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Submitted by John Conte on Thursday, May 3, 2018 at 1:47 PM

John Conte
Derby Eve Preview
Thursday, May 3

If you are like any horse racing fan then you know that everyone from your uncle to co-worker has asked you about the Kentucky derby.

Like your uncle and co-worker, even those people that don’t regularly get involved in horse racing are likely to bet the Kentucky derby.

On the other hand, if you are a serious horse player like I am, you won’t be sitting on your hands until Saturday. All you need do is look to Friday’s 13 race Churchill Downs program, headed by the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks (the filly equivalent of the Kentucky derby) and 5 additional stakes races.

I’ve looked and I can tell you there is plenty of opportunity to cash multiple plays…and I will definitely be involved.


If this Grade 1 mile and an eighth featured race were run the way the pundits say it will be and was run on paper then it would be Monomoy Girl and then every other filly.

Certainly she has earned her 2-1 morning line favoritism and is likely to go off shorter than that. She has won 5 of 6 lifetime and her two 3-year old triumphs in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra at5 Fair grounds and Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland not only showed her versatility but determination. In the Rachel Alexandra the daughter of Tapizar hit the gate, ran wide, shied from a rival yet still rallied from last of 7 to draw clear. In the Ashland she rocketed out of the gate and went wire-to-wire.

Since the Ashland Stakes four weeks ago trainer Brad Cox has sent her to the Churchill track for two solid drills. Everything looks good. However, the post draw did her no favors. Given that she faced exactly 6 rivals in each of her two stakes wins and now faces 13 rivals from the far outside 14 post, you will be betting a question mark at a short price.

Is she good enough to overcome the post? On what she has shown so far, yes, but as they say, the pundits and past performances don’t win the race, the filly does.

A pair of the rivals she faced in the Ashland have not been dissuaded from trying her again.

Eskimo Kisses, who finished second to Monomoy Girl in the Ashland and was also second to Chocolate Martini (a rival that is entered here) in the Grade 2 Fair grounds Oaks will leave from post 13. The daughter of To Honor And Serve has plenty of foundation from 5 starts already in 2018 and in every one she has closed ground late to grab a trio of wins and a pair of second place finishes, two at a mile and three at a mile and a sixteenth.

Longshot Patrona Margarita will also try again, but she was a distant third in the Ashland and was a distant fourth behind Monomoy Girl in the Rachel Alexandra.

The prep that could have the most impact on the Kentucky Oaks was the Fair Grounds Oaks on March 24.

The aforementioned Chocolate Martini and Eskimo Kisses ran 1-2 respectively in that Grade 2 race while Wonder Gadot and Classy Act checked in third and fourth respectively.

Chocolate Martini has not raced since that triumph but has been kept busy by trainer Tom Amoss and if her 5 furlong drill at CD on April 27 (a best of 43 work in :58 4/5 is any indication she is ready. It is noteworthy that Javier Castellano will take the reins.

In addition to Eskimo Kisses, Wonder Gadot, a daughter of Medaglia D’Oro also exits the Fair Grounds Oaks. She was sent off as the 9-5 second favorite and despite being caught 3-4 wide on both turns was only beaten a total of ¾ lengths when 3rd. She was also third in Monomoy Girl’s Rachel Alexandra, beaten just 3 ¾ lengths, again while caught 3-4 wide most of the way

As for Classy Act, the Into Mischief filly was second in the Rachel Alexandra and then set the pace from the rail as the favorite in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Trainer Brett Calhoun has sent the filly over the CD circuit 4 times since her last race, including a best of 52 five furlong work in :59 flat on 4/21 followed by a strong half mile last Saturday. The conditioner also removes the blinkers.

Other live challengers include Take Charge Paula, Midnight Bisou and My Miss Lilly.

Take Charge Paula has been competitive in three straight Graded Stakes at Gulfstream in her 2018 campaign. She won the Forward Gal, then was second in both the Grade 2 Davona Dale and Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks. She must still prove she can get this distance of ground but a second time aboard for Jose Ortiz might help.

Midnight Bisou, a fast daughter of Midnight Lute, ships in from Santa Anita for trainer Bill Spawr. The day light winner of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks (her third straight in 2018) could be the equivalent of Justify, who will be the favorite for the Kentucky derby. She has dominated her Southern California division that much. And Mike Smith will get the leg up.

My Miss Lilly could be the sleeper. The daughter of Tapit, out of the Harlan’s Holiday mare Wicked deed is likely the best bred for the distance filly in the race and she improved dramatically when sent two turns for the first time in the Grade 2 Gazelle at Aqueduct on April 7. She rated professionally while 3 wide on the first turn and down the backstretch and 4 wide into the far turn and stretch yet continued to stride out for the win. She might not have yet run her best.

Another interesting unknown is Rayya. The Tiz Wonderful filly will make her NA debut after running a distant second behind Mendelssohn while ahead of the rest of the boys in the UAE Derby. Now in the Bob Baffert barn she will go forward following a pair of sharp works at Santa Anita.

The field is completed by a number of aspirant longshots looking to move forward. They are Sassy Sienna, Coach Rocks, Kelly’s Humor and Heavenhasmynikki.

As you break down this field keep this one example of many in mind.

Last year, Paradise Woods was the cause-celebre’ of pundits and past performances alike and ran 11th at 6-5 as the supposedly “unbeatable” filly.

Abel Tasman emerged on that day and paid $20.40 to win as well as keying a $203.00 Exacta, $5,727.60 Trifecta and $171,110.20 Superfecta with longshots Daddy’s Lil Darling, Lockdown and Vexations.

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By the time we get to Race 11 (the featured Kentucky Oaks) on Friday Churchill Downs will have presented 5 major graded Stakes.

As a handicapper and player I can’t wait.

Among the five races there is only one odds-on morning line favorite and that is the impeccable Rushing Fall in the Grade 3 Edgewood (race 10.) But that hasn’t kept as many as 10 rivals to sign on.

The other 4 Graded Stakes are loaded.

In Race 5, the 7 furlong Grade 2 Eight Belles Stakes, 3 year old fillies which are more confirmed as sprinters than two turn runners will vie for the lion’s share of the 200K purse

In Race 6, the Grade 1 La Troienne Stakes, 7 distaff runners will challenge the even-money morning line Abel Tasman who went on to greatness last year after winning the Kentucky Oaks here. However, this will be Abel Tasman’s first start of 2018 after two tough losses to close out her 2017 (second in both the Grade 1 Cotillion at PARX and the BC Distaff.) And she will face 7 runners who have each placed in multiple graded stakes with 6 of the 7 holding a graded stakes win.

Race 7 is the Grade 3 Twin Spires Turf Sprint Stakes at 5 furlongs. This is as competitive a field of veteran turf sprinters as a bettor could hope to find. 6 of the 11 runners carry a morning line of between 3-1 and 6-1 and the field is a collective 34-18-16 from 118 turf starts. I smell a boxcar payoff.

From an 11 horse field in the Turf Sprint we move to the final stakes race of the six, the Grade 2 Alysheba (Race 8.) Here again the morning line maker predicts that the competitiveness of this field will flummox the bettors. Five of the eight entrants have been posted at between 5-2 and 5-1.

In summation I hope that I have convinced you that there is no reason to wait until Saturday. There is more than enough opportunity to GRAB BIG PAYOFFS ON KENTUCKY OAKS FRIDAY!










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