Most of the Kentucky Oaks points races happen in North America, but this Thursday, one filly in Dubai may punch her ticket to the Oaks.
The card at Meydan features the Group 3 United Arab Emirates Oaks. In addition to being the only Oaks points race outside of the United States or Canada, it also holds the distinction of being the only prep that is longer than the Kentucky Oaks itself: about a mile and three sixteenths, as compared to the mile and an eighth that the field of fillies will have to cover in Louisville.
The UAE Oaks has been run seventeen times previously, and has been a 50-20-10-5 points race ever since the Road to the Kentucky Oaks point system was inaugurated in 2013. If the race's history can be summed up in one name, that name is Godolphin. Their charges have won twelve of the seventeen runnings of the UAE Oaks. That tally includes the first three (2001-2003), as well as a more recent five-year streak (2011-2015).
Godolphin campaigned perhaps the best-known UAE Oaks winner on American shores, Chilean-bred Cocoa Beach (2008). She followed her Oaks win with a third-place finish in the UAE Derby, won two Grade I races in the United States later that year (the Beldame and the Matriarch), and finished second behind Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic that year. She also also produced an American graded stakes winner, 2014 Pilgrim Stakes winner Imperia (Medaglia d'Oro).
They campaigned Imperial Gesture (2002), the only UAE Derby winner so far to contest the Kentucky Oaks. Imperial Gesture had American form before her visit to Meydan; in 2001, she broke her maiden at the Spa, and finished 2nd in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) as a 53/1 bomb. That second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup came behind Tempera -- her stablemate, on whom she turned the tables at Meydan. Though Imperial Gesture finished just eighth in the Kentucky Oaks, she won the Gazelle (G1) and the Beldame (GI) later that year.
They campaigned Khawlah (2011), the first and (so far) only filly to win the UAE Derby. After upsetting odds-on favourite Mahbooba in the Oaks, she prevailed against the boys on World Cup night after a protracted stretch duel against Master of Hounds.
Godolphin campaigned a trio of close relatives who all won the UAE Oaks, all of whom had American form as well. Danuta (2003) broke her maiden at Belmont her juvenile year. Danuta's half-sister Folk (2007) finished 3rd in the Coaching Club American Oaks, and has since produced graded stakes placed Captivating Lass (3rd, 2012 Davona Dale S.). Danuta's daughter Devotee (2009) broke her maiden at Saratoga in 2008, and subsequently finished third in the Alcibiades (G1).
They come with the likely favourite this year, as well: WINTER LIGHTNING. Not only is WINTER LIGHTNING a half-sister to last year's UAE Derby (G1) winner Thunder Snow -- but she is also a full sister to Ihtimal, who carried the Godolphin blue to victory in the 2014 UAE Oaks.
Ihtimal dismantles the field in the 2014 UAE Oaks. Her full sister Winter Lightning will attempt to match that feat on Thursday.
Meydan Racecourse: Thursday, March 1
Race 3: United Arab Emirates Oaks (G3), three-year-old fillies, 1900 metres (about one mile and three sixteenths) on the dirt, post time 7:40pm GST (9:40am CST)
The UAE Oaks drew just a field of six, with a pair of marquee contenders.
RAYYA came into the Meydan carnival meet with all the buzz; off a resounding maiden win in December, she was well-fancied in the UAE 1000 Guineas trial on January 18. She ran well, but got nosed out by a maiden making her first start since her second-place debut at Newmarket the October before: WINTER LIGHTNING. The filly who beat her proved no flash in the pan, as WINTER LIGHTNING overwhelmed RAYYA in the UAE 1000 Guineas, drawing off to a two-length victory on February 8.
With a six-horse field, RAYYA interests since she stands to be the one making the running. However, the question remains whether the Doug Watson charge is good enough to beat WINTER LIGHTNING, even with the run of things. The UAE 1000 Guineas suggests RAYYA is not good enough. That day, even though Flora Sandes sent from the outside to try and make RAYYA run, she stayed out so wide as to make it hard to believe RAYYA was feeling much pressure. Flora Sandes did not seem to do much as a rabbit in the Guineas last out; she does not return here. In that last race RAYYA looked like she was moving easily on the rail -- she just got run down by a better horse in WINTER LIGHTNING.
If WINTER LIGHTNING were a deep closer, perhaps this space would be more keen on using her...then again, if she were a deep closer, perhaps there would be another Godolphin pacemaker entered here, as Flora Sandes was in the Guineas. Instead, WINTER LIGHTNING should be close enough to keep RAYYA in her sights. WINTER LIGHTNING outbroke RAYYA two back in the Trial, and in the Guineas she settled just behind RAYYA and Flora Sandes, ready to pounce. In a field of six, rider Pat Cosgrave should be able to work that trip out for WINTER LIGHTNING again today, and the Saeed bin Suroor trainee remains squarely the one to beat.
The other four horses in this field all come out of the Trial, as well: third-place EXPRESSIY, fourth-place QUEEN ESTORIL, sixth-place SA'ADA, and seventh-place LINE HOUSE. Though EXPRESSIY was no match for the top two in either the Guineas or the Trial -- and, hence, the top two selections here -- the Charlie Appleby trainee is squarely the third best horse in this field. She also showed improvement from the Trial to the Guineas, suggesting that she is going in the right direction. Thought it would be tough to see EXPRESSIY winning here, she has the least ground to make up on WINTER LIGHTNING and RAYYA, and the possibility of improvement third off the lay gives her some upside.
#6 WINTER LIGHTNING
Longshot: #5 QUEEN ESTORIL has more right to improve than any of the other real long shots in this field. SA'ADA does have a second-place finish behind RAYYA earlier this winter, in a maiden race, but she has yet to break her maiden and has been middling in her two stakes tries. LINE HOUSE has shown little since the move from all-weather at age two to dirt at age three. Though not even QUEEN ESTORIL was any match for the top three in the Guineas, at least the Danish raider for trainer Bent Olsen was making her first start since last October. This gives her room to improve second off the lay and second time on dirt.
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