind Lewis Bay in the Gazelle in her final prep. Although Santana is Asmussen's primary rider the trainer legs up Florent Giroux for this and the combo is at 30% from just under 50 starters.
PAOLA QUEEN (30-1) - This is another of the few outsiders who look as though this will be a tough assignment. The Gustavo Delgado trained daughter of Flatter looks to be a pace-setter and after breaking her maiden in her fourth career start was no match for Go Maggie Go in the Gulfstream Park Oaks after grabbing the lead and giving way in the stretch over a sloppy oval in her first two turn try. She'll need big improvement off her average speed numbers
VENUS VALENTINE (30-1) - The third of the longshot outsiders that appear to deserve being so this Tom Amoss trained daughter of Congrats lit up the tote at 74-1 when she won the Grade II Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds in her first two turn dirt race. In her most recent she ran to long odds hen beaten ten lengths in fifth behind Land Over Sea, Dream dance and others in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks. The filly's only other win and on the board finish in six career starts was in her maiden breaker in her debut.
RACHEL'S VALENTINA (7-2) - After finishing a strong second behind Songbird in the BC Juvenile the Todd Pletcher trained daughter of Bernardini didn't return to the races until she ran a tough second to upset winner Weep No More in the Grade I Ashland at Keeneland four weeks ago. She did all the heavy lifting in that race, battling the pace setter and losing a neck decision as she held off the 1-2 favored Cathryn Sophia, whom she'll meet again in the Oaks. She has been sharp in the morning in drills over the Churchill surface and figures to move forward under John Velazquez off the Ashland effort.
CATHRYN SOPHIA (9-2) - Her four race win streak to start her career ended with a hard fought third in the Grade I Ashland when beaten by a half-length by Weep No More and Rachel's Valentina. She made a bold four wide move and hung a bit late but has worked brilliantly at Keeneland since and the third off the layoff is usually the strongest. Javier Castellano takes the assignment for Jason Servis. The only question she has to answer is the distance as the Ashland was her first two turn career start and she'll be asked to go a sixteenth further from this outside post.
LAND OVER SEA (5-1) - The daughter of Bellamy Road will definitely take money after her solid 4½ length triumph in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks (a key Oaks prep in recent years) in her last. Add that to her two runner up finishes behind the division leader Songbird and there is every reason to put her in the thick of consideration. Interestingly, it was John Velazquez who rode her to the Fair Grounds win while regular rider Mario Gutierrez who has only steered her to one win in seven tries is reunited with the Doug O'Neill trainee. Nonetheless she could be peaking at the right time and away from Songbird could be a repeater.
TAXABLE (20-1) - Completes the Steve Asmussen trio and enters here after finishing second behind stable mate Terra Promessa with a good rally in the Grade III Fantasy at Oaklawn last out. This is just the fourth race of her career and the outside post could be an issue given her racing style, but Asmussen has gotten the services of Mike Smith so there are worse 20-1 prospects.
(AE) DOTHRAKI QUEEN (30-1) - She was third at 25-1 behind Songbird and Rachel's Valentina in the BC Juvenile but on a speed number or class level has never come close to duplicating that effort in her other five career races. If the Ken McPeek trainee does get in she will be making just the second start of her 3-year old campaign after running eighth of ten in the Grade III Appalachian on the Keeneland Turf three weeks ago. She is tough to back under any circumstances.
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