2018 Indiana Derby and Indiana Oaks Preview

This Saturday is Indiana Grand's biggest day of Thoroughbred racing.  The day's card features a pair of competitive Grade 3 stakes for the three-year-old set.  Nine horses have entered to vie for a $500,000 purse in the Indiana Derby; eight fillies will contend for a $200,000 purse in the Indiana Oaks.  The fields feature the combinations that make the midseason Derbies so interesting: those familiar Classic contenders from the spring clash with later bloomers who hope to make their mark as their sophomore year progresses.

The card features four other stakes races, as well, many of which have several entrants connected to the Chicago circuit.  In a separate piece, we provide a guide to all those locals.

We also have selections for all the stakes on Saturday's card at Indiana Grand in a chart below.

Morning lines for the Indiana Oaks were not available at original publish time.

Saturday, July 14: Indiana Grand

Race 8: Indiana Oaks (G3), three-year-old fillies, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 9:01pm EST

This year marks the 23rd running of the Indiana Oaks.  It began as a one-mile race at Hoosier Park in 1995, and stretched out to its current 1 1/16 mile distance two years later.  It has been run every year since its inception save one, 2009.  The race became a Grade 3 in 2001, held Grade 2 designation from 2008 through 2016, and was returned to a Grade 3 last year.  1997 Canadian Champion Three Year Old Filly Cotton Carnival won this race during her Sovereign Award-winning season.  Several local graded stakes winners have won the Indiana Oaks over the years, as well.  The first winner of the Indiana Oaks, Niner's Home (1995), had won the Arlington Heights Oaks (G3) by a nose over Illinois-bred A Goodlookin Broad in her previous start.  Humble Clerk (2000) concluded her racing career with a win in the 2001 Arlington Matron (G3).  Bare Necessities (2002) won the Sixty Sails Handicap (G3) at Hawthorne in 2003, and finished second behind Allspice in that same race the year afterwards.

The name of the game in the 2018 Indiana Oaks is speed.  There is a lot of it.  TALK VEUVE TO ME, the likely favourite, is the class of the speed as well as the class of the field.  Yet, with MOLECULES, HAYNESFEST, DIAMONDCOAT, and FIGARELLA'S QUEEN all showing their best form when they can seize an early lead, TALK VEUVE TO ME will not have an easy time getting and keeping that prominent early position she loves so much.  She isn't impossible: though her only career victory has her comfortably in front at every call, she kept on well enough after a speed duel in the Acorn to finish a clear second, and the only horse who passed her was the class of her crop, Monomoy Girl.  There are no Monomoy Girls in the Indiana Oaks; TALK VEUVE TO ME may be good enough to win anyway.  But, at such a short price, it's worth turning instead to a credible closer if one passed the entry box.

KELLY'S HUMOR is that closer.  A scan of her form suggests se may be better at one turn than two -- but making that assessment may be a bit premature.  So many of her two-turn efforts have come against classier company than this, and her only two-turn attempt at age three came against far tougher horses in the Kentucky Oaks.  Again, there's no Monomoy Girl here.  Though KELLY'S HUMOR won her maiden race on the front end, she proved in future races that she raced better from off the pace, and has shown the ability to settle and rally in both routes and sprints.  She will have a contested pace to attack here, something sharper than she got in an allowance try last out.  The field will have a tough time containing KELLY'S HUMOR late if she brings her best.

Well-named SKEPTIC (she is out of a mare named Clear Thinking) deserves to be looked at here with far more than just a wary eye.  Though she makes her first try in stakes company in the Indiana Oaks, she is in the right form to try it.  She turned a corner in the spring, shedding her maiden and one-other-than conditions in quick succession at Keeneland and Churchill.  Though she was right on the pace in her maiden win, she showed tactical speed in the allowance win, sitting a couple lengths off the early pace and making a rally.  that suggests she won't have to be right in the fight on the front.  The distance suits SKEPTIC, as she has never missed the board in four starts at a mile and a sixteenth, and she doesn't need a huge improvement in speed to run with the top two.  In a stratified field, SKEPTIC looks best of the newer faces.


#6 KELLY'S HUMOR (8/1)


#7 SKEPTIC (5/1)

Longshot:  KELLY'S HUMOR is the "A" entrant from the Brad Cox barn, but a tactical question is what happens with the "B" horse down the shedrow, the improving #8 FIGARELLA'S QUEEN (6/1).  Her first five races suggested she was one-way speed, albeit a frontrunner who could handle some pace pressure.  However, she cleared her two-other-than at Churchill on June 3 from a few lengths off the early going.  She happily let two others fight out on the front end, ran them down into the lane and drew off.  There are enough pace horses from different shedrows in this field of eight that KELLY'S HUMOR doesn't need a rabbit.  If her new rider Robby Albarado takes a page from Shaun Bridgmohan's playbook and rides FIGARELLA'S QUEEN in that stalking style, she may have a say in it late.

Race 9: Indiana Derby (G3), three-year-olds, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 9:48pm EST

Saturday marks the 24th edition of the Indiana Derby, a race which has been run each year since 1995.  Inaugurated at Hoosier Park, it was moved to Indiana Grand Race Course in 2013.  An Illinois-bred has triumphed once in this race: Canyon Run (1996) won the second running.  One winner of the Indiana Derby, so far, has gone on to win the three-year-old championship: Lookin at Lucky (2010), the winner of the Preakness earlier in the year, used the Indiana Derby (then run in October) as his final Breeders' Cup Classic prep.  Orientate (2001) also won an Eclipse, but did so the next year -- as champion sprinter.

Eventual three-year-old champion Lookin at Lucky splashes home in the 2010 Indiana Derby.

The Wood Memorial (G2) back in April was a bridge too far for KING ZACHARY after an impressive maiden win at Gulfstream, but now the son of Curlin has had some time to come along.  He got his feet back under him in a sloppy allowance at Churchill on the Kentucky Derby undercard, and then rolled home easily in the Matt Winn (G3).  The mile and a sixteenth has proven suitable, as KING ZACHARY is a perfect three-or-three at the trip. He also has strong tactical versatility: he can win while prompting the pace, or drop back and rally from further away if necessary.  KING ZACHARY will be a heavy favourite in the Indiana Derby, but he looks the fastest and most talented horse in the field.  He looks like the goods.

California shipper DARK VADER has been flying under the radar all year, but he has come a long way from getting beaten by Ohio-breds at Belterra last fall.  He has grown into himself at three, and he suits this level perfectly.  Last out he finished third beaten just a neck in the Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont, and before that upset an allowance at Santa Anita over a nice horse in Take The One O One. Both of those races, as well as DARK VADER's third-place finish in the Lewis (G3), came at a mile and a sixteenth.  On pace, DARK VADER tends to be prominent, but he has the versatility to either press or stalk a couple lengths off and pounce.  That tactical speed is a positive in a race with several horses who like to be forward, but no one quite so devoted to the lead that the race stands to fall apart. Finally the travel should prove no problem for DARK VADER, as his eight career starts have happened at six different tracks in four different states. He does not need to take his course with him, and should prove honest again.

After a moderately successful winter at Turf Paradise and Sunland Park, TRIGGER WARNING has taken the step up to midwestern stakes company this summer.  He tried all-weather to good effect when he upset the Tom Ridge Stakes at Presque Isle, then finished third beaten only a length in the Ohio Derby (G3).  At that class level, the move to the Indiana Derby is a logical step for TRIGGER WARNING.  He also keeps rider Irwin Rosendo in the irons; Rosendo rode him at both Presque and Thistledown, and has been strong for the Mike Rone barn recently. On pace, he's got proven tactical speed: he can make the running, press the pace, or truly stalk.  He can even do that from an inside draw, a positive given his rail draw.  The question is distance, as the Ohio Derby was TRIGGER WARNING's first good outing at two turns. But, there's enough else to suggest he is not a fluke to give him a chance -- especially with even bigger questions surrounding other horses, such as the pace question for AXELROD, the surface question for BLAME THE RIDER, the two-turn question for GIVEMEAMINIT, and the fast dirt question for FUNNY DUCK.



#4 DARK VADER (8/1)


Longshot:  As discussed at the end of the previous paragraph, there are more questions than answers with much of this field.  Among the longer prices in the field, #7 TITLE READY (12/1) has the fewest looming.  Though he has yet to win in stakes company, he acquitted himself well enough with a second-place finish in the Sir Barton, and even with his fourth-place finish (beaten just a length and a half) in the Ohio Derby (G3).  The mile and a sixteenth suits TITLE READY well, as he already has an allowance win, that second in the Sir Barton, and even a fourth-place finish against tougher foes in the Rebel Stakes (G2) back in March.  The question is the pace, as both his victories came from right on the front end, which may be a tough place to be.  But?  Even if TITLE READY does not get the lead, he can still stay interested and run on for a share underneath.  And, with KING ZACHARY such a likely winner and DARK VADER his most likely competition?  Beyond those two, it makes the most sense to find horses who can run on for a share underneath at decent odds, and TITLE READY looks like just that sort of horse.


Below are all of Nicolle Neulist's picks for Saturday's stakes races at Indiana Grand. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment or tweet us at @picksponderings!


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