The Kentucky Oaks is the perfect stage for the equine soap opera like the one we have here. It’s the perfect setting for the interlocking set of filly rivalries and storylines that help horse racing out where it needs it most.
Storylines merging into identities that, along with a plethora of running styles, will make the 147th edition of the premier 3-year-old filly race in the country a handicapper’s delight.
Friday’s Grade 1 1/8-mile Oaks headlines a five-stakes bonanza at Churchill Downs. It also provides horseplayers with their first Derby week multi-day wagers. The most prominent of these, the Oaks/Derby Pick 6, requires bettors to pick the winners of all six Grade 1 races this weekend. That includes Friday’s Oaks and Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
Handling the Oaks portion of that is a challenge. That’s because bettors have one of the deeper, more versatile Oaks fields in recent history. One replete with storylines covering a good portion of the field.
Haven’t we seen this before … and before … and before?
For example, there’s Travel Column (3/1) vs. Clairiere (5/1). If this soap sounds like a rerun, well, it is. This is the fourth time these two Midwest rivals with differing running styles will meet. Travel Column and her pressing style hold a 2-1 edge on Clairiere the closer, courtesy of March’s 2 ¼-length Fair Grounds Oaks victory.
A Travel Column victory would give trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux their third Oaks in four years. They’ve won with the dominant Monomoy Girl (2018). And they’ve won with the where-did-she-come-from, 17/1 shot Shedaresthedevil, who beat Gamine and Swiss Skydiver in last year’s Oaks.
A Clairiere victory would even the score between the two, bringing Steve Asmussen his third Oaks title. Travel Column is the only horse beating Clairiere across a finish line. She hasn’t finished worse than second in her four races.
Kentucky Oaks features bad girls too
You almost wish the creatures who can’t explain themselves could explain themselves here. Just to hear what they think of each other.
As that plays like an equine edition of “As the World Turns,” there are upstarts Crazy Beautiful and Pass the Champagne. Both are 15/1 and both scream “What about me?” like Willy Wonka’s bad girl, Veruca Salt.
In Crazy Beautiful’s case, it may be either trainer Kenny McPeek drawing attention to himself by calling his horse “a beast.”
Does anyone want to hear exercise riders sing?
It could also be exercise rider Danny Ramsey who, after taking Crazy Beautiful for a 1 ½-mile gallop Friday, told inquiring minds how Crazy Beautiful ran. “She’s doing super,” Ramsey said. “After she wins, I want the TV cameras to zoom in on me and listen to me singing.”
The Gulfstream Oaks winner and closer warbled her way to three wins and three seconds in seven starts. But included in that came her temperamental phase, when she reluctantly entered the gate for February’s Grade 2 Davona Dale. She finished a distant second – by 6 ½ lengths – to Wholebodemeister.
Meanwhile, Pass the Champagne has become a trendy drink in this race. This fast pace-setter became the “It Girl,” based on her runner-up finish to Malathaat (more on her in a moment), and the fact she hasn’t missed the exacta in three career starts. Based on race-week buzz, nobody thinks she’ll go off anywhere near 15/1.
Search Results stepping up in class
Then, there’s the fast, mysterious Search Results (3/1). She possesses some of the best speed figures in the race, cracking 100 Equibases in both of her last two races. Those were both stakes, but not stakes that will frighten anyone here. Search Results ran a 103 in the Grade 3 Gazelle earlier this month and a 101 in a listed stakes in March.
This makes you question what kind of fast company Search Results kept. She didn’t keep much of it in the Gazelle, beating 18/1 Maracuja by less than three lengths as the 2/5 favorite. Maracuja is 20/1 for the Oaks and is nothing but the chorus here.
Search Results is a pace-setter/presser, meaning she, Pass the Champagne, Millefeuille, Will’s Secret, and Moraz will keep fast company with each other.
Malathaat has something to herself: A Grade 1 win
Hanging above all of this is the Oaks’ 5/2 favorite, unbeaten Malathaat. The Todd Pletcher trainee stays above the fray, and she stays above it rather well, since Malathaat ran only once this year. That was in the Grade 1 Ashland Oaks earlier this month at Keeneland, where she ran down and beat Pass the Champagne by a neck.
This came after Pletcher gave Malathaat – who figures to join Travel Column and Pauline’s Pearl in stalking the pace — four months off after the daughter of Curlin won three races in three months. She broke her maiden at Belmont Park Oct. 9, took the Tempted Stakes at Aqueduct (Nov. 6), and the Grade 2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct (Dec. 5).
Group 1 Kentucky Oaks/Churchill Downs
Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)
- Pauline’s Pearl, 20/1 (Ricardo Santana Jr/Steve Asmussen)
- Maracuja, 20/1 (Kendrick Carmouche/Rob Atras)
- Clairiere, 5/1 (Joe Talamo/Steve Asmussen)
- Crazy Beautiful, 15/1 (Jose Ortiz/Kenny McPeek)
- Pass the Champagne, 15/1 (Joel Rosario/George Weaver)
- Travel Column, 3/1 (Florent Geroux/Brad Cox)
- Ava’s Grace, SCR
- Moraz, 30/1 (Flavien Prat/Mike McCarthy)
- Coach, 9/5 (Luis Saez/Brad Cox)
- Malathaat, 5/2 (John Velazquez/Todd Pletcher)
- Will’s Secret, 30/1 (Jon Court/Dallas Stewart)
- Search Results, 3/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Chad Brown)
- Competitive Speed, 50/1 (Chris Landeros/Javier Gonzalez)
- Millefeuille, 20/1 (Tyler Gaffalione/Bill Mott)
“We had a good foundation of 2-year-old races into her after a seven-furlong maiden race and (the) Tempted, and then the Demoiselle at a mile-and-an-eighth in the beginning of December,” Pletcher told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “So in a perfect world, maybe we’d have had two preps. But I feel like we’ve arrived here in as good a shape as we can be. So maybe it was a blessing.”
Storylines, personalities, running styles. They’re all here, vying for a starring role in the filly version of “Dynasty.”
The pick: Travel Column. You’ll get the best of all world’s here: value, running style, Cox and Geroux, and proven pace. That said, the beauty of this race is, should you think it’s ripe for hot fractions, Clairiere is a natural go-to. It’s all based on how you view the pace. Still, Travel Column is the most well-rounded filly in the field.