Although the spotlight is always firmly on the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks is far more than just a supporting feature and the competition has been fierce among the fillies bidding to earn sufficient Road to the Kentucky Oaks points to qualify for the race.
Here we examine the credentials of the leading contenders for the Kentucky Oaks, headed by the unbeaten champion Echo Zulu, and look ahead to a big weekend of Oaks preps at Gulfstream Park and Oaklawn Park.
Zulu on the charge again
At the moment trainer Steve Asmussen has the favourites for both Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, following the return to action of unbeaten champion juvenile filly Echo Zulu (3-1) in the G2 Fair Grounds Oaks.
The three-time G1 winner didn’t impress everybody with her hard-fought victory, by a nose from Hidden Connection (12-1), with Turnerloose (40-1) back in fourth, but the daughter of Gun Runner was coming off a near five-month layoff and was entitled to be a little short of her sizzling best – and Asmussen’s horses always move up from their first run.
Her dominant scores in the Spinaway, Frizette and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last year stamped her as the leader of her generation by a long way, and although two-year-old form has to take a back seat at this stage of the campaign, Echo Zulu remains the horse to beat in the Oaks on May 6.
Defeat aside, it was an improved showing from G3 Pocahontas winner Hidden Connection after her disappointing reappearance, and the extra sixteenth at Churchill Downs should be to her advantage.
Echo Zulu’s closest market rival Secret Oath (7-2) may well be switched to the Derby if she finishes first or second in the G1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, so the jury is out on her until then, while third-choice Adare Manor (13-2), easy winner of the G3 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita on her stakes debut last month, is only now able to earn ‘Road to the Kentucky Oaks’ points following her transferral from Bob Baffert to Tim Yakteen.
One filly with her ticket already booked for the Oaks is Venti Valentine (15-1), who cleared right away to win the Busher Invitational at Aqueduct by seven lengths. Her stepping-stone to Churchill Downs is expected to be the G3 Gazelle, back at the Big A on April 9.
A day earlier, Nest (12-1) – winner of the G2 Demoiselle at Aqueduct before romping in a stakes at Tampa Bay Downs last month – will attempt to clinch her Oaks place in the G1 Ashland at Keeneland. However, the Oaks may come too soon for G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runner-up Juju’s Map (17-1), who has no confirmed target for her reappearance.
This weekend brings the first 100pt races on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks, with the G2 Gulfstream Park Oaks featuring the reappearance of the unbeaten Kathleen O (10-1), who went three-for-three when winning the G2 Davona Dale at Gulfstream last time out from Classy Edition (40-1).
She stretches out to two turns here against what is likely to be a short field, with G2 Rachel Alexandra runner-up Goddess Of Fire (50-1) expected to be her main rival.
The principals in the 100pt G3 Fantasy at Oaklawn Park include G3 Matron winner Bubble Rock (40-1) and Busher third Magic Circle, while the Bourbonette at Turfway Park offers 50pt to the winner and a spot in the gate for the Kentucky Oaks, which is limited to 14 runners.
Kentucky Oaks odds (Jazz racebook)
3-1 Echo Zulu
7-2 Secret Oath
13-2 Adare Manor
10-1 Kathleen O
12-1 Hidden Connection, Nest
15-1 Venti Valentine
17-1 Juju’s Map
22-1 Under The Stars
25-1 Ain’t Easy, Shahama
35-1 A Mo Reay
40-1 Bubble Rock, Classy Edition, Turnerloose
50-1 Avow, Awake At Midnyte, Distinctlypossible, Goddess Of Fire, Nostalgic
Bold italics: horse assured of a run in the Kentucky Oaks on RTKO points basis
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