DIVA SPIRIT (5) – 6-1 – She made her seasonal debut a winning one when taking a maiden special weight event at Gulfstream Park in late March, rewarding her backers with a salty payout after being let go at odds of 30-1. It was just her second career start, coming six months following an uninspiring debut at Santa Anita. It was also her first start going two turns and her first start for a new trainer. She made up an enormous amount of ground in the closing stages of the race, thanks in large part to the pace setter getting weary legged in the stretch drive. Her connections add blinkers to this regally bred filly, which may encourage her to more actively participate in the earlier stages of the race; that would be wise, considering how none of her foes seem to possess any discernible early speed. She is extremely eligible to spring the upset.
LIBERATED (2) – 2-1 – She is liable to show continued improvement in her second start of the season after posting a more than respectable second place finish versus first level allowance foes at Keeneland while sprinting. She stretches back out to a distance of ground, for which she is bred and at which she showed talent last fall when finishing a good third in the Golden Rod (GII). She has shown a particular affinity for the Churchill Downs racing surface, owning a win and a third place finish from two afternoon trips around the oval. She sports a similar preferred running style to many fillies in this event but has shown the ability to be flexible when circumstances dictate, which could come in handy here.
NATURAL RUSH (3) – 4-1 – The best bred filly in this race is by the late Indian Charlie, whose offspring move up considerably at Churchill Downs, out of the multiple graded stakes winner Lu Ravi; she didn't come cheap either, passing through the auction ring as a yearling for $775,000. Natural Rush broke through the maiden ranks last out at Tampa Bay Downs when besting sprinters by nearly four lengths, going away. While she showed no interest in going a route of ground early in her career, one might be inclined to give her a second chance after the benefit of several starts, especially since her pedigree suggests she'll improve with distance.
ALLEGHENY ANGEL (4) – 3-1 – In her debut at Keeneland three weeks ago she was most impressive in defeat; she closed from last, more than a dozen lengths behind the early leaders, after swinging wide to miss victory by just a nose. It was an impressive effort, especially considering the interesting decision to debut her going a route of ground on the turf course. She moves to the main track for today's race, which lines up much better with her pedigree. She is by Medaglia D'Oro, whose fillies often outshine his colts, out of the Grade 1 stakes winning mare Awesome Humor; both sire and dam excelled over the dirt. Expect an improved and more professional effort in her second outing.
PROFETIZA (10) – 7-2 – She looked like a winner in her debut until she got a little wobbly legged towards the end of the race, only to get caught on the wire. The filly that bested her in that race was Diva Spirit, slated to run in the first race; an impressive effort by Diva Spirit would serve to flatter Profetiza. Indeed, she led nearly the entire way around the oval despite a tardy start when the gates opened. She stands to learn from that effort. The most daunting problem for the likely favorite is her outside post position. While she is likely the best speed in the race, Mike Smith will need to diligently guide her to the inside quickly after the break due to the very short run into the first turn; with legitimate speed directly to her inside, this could pose a problem.
DIXIE FICTION (9) – 20-1 – She's an interesting longshot in this event and worth a long look based on her morning line odds of 20-1. Her effort last out was perhaps better than it looks on paper. Despite finishing eighth of twelve, she was only beaten just over four lengths by the winner after displaying good speed throughout much of the race after breaking from the far outside post position and racing wide throughout. This was also her first start going two turns, so she can be forgiven for getting a bit leg weary towards the end of the race. It's reasonable to expect an improved effort after that race with any kind of improved racing luck. She certainly wouldn't be a surprise to crash the party at enticing odds.
KOKO LOCA (6) – 5-1 – She makes her seasonal debut in this spot having not raced in over six months. While she wasn't able to break through into the upper echelon of turf filly last year as her connections would have preferred, she did manage to put together a string of respectable efforts. Even her domestic debut last year – also on the Oaks undercard – was a deceptively strong effort which saw her finish just eight lengths behind turf standout Stephanie's Kitten, who runs tomorrow versus graded stakes foes. Koko Loca's connections still harbor higher ambitions for this filly and hope to start out the season with a win. This will be the first time O'Neill & Krigger team up to get a feel for weekend racing at Churchill; tomorrow they are slated to team up with Goldencents in the Kentucky Derby.
COZZE UP LADY (1) – 5-2 – She was an impressive winner last out at Keeneland when besting a salty bunch of allowance foes despite coming off an eight-month layoff. The win also came in what might be described as not her favorite circumstances. She did her best running last year when going a route of ground over the turf course; last out she was tasked with negotiating a sprint distance over an artificial racing surface. She gets back to her favored conditions today, but encounters a pace scenario which may pose a challenge. Breaking from the inside, she'll be tasked to move early with a sense of urgency to secure placement, but is likely to be pressed by Soft Whisper (9). Speed tends to hold better over this turf course when the rail is out, but we're racing in Lane 1 on the hedge today. The likely favorite is formidable but no sure thing.
CAT LORE (5) – 7-2 – She has racked up the majority of her success while sprinting on the turf and stretches out to a distance of ground for today's event. She has displayed an ability to handle the added distance, such as last November when she was third, beaten just a length, in a small stakes race at Fair Grounds. It will be interesting to see where she settles into the pace scenario; she has tactical speed but typically finds herself in a stalking position even when the pace is moderate or slow. With more accomplished fillies in the race, she could be ignored at the mutual windows but has all the tools needed to secure a spot in exotic wagers.
MAGICAL MOON (7) – 3-1 – She ran a bang up race in the Beaumont (GII) last time out to finish second beaten just over two lengths. She enjoyed a clear lead throughout most of the race, and finished well clear of the third place finisher in the field of eleven. She has shown the ability to handle any racing surface, including the dirt when she finished second versus tough allowance foes at Fair Grounds off the layoff. Already a multiple graded stakes placed filly, Magical Moon somehow is still looking to break through the first allowance level. She has an excellent shot to do that in today's event.
SWEET SHIRLEY MAE (1) – 5-2 – She is arguably the most accomplished filly in the field, having placed in both the Spinaway (GI) and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint. Her connections resisted the temptation to try to stretch her out last season but gave it a shot in her most recent start, which yielded an uncharacteristic fifth place finish. She gets back to a sprinter's distance today, but the likely favorite has obvious signs of caution. Both of her efforts this spring haven't seemed up to par with the precocious juvenile we saw last season. Her workouts in the morning have been unenthusiastic, to put it charitably. Nobody will argue that she is an immensely talented filly, but she's likely to be a heavy, perhaps odds-on, favorite in this race.
QUEEN NEGWER (4) – 8-1 – After taking four starts to break through the maiden ranks, she seems to have figured a few things out and seems to have vastly improved. Her race two back was particularly impressive because when she broke her maiden versus a bloated field of eleven, she did so at the expense of older fillies and mares, a rare feat for a three-year-old so early in the season. She followed that up with a solid effort last out which saw her finish a strong third against higher level allowance foes in another 11-horse field. Her speed figures are among the highest in the field, yet she is a potential overlay in this field.
LOVE DOVE (3) – 20-1 – She ran a deceptively good race last time out when finishing eighth of ten in a tough maiden special weight event at Gulfstream Park going 7 ½ furlongs. However, she was beaten less than four lengths for all the money after closing from over ten lengths back in last place midway through the race. Horses tend to improve dramatically in their second starts for Ian Wilkes, so significant improvement off that already respectable effort can be expected. Her pedigree also suggests that stretching out further to today's nine-furlong distance further enhances her chances to break through thee maiden ranks at enormous odds.
STRIKE CHARMER (10) – 10-1 – She made an inspiring debut at Keeneland despite being let go at odds of 20-1. Unhurried early, she found herself in last place out of the gate, but she was rallying belatedly to finish a strong third in the full field, beaten under two lengths. She's a smartly bred filly, out of the Storm Cat mare Cat Charmer, a stakes winning mare who herself placed in graded stakes races over the Churchill Downs turf course. Her outside post position is an obvious concern, but the nine-furlong distance gives her a lengthy run into the first turn in order to secure position.
ARTFUL LADY (7) – 10-1 – Things couldn't have gone much worse for her in her debut at Fair Grounds in March. She got off to a disastrous start after bumping a foe out of the gate and finding herself last, a lengthy distance from the rest of the field. The race itself was just a 5 ½ furlong affair, which leaves little room for costly errors such as that. However, she was still able to battle to a sixth place finish, and made up ground on the field to finish closer to the leaders than she found herself just a few jumps out of the gate. She'll get much more ground to work with in today's race and likely learned quite a bit from that first fiasco. She's another live longshot in this competitive field.
Race 6 – The La Troienne Stakes (GII)
ON FIRE BABY (5) – 8-5 – Despite having not raced in nearly a year, One Fire Baby ran the best race of her career to win the Apple Blossom in gate-to-wire fashion. In her wake that day included highly accomplished Grace Hall and several other graded stakes winners. The win shouldn't have come as any particular surprise given that On Fire Baby was a highly touted filly in her own right last year, including racing as one of the favorites in last year's Kentucky Oaks. She is a two time graded stakes winner over the Churchill Downs surface. She will likely offer value once again in today's race, with Believe You Can liable to be bet down to heavy favoritism. She also appears to be the controlling speed in this race once again, with the only filly seemingly capable of taking the race to her early being the likely favorite.
BELIEVE YOU CAN (4) – 7-5 – As mentioned above, she is likely to go off as a heavy favorite, which is a distinction that is not undeserved. She has been incredibly impressive in both starts this year, taking a pair of Fair Grounds stakes races by a combined 16 lengths. While she hasn't defeated anyone of consequence in those efforts, she has certainly been visually impressive in her romps. Today's race will serve as her first true class test since last year, when she upset the Kentucky Oaks at odds of nearly 14-1. If you are looking for a value play, this is not your filly. And there are certain tactical advantages afforded to her grey foe, although they appear evenly matched based on recent form.
MORE CHOCOLATE (3) – 5-1 – It should be stated that the top two in this race seem to be heads and shoulders the best two fillies in the race; it may be a long was back to the third place finisher. More Chocolate may be the most eligible to round out trifectas based on a string of good recent efforts, including a nice second place finish in the Santa Margarita (GI) last out at Santa Anita where she was well clear of third. She also was the victress of the La Canada (GII) versus sophomore fillies in what was her first start over the dirt. She is working well for this race.
Race 7 – Edgewood Stakes
BIRDLOVER (5) – 4-1 – She has morphed into a serious racehorse since jumping across the pond to America from England late last year. Her last two efforts have been particularly impressive – a win and second place finish in two tough stakes races at Santa Anita versus full fields. In each effort she led virtually from the beginning en route to very fast final times in each race. She cuts back in distance ever so slightly from her most recent effort, which may benefit her towards the final stages of today's race. The speed figures earned by her foes pale in comparison to those recently posted by Birdlover, who may actually offer value in this competitive heat.
BROKEN SPELL (2) – 15-1 – Though just a 3-year-old filly, she will be making her 15th career start in today's race. For most of her career she has faced the very best of her crop, mostly with mixed results. She has had her share of uninspiring moments, but she also has shown talent when finishing a close second last season in the Alcibiades (GI) at Keeneland. She may be worth one more look in today's race as she gets back to the turf course. You need to go back quite a ways, but she actually had some of her best races over the grass, including a strong second place finish in a stakes race in New York and also her only career victory. While she is considered a closer, she has the ability to sit close to a dawdling pace if need be. She's a live longshot for team Lukas.
TOKYO TIME (9) – 3-1 – She was ultra-impressive in her most recent start, finishing a tough luck second in the Herecomesthebride (GIII) at Gulfstream Park. She encountered much traffic trouble throughout the race, getting slammed at the start before falling to the back of the back, then unleashing a furious stretch rally to just miss the winner by less than a length. It was all the more impressive considering that it was her first start versus winners after breaking her maiden impressively in January. She takes another ambitious step forward today as a very talented group of turf fillies greets her for today's event, but she's likely up to the challenge.
WAVE THEORY (10) – 9-2 – Her connections can't be blamed for trying the Ashland (GI) last time out with thoughts of Oaks Lilies dancing in their heads. It didn't quite work out, but it wasn't an abysmal failure either. While the program indicates that she was a well beaten fourth, it should be noted that she was only a length from finishing second in that prestigious race due to a runaway winner. Either way, she gets back to her preferred turf surface where she has placed in multiple stakes events. It's worth noting that Julien Leparoux rode three of these fillies in their most recent starts and opts to ride this one in today's race.
Race 8 – The Eight Belles Stakes (GIII)
BLUEEYESINTHEREIN (3) – 8-1 – One might think that an undefeated filly making her second start off the layoff and returning to the scene of her greatest victory may be awarded more respect than an 8-1 morning line pegging. However, this race is so deep and contentious that her backers will be rewarded with great value in today's race. She returned from a 10-month layoff to impressively capture a small stakes race at Oaklawn Park in visually impressive fashion, sprinting away to a nearly four-length victory. She did so with a speed figure which rivals the best figures posted by the favorites in this race. It's reasonable to expect another improved performance with the benefit of a race under her belt, and we already know she has an affinity for this racing surface.
CALISTOGA (14) – 7-2 – She was done no favors when getting saddled with the wide outside post-position draw, especially with a pesky speed filly directly to her inside. Her only saving grace is that the seven furlong distance affords her a long run into the turn and, hopefully, enough time to secure good racing position under Joel Rosario, who is the hottest jockey in the nation right now. She has flashed exceptional talent in both starts at Gulfstream Park, taking both races by widening margins while posting top level speed figures. She showed a liking to this racetrack in her most recent morning workout, clipping off four furlongs in a feisty 48 2/5 seconds. If she can negotiate the outside post, she'll be a major factor in this event.
TOUCH MAGIC (12) – 8-1 – She's put together an impressive record of three wins and two seconds from five career starts. She's also done so even when facing impressive competition, such as winning the Silverbulletday Stakes last time out over a salty field, or even when finishing second to Kentucky Oaks runner Rose to Gold in the Delta Princess (GIII) two back. Perhaps the two biggest knocks against her are that she is making her first start since January, and her connections make the interesting decision to drop her back to a spring distance after routing in her two most recent efforts. Regardless, she signaled her fitness and speed in her most recent workout, when she zipped four furlongs in 47 4/5 seconds.
SPRING VENTURE (7) – 15-1 – She has been a remarkably inconsistent animal recently after showing such promise early in her career. She began her career with three consecutive victories in Canada, including a pair of graded stakes events, which compelled her connections to give the Breeders' Cup a shot. Since then, she only has a single win to her credit coming against restricted competition. She cuts back in distance, changes jockeys and gets back to the dirt in an effort to resuscitate her career. Her connections are still bullish on her chances, citing mental issues for her recent failures. They hope they have all that figured out as they prep to move forward in a better direction.
Race 9 – The Alysheba Stakes (GII)
TAKE CHARGE INDY (6) – 4-1 – He's had some tough luck to not come away with any wins since last year's Florida Derby (GI). Since returning to the races last fall he has finished second or third in four top level graded stakes events, including a sharp second place finish in the Clark Handicap (GI) over this racing surface last Thanksgiving Day weekend (to Preakness winner Shackleford). Take Charge Indy got acquainted with Rosie Napravnik last out in the Skip Away Stakes (GIII) when finishing a strong second after leading for much of the race and ultimately posting a career best speed figure. One has to imagine he'll benefit from the shorter distance of today's race. It's worth noting that Take Charge Indy is the older brother of Will Take Charge, who runs in tomorrow's Kentucky Derby; both colts are out of Take Charge Lady, a stylish champion mare in her own right who finished second in the Kentucky Oaks eleven years ago.
CYBER SECRET (9) – 7-2 – He stunned the racing world in his most recent start when he won the Oaklawn Handicap (GI) by a most impressive 5 ¾-lengths, leaving in his wake the winner of the previous year's Breeders' Cup Classic, Fort Larned. That victory was his fourth in a row, having won each race he contested at Oaklawn Park this winter. Any concerns about his ability to transfer her talent outside of Arkansas should have been put to rest following a snappy workout last week when he moved five furlongs in a quick 59 4/5 seconds. A versatile animal, he can negotiate any type of pace scenario; expect him to be sitting close to Take Charge Indy throughout the early stages of the race; running that foe down will be a tall order, but if anyone can do it, this is the horse.
BOURBON COURAGE (8) – 4-1 – He's already faced the top pick twice since last November, trading decisions with him. He's been remarkably consistent throughout his career and especially as of late, winning or placing in his last six graded stakes efforts; there's no reason to speculate that this streak will come to an end today. However, it is worth noting that, for a highly consistent animal, his two races at Churchill Downs have not been his best efforts; he shows just one third place finish from two starts around the oval. The decision he lost to Take Charge Indy actually came at Churchill Downs as well. He still figures as one of the obviously strong candidates in today's races, but he comes with reservations.
RICHARD'S KID (5) – 5-1 – The old warrior of the field is now 8-years-old, although you wouldn't know it by looking at him. Throughout his 43 race career he has amassed over $2.3 million in earnings and has taken down some of California's most prestigious races. It's fair to say he has not been quite as remarkable recently as he was at his peak, but he is still a formidable foe. His fifth place finish in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic cannot be easily dismissed, and he has finished third in a pair of graded stakes events heading into today's race. He'll be closing into what could possibly be a contentious early pace, and may offer value on the tote board. He's one to watch.
Race 10 – American Turf Stakes (GII)
NOBLE TUNE (4) – 3-1 – Many people (myself included) would have preferred to see this horse in the Kentucky Derby rather than an undercard race. He sports a regal pedigree, by Unbridled's Song out of Serena's Cat, who descends from the Serena's Song lineage. All four of his races have come over the grass, including a graded stakes score last fall before he finished a hard charging second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. His only start this year saw him run down a salty bunch in a Tampa Bay allowance race. He possesses a punishing stretch drive kick which has seen him mow down his competitors on more than one occasion. I suspect that after he wins this race, his connections may be pondering "what if?" with regards to passing on the Kentucky Derby trail.
REDWOOD KITTEN (12) – 8-1 – It took him five starts to break his maiden, but he has been a model of consistency since that effort. In fact, his connections had to drop him down into the claiming ranks to get a win out of him. But after that effort, he finished a strong third in the Kitten's Joy Stakes (named after his sire), beaten just a couple lengths by Kentucky Derby entrant Charming Kitten. That wasn't the only Kentucky Derby entrant he breathed down the neck of, as he finished just a length beaten by Black Onyx when second in a first level allowance two back. Yet perhaps his most valiant effort came last time out when he finished third in a deep stakes event at Keeneland. Redwood Kitten possesses the most authentic speed in the race, but is hampered by his outside post position. If he can negotiate a good position early, he'll be the one Noble Tune needs to run down late.
WAR DANCER (5) – 6-1 – With the lone exception of a dismal race over the dirt, his record is mostly unblemished. He comes into this event having impressively won his two most recent starts over the grass, including a decisive come from behind victory over first level allowance foes last time out when he vanquished Positively and Tenforthemoney, both of which come back to run in today's race. He may possess more early speed than most suspect following his last race; his come from behind victory may have been a consequence of his tardy start to the race. He'll need to prove he belongs at this level, but all indications are that he is equipped for the trial.
POSITIVELY (6) – 15-1 – If you like the chances on War Dancer, you have to give a long look to Positively, who was beaten just ½-length by that adversary most recently. That effort was Positively's first start on the turf and his first start over four months. His connections harbored Kentucky Derby ambitions for him last year but circumstances intervened and force them to move forward with Plan B. Positively has shown that he fits at the top level of horses on the main track but has yet to truly prove himself on the grass. He has a chance to do that today at big odds.
Race 11 – The Kentucky Oaks (GI)
DREAMING OF JULIA (8) – 3-1 – She was a most impressive winner of the Gulfstream Park Oaks (GII) in her most recent effort, besting a solid field of sophomore fillies by over 20 lengths. But perhaps the most impressive metric of the race was the fact that she ran her race over two full seconds faster than Orb (the morning line favorite for tomorrow's Kentucky Derby) ran in the Florida Derby on the same day, which by a conservative estimate equates to over ten lengths. Even her trainer Todd Pletcher, who has five Derby starters of his own, has speculated that she is just as good (if not better) than the colts. If she runs anything close to what she ran last time out, the rest of the field is simply running for second place.
MIDNIGHT LUCKY (2) – 9-2 – Bob Baffert also considered running this filly against the colts in the Kentucky Derby when the field dropped to under twenty horses for a brief moment. She is lightly raced having only two starts to her credit, but she has been most impressive in both efforts, winning by a combined 15 lengths. She has been getting all of the backside buzz over the past week, based on both her imposing physical presence as well as her workmanlike morning drills, including a zesty five furlong move in 59 3/5 seconds which saw her run down stable mate Code West, who was being considered for the Kentucky Derby. In most year's she would be a solid pick to win the race; unfortunately for her, this is the toughest and deepest Kentucky Oaks in recent memory.
ROSE TO GOLD (9) – 15-1 – In stark contrast to the top two picks, both of which are regally bred and/or expensive purchases, Rose to Gold sports a rather mediocre pedigree and was purchased for a paltry $1,400 as a yearling. Her low purchase price should come as no surprise; she is not an impressive specimen to look at, to put it very charitably. Short, narrow and a little crooked, Rose to Gold doesn't look like a typical Oaks filly. But what she lacks in stature she makes up for in raw talent. She sports five wins from seven lifetime starts, and has been the queen of Arkansas this winter, taking both graded stakes preps in most impressive fashion. She has also been working up a storm at Churchill Downs, twice posting among the fastest workouts of the mornings she breezes. Calvin Borel has put all on notice that she's a serious filly.
UNLIMITED BUDGET (4) – 7-2 – It seems counter-intuitive to keep a Todd Pletcher trained, Mike Repole owned, well-bred, undefeated filly out of the top three. That is strictly a consequence of the sheer toughness of this race and not at all an indictment of anything negative having to do with this filly. She has professionally dispatched all foes that has challenged her and tallied three consecutive victories in graded stakes events. Her workout pattern has been most impressive, to boot. It's difficult to knock this filly, but you can't pick them all in this race, although that option would be very tempting in a multi-race wager.
BEHOLDER (3) – 7-2 – She is yet another with very few knocks against. In fact, she's the reigning champion of this crop, having taken the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall and defeating Dreaming of Julia in the process. She has won three Grade 1 stakes races and was a nose away from taking a fourth. She is undefeated routing and possesses potent early speed. She should control the pace scenario of this race. If going deep searching for a winner, she must be included in the hunt.
DELILAHJANE (3) – 6-1 – She was quite impressive in her debut effort at Fair Grounds when she was forced to rally from off the pace following an ugly start which saw her rear up and lose nearly ten lengths on the field in the first few jumps. She rebounded to finish third, beaten just 3 ½-lengths by the winner. Her trainer wins with 26% of his second time starters, so it is reasonable to expect an improved performance today, especially if she can get away from the gate in a more ladylike manner.
DOUBLE GELATO (5) – 3-1 – She posted a gaudy speed figure when finishing second in her debut effort at Gulfstream Park. She was two lengths behind the race winner, but nearly ten lengths ahead of the third place finisher. That impressive effort, combined with her blue-blooded pedigree, will make her a prohibitive favorite in this race, perhaps deservedly so. The question with her is why it has taken her 47 days to resurface in a race. But her racetrack performances cannot be questioned.
AMERICAILOVEYOU (9) – 15-1 – She surprised everyone at Keeneland last time out when finishing second at odds of 56-1. Her odds that day were a reflection of her uninspiring sole prior performance, her obscure pedigree and connections, and slow posted workouts. She is likely to be similarly ignored at the wagering windows today. However, she is the only older horse in this field otherwise comprised of three-year-old fillies, which means she likely has a huge maturity advantage over her younger rivals. She also gets the services of an apprentice rider, and carried five less pounds than an older mare otherwise would tote.