2017 Kentucky Oaks Preview and Friday Stakes Selections

Welcome to Kentucky Derby week!

You’ve come to the right place: Picks and Ponderings will be right here with you through the biggest days of the year at Churchill Downs.  This piece focuses on the Kentucky Oaks on Friday, with written analysis of the Oaks and selections (including live longshots) for all six graded stakes races carded on Friday.  A separate piece will feature selections for Saturday’s stakes races under the twin spires, and once again Paul Mazur and Nicolle Neulist will go point-counterpoint about each horse in this year’s wide-open Kentucky Derby field.

The 143nd edition of the Kentucky Oaks (GI) offers a purse of $1,000.000.  The race drew an overflow field: fourteen in the main field, plus the also eligible SUMMER LUCK.  The Oaks has been run at Churchill Downs for as long as the Derby, though it was originally run later in May.  Originally modeled after the Epsom Oaks (just as the Kentucky Derby takes its name from that namesake race at Epsom), the earliest editions of the Kentucky Oaks covered 1 1/2 miles.  Through its history it has been run at distances as short as 1 1/16 miles and as long as 1 1/2, but has held steady at its current nine-furlong distance since 1982.  It moved to its customary place on the calendar, the day before the first Saturday in May, in 1946.

Though no Illinois-bred filly has won the Oaks, a pair of local stakes races hearken back to the 1884 running.   The namesake of the Modesty Handicap (GIII) at Arlington won that edition of the Oaks.  It was jockey Isaac Murphy who rode Modesty to that victory, his first and only Kentucky Oaks win.  Murphy, of course, lives on locally as the namesake of a main-track sprint stakes for Illinois-bred fillies and mares every summer at Arlington.

NBC Sports Network and the NBC Sports Mobile app will broadcast the Kentucky Oaks; their telecast will run from 5:00pm-6:30pm EDT on Friday.  The broadcast will also be available on the NBC Horse Racing Radio Network will also provide audio coverage of the Kentucky Oaks, running from 3:00pm-6:30pm EDT.  Available on Sirius 219, XM 2016, and the HRRN website, the broadcast will feature not only the Oaks but also the La Troienne (G1), Alysheba (G2), Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G3), and Eight Belles (G2).

Friday, May 5: Churchill Downs

Race 10: Kentucky Oaks (G1), three-year-old fillies, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 6:12pm EDT

FARRELL stretched out to two turns for the first time in the Golden Rod (G2) last November at Churchill.  That day, she romped on the front end — and since then, she has done everything right.  She swept the series of prep races at Fair Grounds, and showed an arsenal of racing skills along the way.  In the Silverbulletday back in January, she proved she could rate, and she proved she could handle the mud.  (With rain in the forecast for Oaks day, that matters.)  She won the Rachel Alexandra (G2) on the front end, and stalked early in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2).  Both times, FARRELL won as easily as she wanted.  The biggest question left for FARRELL is the extra half-furlong: she has three victories at a a mile and a sixteenth, but has never gone a mile and an eighth.  But, FARRELL is by Malibu Moon out of Rebridled Dreams.  Malibu Moon, a son of top stamina influence A. P. Indy, has sired plenty of classy winners at nine furlongs and beyond: think Gormley and Stanford as more recent examples, and look back in time to find the likes of Orb, Life at Ten, and Devil May Care.  Rebridled Dreams, by Unbridled’s Song, has already produced Carpe Diem (a G1 winner at nine furlongs) and Semper Fortis (G2 placed at the distance).  In short, as good as FARRELL has been already, she has every right to improve with more distance.  This space has had its eye on FARRELL for the Oaks throughout the prep season, and stands squarely in her corner here.

FARRELL’s biggest threat comes from out west.  Though Unique Bella was sidelined and will have to miss the Oaks, a new star emerged in the meantime: Santa Anita Oaks (G1) winner PARADISE WOODS.  Sent straight from a maiden score to a tilt at the top level by typically cautious conditioner Richard Mandella, PARADISE WOODS sent to the front and romped easily home over the likes of ABEL TASMAN, It Tiz Well, and MOPOTISM.  Despite the Forest Wildcat underneath, the Union Rags on top kicked in — the distance agreed with PARADISE WOODS.  Though that victory came on the front, this filly does not need the lead; she graduated from off the pace.  Even so, there are a few questions PARADISE WOODS will have to answer.  Can she ship?  She has not yet raced anywhere but Santa Anita.  Can she run in the slop?  She has not yet tried, though half-sister Economy of Motion did win in the mud.  Can she follow that big last-out effort with another blinder?  She may, or she may regress after taking such a step forward.  The price in the Oaks will be short, given these questions.  But, if she runs right back to her Santa Anita Oaks form in these deeper waters, PARADISE WOODS has a chance to take up the mantle at the top of her class here.

A few horses battled it out for the third spot.  SALTY closed impressively to win the Gulfstream Park Oaks, but got marooned in the 14 hole.  ABEL TASMAN has a right to handle nine furlongs well, and has some tactical versatility, but first-time blinkers before a race as big as the Oaks raises some questions.  This space likes, a little better than these two, a horse who already has two victories going the nine-furlong distance of the Kentucky Oaks: MISS SKY WARRIOR.  She comes into the Oaks off a frontrunning victory in the nine-furlong Gazelle (G2), thirteen lengths clear of a sputtering LOCKDOWN.  The daughter of First Samurai won the Demoiselle (G2) last November at the same distance, also in frontrunning fashion.  And, yet, MISS SKY WARRIOR does not need the lead, as she showed when stalking early in the Davona Dale (G2).  The biggest question about MISS SKY WARRIOR is her class.  Yes, she has rattled off five straight victories, but her foes in the New York preps and the Davona Dale were not the top of the Oaks class.  The mud is also a wild card, as she has never tried it.  But, five of her siblings have won in the mud.  All in all, MISS SKY WARRIOR is fast enough to hold her own against the fillies she faces here, has proven nine-furlong stamina, and is battle-tested in both tight finishes and easy romps.  This consistent filly should hold her own once again.

Selections:

#7 FARRELL (5/1)

#4 PARADISE WOODS (5/2)

#10 MISS SKY WARRIOR (9/2)

Longshot:  #3 MOPOTISM (20/1) has tables to turn against the likes of PARADISE WOODS and ABEL TASMAN here.  But, with Friday likely to be a wet day, MOPOTISM has a chance to improve.  Not only did she break her maiden over a wet fast Santa Anita track, but she is by Uncle Mo out of a Bernardini mare: strong mud influences.  Though this Doug O’Neill trainee has not frequently taken home top money, she has been in the superfecta in every start except for her debut, and she has speeds that are competitive with many of the shorter-priced horses in the field.  Rider Mario Gutierrez has booted her home to both of her career wins, and he returns today.  Though Gutierrez does not regularly ride at Churchill, he can come through on the big days: he guided Land Over Sea to a second-place finish in the Oaks last year, and has won a pair of Kentucky Derbies with I’ll Have Another (2012) and Nyquist (2016).  MOPOTISM also has a solid running style for a muddy rendition of the Oaks: forward, but she does not need the lead in order to get a share.  Yes, winning will be a tall order for MOPOTISM, but all signs point to her being a solid choice to add spice and price to the exotics.

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Below are all of Nicolle Neulist’s picks for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks Day card at Churchill Downs. 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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