The Grade 1 Ashland Oaks is following the path of this year’s Kentucky Oaks prep races, which involves pitting two standouts against each other in a makeshift regional rivalry.

Simply Ravishing-Ashland Oaks
Simply Ravishing won her first three races, including this victory in the Alcibiades. After missing the board twice, she’s seeking a return to that form in Saturday’s Grade 1 Ashland Oaks at Keeneland. (Image: Keeneland Photo)

You had Travel Column and Clairiere in the Fair Grounds Oaks in Louisiana. Beautiful Gift and Moraz tangle at Santa Anita Park in the Santa Anita Oaks on Saturday. And here at Keeneland on Saturday, you get undefeated Malathaat taking on Simply Ravishing in the Ashland Oaks.

The Ashland is one of the biggest preps for the Kentucky Oaks. It offers 100-40-20-10 points to the top four finishers in the 1 1/16-mile race on Keeneland’s main track. And it typically offers a good view of the likely Kentucky Oaks favorite, since 34 alums from this race have won the Kentucky Oaks.

For recent reference here, see “Monomoy Girl, 2018.” Not surprisingly, she was the last one pulling that off.

Ashland asks if Malathaat’s form travels

It’s not surprising that unbeaten Malathaat is your 9/5 favorite for this Ashland edition. The Todd Pletcher-trainee makes her 2021 debut after taking the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct in early December. That was Malathaat’s third win in as many starts.

Now, she’s venturing out of New York for the first time in four races with Joel Rosario replacing John Velazquez in the irons. Velazquez is in California, riding in Santa Anita Park’s stakes-packed, Santa Anita Derby weekend card.

While that rider replacement is a wash between two A-list jockeys, Malathaat dives into a race pool deeper than anything she’s seen. She won the Demoiselle by three-quarters of a length over Millefeullie after dismantling the Listed Tempted Stakes field by nearly eight a month earlier. None of her victims from either race are in the Ashland field.

Simply Ravishing looking for summer her form

Her erstwhile rival, Simply Ravishing (5/2), is also looking to find the winner’s circle. She too is making her 2021 debut, this coming after Simply Ravishing finished a disappointing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. That, in turn, preceded a fourth in the Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs three weeks later.

The 1-2 finishers in the Golden Rod, however, can explain that: Travel Column and Clairiere. Simply Ravishing finished four lengths back.

The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile snapped Simply Ravishing’s, career-opening, three-race winning streak. Simply Ravishing capped that streak when she took apart the Alcibiades last fall. She won that Grade 1 race at Keeneland by 6 ¼ lengths, which puts her in position to become the fifth filly to win the Alcibiades-Ashland double. The last to do it was Take Charge Lady in 2001-02.

McPeek looks like he has talent to spare

Take Charge Lady’s trainer? One Kenny McPeek, who conditions Simply Ravishing.

“It will be good to get her going. She has been ready for a while,” McPeek told Keeneland’s Amy Owens. “It will be nice to be back to Keeneland where she won the Alcibiades. She has been ready since early to mid-March, but I did not want to ship her from Florida. I have Crazy Beautiful and I did not want to run them against each other in the Gulfstream Park Oaks. Simply Ravishing is extremely talented and she won the Alcibiades, so it just seemed logical to run her back in the Ashland.”

McPeek’s 3-year-old crop this year is extremely talented, even beyond Simply Ravishing. Crazy Beautiful finished second to Simply Ravishing in the Alcibiades, then won the Gulfstream Park Oaks last month.

Now, he gets to see how talented one of them is against a rival she may see many times down the line.