Friday’s card at Churchill Downs – almost assuredly of being run in cold, wet and raw conditions if you believe every weather forecaster in the Commonwealth – kicks off a monster two-day stretch with the headlining $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks taking center stage.
The Kentucky Oaks is one of six stakes on the card and a tantalizing headliner with its usual strong group of 3-year-old fillies looking to make a name during the brief window of time when attention shifts away from the Kentucky Derby. The favorites for the Oaks is Paradise Woods, smashing winner of the Santa Anita Oaks, runaway Gazelle winner Miss Sky Warrior and Fair Grounds Oaks winner and Churchill specialist Farrell. Eleven others, plus one on the also-eligible list, are also entered and within a chance when the feature goes off at 6:12 p.m.
The wet weather figures to play a role in the day’s races, especially the four carded for the grass. The day gets started early – first post is 10:30 a.m. just as it is for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby Day card – and the first stakes is the La Troienne and it’s fifth of 13 races on the program with a post time of 12:35 p.m.
Last year featured a tie atop the leaderboard with Tom and Joe finishing the season with 12 winners, while Sean checked in third with nine. They’re hoping for much better luck in 2017 and get rolling with the six stakes that highlight Friday’s Kentucky Oaks Day card. Check out their picks:
La Troienne (G1). $300,000, 4-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, 1 1/16 miles. 12:35 p.m. ET.
The day gets rolling – sort of, this is the fifth race on the card – with a bang and a Grade 1 right off the rip. The lone Grade 1 winner in the field is champion female sprinter Finest City, winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint. She’s run two turns three times, including her last when second to Vale Dori in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita at Santa Anita Park. The other two were on grass. Who else is in the field? How about Paid Up Subscriber, 3-for-3 at Churchill; Black-Eyed Susan winner Go Maggie Go, Streamline and Eskenformoney.
Sean: Streamline, Paid Up Subscriber, Finest City.
Tom: Paid Up Subscriber, Finest City, Eskenformoney.
Joe: Finest City, Go Maggie Go, Paid Up Subscriber.
Alysheba (G3). $400,000, 4-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles. 1:17 p.m.
Honorable Duty is 3-for-3 since being gelded in December, all stakes victories at Fair Grounds, and might be serious value at 5-1. Everyone remembers Arrogate’s Travers, but do you remember that his stablemate American Freedom finished second that day? He makes his first start since the Travers and draws outside for Bob Baffert. Might be a tall order, but he did finish ahead of Gun Runner at Saratoga and second to Excaggerator in the Preakness on a sloppy track.
Sean: Honorable Duty, Breaking Lucky, American Freedom.
Tom: Honorable Duty, Breaking Lucky, Bird Song.
Joe: Honorable Duty, Breaking Lucky, Bird Song.
Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G3). $150,000, 3-year-olds and up, 5 furlongs, turf. 2:00 p.m.
The condition of the turf course might dictate how this one unfolds. There’s not a lot of off turf form to go off, with 5-2 morning-line favorite Pure Sensation showing the most experience on softer-than-firm ground. Third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, Pure Sensation won the Grade 3 Parx Dash on a yielding course and won on good ground at Saratoga in 2015. Certainly worth taking a stab in big field of 13 and the live longshots look to be Maniacal, Partly Mocha, Derek’s Smile and maybe Expected Ruler.
Sean: Pure Sensation, Green Mask, Why Two.
Tom: Maniacal, Green Mask, Pure Sensation.
Joe: Pure Sensation, Holding Gold, Why Two.
Eight Belles (G2). $200,000, 3-year-olds, fillies, 7 furlongs. 2:53 p.m.
Full field of 14 is led by Grade 1 winners Union Strike and Pretty City Dancer, unbeaten Sunland Park Oaks winner Ghalia, David Fawkes’ 2-for-2 Florida Fabulous. Race might be more difficult to sort out than the Kentucky Oaks later on the card.
Sean: Laney, Ghalia, Florida Fabulous.
Tom: Cajun Delta Dawn, Ghalia, Pretty City Dancer.
Joe: Florida Fabulous, Union Strike, Ghalia.
Edgewood (G3). $150,000, 3-year-olds, fillies, 1 1/16 miles, turf. 5:04 p.m.
La Coronel looms large over this field but is likely to run against the boys in Saturday’s American Turf, with a trip to Royal Ascot looming if she fares well in that spot. Mark Casse is still represented in the Edgewood by Dream Dancing, fourth behind her stablemate in the Grade 3 Appalachian at Keeneland last time out. Proctor’s Ledge also exits the Appalachian for a barn doing well this spring while Stallion Heiress, Emphatically and You Missed It deserve a look.
Sean: Proctor’s Ledge, La Coronel, Emphatically.
Tom: Bernadiva, Proctor’s Edge, Emphatically.
Joe: Stallion Heiress, Emphatically, Emphatically.
Kentucky Oaks (G1). $1,000,000, 3-year-olds, fillies, 1 1/8 miles. 6:12 p.m.
Another jam-packed field of fillies representing the best of the East, West, Midwest, Southwest and all points near and far. Paradise Woods is the 5-2 choice off a powerful victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, a score that looks all the better thanks to the absence of Unique Bella. Still, she’s a deserving favorite in the best of care from Richard Mandella. Miss Sky Warrior is another who will get bet down off a blowout victory where she had everything her way. She’s won five straight since losing her debut. Wayne Catalano said he’d take the 5-1 morning-line price on his Farrell, who is 2-for-4 at Churchill and rides a four-race win streak into the Oaks. Looking for a longshot? Tequilita, Daddys Lil Darling, Lockdown, Sailor’s Valentine and Wicked Lick could help the exotics.
Sean: Farrell, Paradise Woods, Lockdown.
Tom: Tequilita, Farrell, Paradise Woods.
Joe: Paradise Woods, Farrell, Abel Tasman.