Following the final preps for the Kentucky Oaks at the weekend, the shape of the field and the identity of the leading contenders have become clear. In our weekly review, we look back at the new names who pushed their way into the frame and run the rule over all 14 fillies who are currently on their way to Churchill Downs.
Nest & Nostalgic nail their spot
End of the Road. The potential final field for the G1 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 6 has been established, although of course there is the capacity for one or two ins and outs before the big day.
Several fillies punched their big-race ticket on the final weekend of preps, foremost among them the G1 Ashland winner Nest (9-2), who was utterly dominant at Keeneland. She put the race to bed early and finished off the mile-sixteenth strongly, and her stamina for the extra half-furlong of the Oaks is virtually guaranteed.
Todd Pletcher came this way last year, doing the Ashland-Oaks double with Malathaat, and Nest’s attitude and strength make her a worthy candidate to give the barn back-to-back victories.
Ashland runner-up Cocktail Moments (40-1) was previously third behind Kathleen O. in the G2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park and deserves her chance in the Oaks, although it’s hard to make a case for her being in the shake-up.
When winning the G2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct in December Nest finished four and a half lengths ahead of Nostalgic (10-1), who returned to the Big A on Saturday and ran a career-best in the G3 Gazelle, hunting down the front-running Venti Valentine (25-1) – runner-up in that Demoiselle – for a convincing victory over the full Oaks distance.
Now that Nostalgic has found her feet she can be expected to improve, and with her stamina proven she will have an advantage over several of her Oaks rivals. The mile-eighth may have found out Venti Valentine, and she may miss the Oaks in favor of cutting back to a mile, the distance of her seven-length score in last month’s Busher Invitational.
If these two results were easy to explain, not so the G2 Santa Anita Oaks, in which Desert Dawn (15-1) caused an upset when outrunning hot favorite Adare Manor (12-1) by a neck, with Ain’t Easy (35-1) seven and a half lengths adrift in third place. Desert Dawn had previously done no better than third in four starts at Graded level and was held on form, yet although the Santa Anita Oaks was a strange race – two of the five runners never figured at all – Desert Dawn won it on merit, showing plenty of courage to get the job done in a knock-down-drag-out denouement.
Whether she can reproduce this level of form in a much more competitive Kentucky Oaks remains to be seen, and the California fillies haven’t looked particularly strong in any case, while Adare Manor is not (yet) nominated to the Oaks and Ain’t Easy needs three or four defections if she is to make it to Churchill Downs.
Secret Oath leads a deep field
Nest, Nostalgic, and Desert Dawn join what is a particularly strong collection for the Oaks, with all the major prep winners represented and the level of overall form consistently high.
The current future-book favorite is the G1 Arkansas Derby third Secret Oath (3-1), who ran a very creditable race against the colts at Oaklawn Park over the Kentucky Oaks distance, following on from her wide-margin success in the G3 Honeybee, also at Oaklawn over a mile-sixteenth, in which she finished more than nine lengths ahead of Yuugiri.
Yuugiri (15-1) then proceeded to confirm the strength of the form and also display her own Oaks credentials when leading every step of the way in the G3 Fantasy over a mile-sixteenth, again at Oaklawn.
The unbeaten Kathleen O. (9-2) is another major Oaks player after winning the G2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park over a mile and then the G2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, when she finished off her race strongly to beat G2 Rachel Alexandra runner-up Goddess Of Fire (20-1) by two and a quarter lengths, with the third horse more than 17 lengths away.
The winner of the G2 Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds was Turnerloose (40-1), although perhaps the limitations of that form were exposed when she ran fourth in the mile-sixteenth G2 Fair Grounds Oaks back at the New Orleans track, where champion juvenile filly Echo Zulu (4-1) made her first start of 2022.
Echo Zulu was untouchable at two but failed to leave the same impression on her reappearance when scrambling home by a nose after leading throughout, just having enough in the tank to turn back the persistent Hidden Connection (10-1), who had finished more than 13 lengths behind Echo Zulu in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
That might be a reflection on the fleeting value of two-year-old form, or simply an indication that Steve Asmussen, whose horses invariably improve with racing, had left plenty to work on with his mind on a busy campaign ahead. If the first, then Echo Zulu, like so many before her, will struggle against her later-maturing peers. If the second, we can expect something special next time.
One from left field is the unbeaten Shahama (25-1), a new name to many horseplayers in the US, who earned her place in the gate for the Kentucky Oaks when winning the G3 UAE Oaks over a mile and three-sixteenths at Meydan in February.
She came through from the back of the field to lead at the quarter-pole and kept on strongly to post a comfortable two-length victory, a form that is impossible to translate into an American context, except for the fact that Shahama handles dirt very well and has plenty of stamina. Shahama has since moved to Todd Pletcher’s barn, alongside stablemates Nest and Goddess Of Fire, and ranks as an unknown quantity with plenty of quality about her.
The final member of the 14 guaranteed a spot in the Oaks is Candy Raid (25-1), whose eighth-place in the G2 Rachel Alexandra had seemed to rule her out of contention until a dominant performance in the Bourbonette Oaks over a mile-sixteenth at Turfway Park put her back in the mix. The form of the race is questionable, but she’s an in-form filly and there may be worse outsiders on the big day.
Odds to Win the Kentucky Oaks 2022
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