Before the greatest two minutes in sports are run with the Kentucky Derby on Saturday afternoon, two of the greatest days in horse racing begin on Friday at Churchill Downs with a star-studded card highlighted by the 136th running of the Grade 1 $584,300 Kentucky Oaks.
The race can be seen live on Bravo starting at 5pm EDT / 2pm PDT. Coverage for the rest of the card begins on HRTV at 10:30am EDT / 7:30am PDT.
While this year’s edition of the Oaks comprises a full field of 14 contenders, Blind Luck (pictured) has been installed as the clear cut 6/5 favorite on the morning line. She has finished in the money in all nine career starts with six victories, including three in Grade I races and a two-and-a-half length triumph in her latest start at Oaklawn Park in the Grade 2 Fantasy Stakes.
“That was one of her finer efforts at Oaklawn and maybe she likes the dirt better. I hope that’s the case,” said Blind Luck’s trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who won the Oaks in 1991 with Lite Light and in 1996 with Pike Place Dancer. “This is the biggest filly race at this point of the year and everybody wants to win it.”
After the top choice, there are three horses listed at 8/1 on the morning line including Crisp, who hasn’t raced since defeating Blind Luck in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks at the beginning of March.
The other co-second choices are Tidal Pool, who ran behind Blind Luck in the aforementioned Fantasy Stakes, and Amen Hallelujah, who won a pair of Grade 2 races before finishing second in her last start to Devil May Care in the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss at Gulfstream Park.
The connections for Devil May Care have opted to run her in tomorrow’s Derby, where she could end up being the third or fourth betting choice. If Blind Luck were in the Derby, she may have been gone off as the second choice behind Lookin at Lucky.
“It’s hard enough to win the Oaks. It’s much harder to win the Derby with all the extra horses and stuff flying around,” said Hollendorfer, whose filly has lost by a combined two-and-a-quarter lengths in her three defeats.
The favorite has won the last three Kentucky Oaks, and I’m convinced Blind Luck will make it four in a row. There is plenty of pace to set things up for her and the added distance of the mile-and-an-eighth suits her deep closing style just fine.
After getting a lot of heat for not finding running room until too late in her loss in the Santa Anita Oaks, jockey Rafael Bejarano is set to make amends on racing’s biggest stage and show why he is one of the world’s best jockeys.
My choice to complete the exacta behind Blind Luck is Jody Slew, who is listed at 30-1 on the morning line despite having four wins, which tie her with Amen Hallelujah for the second most in the field. Prior to running a disappointing seventh in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks behind a pair of fillies she faces again today in Quiet Temper and Champagne D’Oro, she closed stoutly from far back to win her first two starts of 2010, beating both Quiet Temper and Tidal Pool in stakes races.
“Her workouts have been great up here. She’s worked out three times and had a good work every time,” said Jody Slew’s trainer Bret Calhoun. “She’s had a lot of energy and galloped out strong. She’s thriving and looks great. I think she’s moved forward a lot and matured physically. She looks like a different horse.”
Rounding out my trifecta will be Crisp, with the feeling being she has the most room for improvement coming from the red-hot John Sadler barn and trying dirt for the first time after spending all winter running on Santa Anita’s Pro Ride synthetic surface.
The Kentucky Oaks undercard will feature 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, who romped by over 20 lengths in last year's Oaks. She will be looking to make amends after she was defeated in her four-year old debut in the New Orleans Ladies Stakes last month by Zardana, who will line up against her again in Friday's Grade 2 $400,000 La Troienne run over a mile-and-a-sixteenth.
There was much speculation both going into, and after Rachel's first race of 2010 that she was not right and may never run again. Her anticipated showdown with Zenyatta in the Apple Blossom never materialized, as her connections opted to give her more time off, eventually pointing her to today's race.
In the weeks leading up to this race, Rachel has looked like her old self. It seems that her defeat in New Orleans can be attributed to her needing a race after being off since September of last year.
A return to glory will mean that Rachel will need to turn the tables on Zardana, who stared her in the eye and ran by her down the stretch in their last start, but has shown a distinct pattern of following up victories with lackluster performances.
Although there is other early speed in the race that could compromise Rachel's chances, she showed with last year’s campaign that when she’s on top of her game it is very difficult to beat her.
The only horse in the field that has shown she prefers to close ground from off the pace is the six-year old Peruvian mare Morena, and at 20-1 on the morning line we’ll peg her as the most likely candidate to complete the exacta behind Rachel.
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