Today is the first Friday in May, which means that it is Kentucky Oaks day at Churchill Downs. Churchill will offer a all-stakes pick six today, beginning with the G2 La Troienne Stakes and concluding with the Kentucky Oaks. While I’m not much of a horizontal player, I did take a look at the stakes races on the card and make some selections in each.
La Troienne S. (G2)
$2 Win- #4 Plum Pretty
$1 Exacta Box- #4 Plum Pretty / #5 Juanita / #6 Absinthe Minded
$2 W/P/S- #6 Absinthe Minded
Plum Pretty looks tough to beat here. She’s one of the top mares in the country and proved in the Apple Blossom that she hasn’t lost a step from ages 3 to 4. None of the other mares in this race seem to match up to her, but Absinthe Minded has been in very good form recently and managed to finish second to Plum Pretty in the Apple Blossom last time out, making her something of a default second choice in my opinion. The other horse I used in my exacta box is Juanita, who has been facing some top opponents recently and holding her own enough that she could get a piece of the purse here. I expect her to be sitting right to Plum Pretty’s outside and trying to go with her for as long as possible.
Eight Belles Stakes (G3)
$2 Win- #2 Small Kitchen
$1 Exacta Box- #2 Small Kitchen / #4 Xunlei / #7 Contested
$2 W/P/S- #4 Xunlei
This race is very interesting to me on a personal level. I’ve been following Small Kitchen since before her debut in February – if you go back in my blogs you’ll see that I’ve had an interest in Corinthian for a long time, and made a point of going through some of his offspring and making note of the ones that caught my eye. Small Kitchen won her debut by 5 3/4 lengths at Fair Grounds, and then came back a month later to win an allowance race by 7 1/4 lengths. Both of those races were at six furlongs, but when she then went in the Fair Grounds Oaks at 1 1/16 miles, she was rather flat. This filly may be better around one turn, and if she runs back to that allowance win she’ll be in the winner’s circle.
The morning line favorite is Contested, a SoCal shipper for Bob Baffert who has won her last two starts by 5 3/4 and 6 1/2 lengths. She has been consistent in her figures throughout her career and if she keeps that form she’s sure to be a player. My live longshot in this race is Xunlei. She stretched out to 7f for the first time in a Tampa Bay Downs stakes race last time out and rallied to win by four lengths. Most of the fillies in this race want to sit on or near the pace, and Xunlei seems to be the best of the fillies that are capable of sitting a little further back, although if the opportunity presents itself she is not lacking in tactical speed.
$2 Win- #3 Stephanie’s Kitten
$1 Exacta Box- #3 Stephanie’s Kitten / #4 June Cleaver / #12 Dame Marie
$2 W/P/S- #4 June Cleaver
3-year-old fillies will go 1 1/16th miles on the turf in the Edgewood Stakes. The favorite is last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner Stephanie’s Kitten, who made her 3yo debut last month in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. She ran third that day, beaten 2 1/4 lengths, in what was a very even effort. To me it was a solid prep for today’s race, where she should be ready to put forward her best effort.
My second choice in this race, though, is June Cleaver, who is 12-1 on the morning line. She looks to be the most likely pacesetter and her races are comparable to many of the others in this field. I think with a favorable pace setup she’ll be able to compete with these. The third horse I use is Dame Marie, who won both of her starts by a neck in very similar efforts. As the most lightly raced horse in the field, she has the most room to continue to improve and if she does so, she could easily be the winner.
Alysheba Stakes (G2)
$2 Win- #2 Successful Dan
$1 Exacta Box- #1 Nate’s Mineshaft / #2 Successful Dan / #4 Mucho Macho Man
$2 W/P/S- #1 Nate’s Mineshaft
The Alysheba Stakes is headlined by Gulfstream Park H. winner Mucho Macho Man, who has been getting all sorts of press attention coming into this race. He’s won both of his 2012 starts with triple digit beyer figures. He is a deserving favorite for sure, but I think there are two other must-use horses in here – Successful Dan and Nate’s Mineshaft. Successful Dan made his first start since crossing the line first in the 2010 Clark Handicap(though subsequently being DQd to third) at Keeneland last month, and though very fresh he managed to win by a length over Golden Yank (also running in today’s race) and the talented Noble’s Promise. He’ll obviously have to improve off of that race but I think that improvement is inevitable and at the top of his game Successful Dan is the best horse in the race.
Nate’s Mineshaft is the “now” horse in this race. He transferred to trainer Austin Smith last December, and after a disappointing effort in a sprint race at Turfway Park he has won four consecutive races at the Fair Grounds by daylight, culminating in a 7 1/4-length win in the G2 New Orleans Handicap over the likes of Mission Impazible and Toby’s Corner. The 113 beyer figure he posted in that race is the highest lifetime beyer of any horse in the field. While this may be a cause for concern to some people, I don’t expect a major bounce for two major reasons: 1. the breakthrough effort was not entirely unexpected – he had been posting consistently improving figures anyway, and 2. the race did not seem to be all that draining for him. If the race had involved a close, gut-wrenching finish, I’d be more skeptical, but as it was a relatively easy win, I don’t think that will be a factor.
American Turf Stakes (G2)
$2 Win- #13 Silver Max
$1 Exacta Box- #5 Blueskiesnrainbows / #13 Silver Max / #14 Howe Great
$2 W/P/S- #7 Scatman
The G2 American Turf is a wide-open affair this year, and I think you can make a case for over half of the 14-horse field. However, my top choice is #13 Silver Max. I like horses that show consistent improvement in their speed figures, especially when it comes to 3-year-olds, and Silver Max has shown that. If you discount his sloppy main track effort in the Holy Bull, he has improved or mostly maintained his speed figures throughout his career, posting a career-best 95 beyer when winning the Transylvania Stakes (G3) last time out by 5 1/2 lengths in a gate-to-wire score. He should be allowed to get the lead again, and is the horse to beat.
While Silver Max is the horse to beat, he is not a sure thing by any means. Howe Great, breaking just to his outside, is 3-for-3 on the turf and has shown similar figure improvement if one throws out his synthetic effort in the Blue Grass Stakes last time out. He also has speed, although I foresee him sitting second to Silver Max early.
I’m also very interested in Blueskiesnrainbows. This son of English Channel ran a great race to be beaten only half a length in the Santa Anita Derby last time out. His races since stretching out to a mile have been better than his sprint races, however all of these races have been on the dirt. As a son of English Channel, I expect him to be much better on the turf, and if he is, then he could be something special.
My longshot in this race is Scatman. This colt has been facing some of the better 3-year-olds in the country and did not embarrass himself in the Southwest or Rebel Stakes, coming within half a length of Secret Circle in the former race. His sire Scat Daddy has proven to be an excellent turf sire, and I think the move to the grass could be what Scatman needs to really shine.
Other horses worth considering include Gung Ho, most recently third to Dullahan and Hansen in the Blue Grass (and a son of Kitten’s Joy whose only 2-turn turf start was a win in the $150k Sunday Silence Stakes); Star Channel, who has really shone in winning his last three stars but will have a bit of a class test today; and Flashy Dresser, who is undefeated in three starts but is trying the turf for the first time (though he won the Rushaway Stakes on Turfway’s polytrack surface).
Kentucky Oaks (G1)
$2 Win- #2 Grace Hall
$1 Exacta Box- #2 Grace Hall / #3 Summer Applause / #6 Broadway’s Alibi
$2 W/P/S- #3 Summer Applause
The Kentucky Oaks is always a race to look forward to, and this year is no exception. The 5-2 morning line favorite is Grace Hall, and she will be my selection in the race. I’ve been in this filly’s camp since her 2yo campaign and she has done nothing to sway me otherwise. She has never been worse than 2nd in her 6-race career, and her win in the Gulfstream Park Oaks at today’s 1 1/8 distance was extremely impressive. Jockey Javier Castellano will be able to place her wherever he likes, and in a race that seems filled with horses that want to be on or near the lead I expect her to be mid-pack and come charging home to win.
One filly that could potentially be a superstar, though, is Broadway’s Alibi. This daughter of Vindication has won her last four starts by margins ranging from 3 1/2 lengths to 16 3/4 lengths. The one question she has to answer is the 1 1/8 mile distance. Her longest race to date was the 1-mile Comely Stakes last time out. I don’t think 1 1/8 will be out of her scope, but it’s always a question until she proves it. She is the speed of the speed and I think she’ll attempt to lead the entire way around.
My other horse is Summer Applause. This filly has been very consistent in her races at Fair Grounds and while she hasn’t faced the likes of Grace Hall and Broadway’s Alibi, she should be competitive today.