Wednesday, May 2, 2012

2012 Kentucky Oaks Field Analysis

Most attention this week is on the Kentucky Derby, which is deemed the greatest race that is contested in the sport of kings. However, the fillies deserve their time in the limelight as well and they get that opportunity on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby in the Kentucky Oaks. The race, like the Run for the Roses, has been run for one hundred thirty-seven consecutive years and allows the victor to celebrate in the same winner’s enclosure reserved solely for only two annual races: the Derby and the Oaks. The winner of the Oaks is rewarded with an ample garland of stunning pink lilies, giving the Kentucky Oaks the nickname “the Run for the Lilies.”

In 2011, we saw the thrilling stretch run between Plum Pretty and St. Johns River that resulted in the Bob Baffert trainee standing before the Twin Spires with the blanket of lilies draped over her withers. Though Plum Pretty did not win divisional honors, she has gone on to be quite successful and is maintaining her grade one status. Past runnings of the Oaks have provided us with victories by many spectacular fillies, including the great racehorses Blind Luck, Rachel Alexandra, Rags to Riches, Silverbulletday, Open Mind, Princess Rooney, Davona Dale, Dark Mirage, Cicada, Real Delight, and Wistful.

The 2012 edition of the Kentucky Oaks has attracted a very competitive field of sophomore fillies despite the fact that superstars My Miss Aurelia, Princess Arabella, and Weemissfrankie were prevented from running due to injuries. There is no clear-cut standout, making the race a wide-open contest between very talented three-year-olds fillies ready to have their names etched into the history books.

Featured below are all of the fillies slated to run in the 138th running of the Kentucky Oaks (GI), along with descriptions of their pedigrees, racing records, final preparations, and my opinions of them. The fillies are simply listed in post position order, though ironically, the first three fillies are not just ranked in post position order, but also in the order in which I like them.

#1. On Fire Baby:
A half-sister to a filly who finished third in the Oaks five years ago in High Heels, On Fire Baby is by Smoke Glacken. Though that sire is most well-known for producing sprinters and milers, he has produced the successful distance runner Persistenly – who defeated Rachel Alexandra in a grade one race at ten furlongs. She is also from the same tail-female line as the grade one-winning runners Cuvee, Pyro, and Paddy O’Prado.

After she impressively broke her maiden at Ellis Park, On Fire Baby took a huge step up in class to finish a good second in the Darley Alcibiades Stakes (GI) at the tough Keeneland autumn meet prior to winning two graded stakes races at Churchill Downs, including a dominant victory in the Golden Rod Stakes (GII). She made her sophomore debut against colts, finishing a noteworthy third before she returned to her own gender to win the Fantasy Stakes (GII).

On Fire Baby has worked twice over Churchill Downs – a track at which she is undefeated – in preparation for the Kentucky Oaks. Both works were at the distance of seven furlongs, which I find very significant, as it prepares her for the nine-furlong expanse of the Oaks and keeps her from moving too briskly. Her most current work was a 1:27 flat drill in which she galloped over the Churchill dirt beautifully on the morning of April 27.

Due to her excellent pedigree, obvious racing brilliance, and perfect record at Churchill Downs, On Fire Baby is my top selection for the Kentucky Oaks. She faces very stiff competition, most notably Grace Hall, though other fillies pose big threats as well. Though some may not like her draw, I think On Fire Baby should find a very good position if she breaks well and also has the ability to rate off the pace. Her two victories and extra training time at Churchill Downs give her a huge advantage. For more on why On Fire Baby is a top Kentucky Oaks contender, please click here.

#2. Grace Hall:
Sired by the Belmont Stakes (GI, 12F)-winning Empire Maker and out of a mare who is sired by Ezzoud, a multiple group one winner at long distances in England, Grace Hall is loaded with stamina and is sure to enjoy a route of ground. Out of a stakes-winning mare in France, Grace Hall is a direct descendant of Kentucky Oaks winner Nellie L.

One of the most accomplished horses in the race, Grace Hall won her first three starts by a combined 10 ½ lengths, including the Spinaway Stakes (GI) at Saratoga. She then finished a game second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (GI) behind eventual champion My Miss Aurelia to close out her two-year-old campaign. Following a neck defeat by longshot Yara in the Davona Dale Stakes (GII) at Gulfstream, Grace Hall returned to her winning ways in the Gulfstream Oaks Stakes (GII), setting off the pace before coasting to an impressive 6 ½-length victory.

I rather would have seen Grace Hall make her final preparations for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill, but she has been training at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida instead. Her most recent workout was a 52.10-second five-furlong work and though this time is unspectacular, it must be noted that it came over an off track.

Grace Hall is obviously a very gifted filly that is capable of running with the best. Between her talent and remarkable pedigree, she is one of my top two choices in the Oaks. For more on why Grace Hall is a top Kentucky Oaks contender, please click

#3. Summer Applause:
A direct descendant of two Reines De Course Mares, Summer Applause is by rising sire Harlan’s Holiday and out of a half-sister to a graded stakes-winning millionaire. She features inbreeding that has been quite profitable, being inbred to such horses as Northern Dancer and Crimson Saint in her first five generations.

Since her debut, in which she finished sixth, Summer Applause has not finished out-of-the-money. She made her stakes debut this January at the Fair Grounds, pressing the pace before not being able to catch Believe You Can. She then defeated that filly in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (GIII) prior to falling just a head short to that rival in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII).

The Bret Calhoun trainee has posted two very impressive works at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Oaks. Her final work came on April 20 when she posted a five-furlong bullet work in 59.60 seconds.

Summer Applause is bred for, has the racing talent for, and has worked very well for the Kentucky Oaks. I expect her to run a big race. For more on why Summer Applause is a top Kentucky Derby, please click here.

#4. Eden’s Moon:
By the sire of eight grade one victors including herself in Malibu Moon and out of the Giant’s Causeway mare Eden’s Causeway, Eden’s Moon is obviously a nicely bred filly bred for distance. Her second dam is the spectacular Irish-bred Broodmare of the Year North of Eden, the producer of three grade one victors, including the champion Paradise Creek. She is also a direct descendant of the Reine De Course mare Sensibility, who herself is out of a Reine De Course mare. Sensibility is the dam of three stakes performers, including the champion Theatrical.

A lightly raced filly, Eden’s Moon started just once as a two-year-old, finishing second behind the future graded stakes-winning Reneesgotzip in December in a six-furlong maiden special weight over Hollywood Park’s cushion track. The Florida-bred Eden’s Moon landed on my radar with her 11 ½-length maiden victory at Santa Anita in January. Following that dominant win, she led from start to finish to triumph in the Las Virgenes Stakes (GI) before falling short in the Santa Anita Oaks (GI) after pressing the pace.

The day before stablemates Bodemeister and Jemima’s Pearl made their final preparations, Eden’s Moon completed a 1:14-flat six-furlong work at Churchill Downs.

Eden’s Moon is certainly talented, but she will have to be on the top of her game to give trainer Bob Baffert a repeat win in the Kentucky Oaks. Nonetheless, she is among the most endowed in this group.

#5. Hard Not to Like:
By the brilliant up-and-coming sire Hard Spun and out of a black-type-winning track record setter at ten furlongs, Hard Not to Like descends from the same dam line as fellow contender Summer Applause, with the most notable name in that tail-female line being Iribelle.

Following two non-black-type wins over Woodbine’s turf course, Hard Not to Like finished fifth in the Natalma Stakes (GIII) on the same oval before defeating the colt in the Cup and Saucer Stakes at Woodbine. Following a decent fifth-place performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (GII), Hard Not to Like made her sophomore debut in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (GI) at Keeneland, running a rallying second behind Karlovy Vary.

The Ontario-bred filly, though she has never contested on dirt, has been training on dirt at Payson Park and Woodbine. Her final preparation was a 1:01.60 five-furlong drill at Woodbine.

Despite having never run on dirt, Hard Not to Like’s pedigree suggests she will handle it. I believe we have not seen the best of her yet and though she may not be as ready for the Oaks as some other contenders, I would not be surprised to see her perform very well. For more on why Hard Not to Like is a top Kentucky Oaks contender, please click here.

#6. Broadway’s Alibi:
By juvenile champion Vindication and out of the stakes winner at sprinting distances, Broadway Gold, Broadway’s Alibi has the breeding of a sprinter or miler. Despite the appearances of horses such as Seeking the Gold, Storm Cat, and the dam of Dialed In in her pedigree, Broadway’s Albi’s bloodlines do not give much hope for her ability to go nine furlongs. Her half-sister, the stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed R Gypsy Gold, despite being by Bernardini, has never been victorious beyond a mile and one-sixteenth.

Nonetheless, Broadway’s Alibi has proved to be among the most brilliant fillies of this group. Her only loss came in her first start, but since then, the Todd Pletcher trainee has been on a tear, winning four races by an astounding combined 32 ¼ lengths, including the Forward Gal Stakes (GII) at seven furlongs and the Comely Stakes (GIII) at one mile. She has set the pace in each of these victories, which may be to her disadvantage in the Oaks.

She made her final preparation at Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida, completing a half-mile in 48.45. I would have preferred for her to have her last breeze at Churchill Downs.
I believe that the nine-furlong distance may prove to be too much for Broadway’s Alibi, despite the fact that she is absolutely brilliant.

#7. Sacristy:
A daughter of A.P. Indy’s successful son Pulpit and the stakes-placed Christie’s Treasure, Sacristy is a direct descendant of Fool-Me-Not, the dam of the Kentucky Derby-winning champion Foolish Pleasure. She descends from the same tail-female line as the graded stakes-winning sire Valid Expectations – as well as his full siblings, the graded stakes-winning Little Sister and the stakes-winning and graded stakes-placed Littleepectations – and the grade one-winning Purge.

Following two runner-up finishes over the synthetic, Sacristy broke her maiden over the dirt at Churchill Downs in an impressive 6 ¾ lengths to end her two-year-old campaign. Her sophomore debut was a 1 ¾-length victory in the Old Hat Stakes (GIII) at Gulfstream Park. Though her next two starts were losses, they were in-the-money finishes in graded stakes races. However, she was defeated by at least three lengths in both, and in one of those losses, she was trounced by fellow Oaks contender Broadway’s Alibi.

Sacristy made her final preparation for the Oaks on April 27, going seven furlongs in 1:29. I like that she worked a longer distances than most horses, as it readies her for the nine-furlong distance, keeps her fitter, and prevents her from working too briskly.

Sacristy is undeniably gifted, but she may be a bit outclassed here. Nonetheless, a nice performance in the Run for the Lilies would not be shocking.

#8. Jemima’s Pearl:
One of Bob Baffert’s two charges in this year’s Oaks, Jemima’s Pearl is certainly the lesser known of the two. By the elite sire Distorted Humor and out of the group two-winning mare Jemima, this filly is a half-sister to the multiple stakes winner at seven furlongs and the graded stakes-placed middle-distance horse Pinckney Hill.

The bay filly began her career in Ireland, breaking her maiden in her fourth start. Following a sixth-place finish in the Star Appeal Stakes at Dundalk, the bay filly returned to the country in which she was born. Her United States debut resulted in a nose victory in an allowance optional claiming at Santa Anita, which came before her third-place finish behind stablemate Mamma’s Kimbo and Amie’s Dini in the Fantasy Stakes (GII).

Jemima’s Pearl worked in company with leading Derby candidate Bodemeister on Sunday morning at Churchill Downs, serving as the gifted colt’s target for the second week in a row. She was outworked by the colt, but that was likely the plan and Bodemeister is, after all, one of the leading contenders for the Derby. She still turned in a good work, completing five furlongs in 1:00.40.

The Kentucky Oaks will be a tough mission for Jemima’s Pearl and I do not believe she is quite ready for it, despite the fact that she is from a strong pedigree and barn.  She has not shown as much as many of the other fillies and appears to be outclassed.

#9. Believe You Can:
Competing for the connections of 2008 Oaks victor Proud Spell, Believe You Can is also by the same sire as the 2008 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly. This filly is inbred to many influential horses, including Buckpasser, Natalma, Nearctic, and Tom Fool. However, her broodmare sire, El Prado, has been primarily successful with sprinters as a damsire, with foals out of his daughters winning at an average distance of about seven furlongs. He is the damsire, after all, of the talented sprinters Hilda’s Passion and Essence Hit Man.

Believe You Can broke her maiden in her second start and followed up that victory with a dominant allowance optional claiming win at Delaware Park. After winning the Tempted Stakes (GIII) at Belmont, she finished a disappointing sixth in the Pocahontas Stakes (GII) behind On Fire Baby. At the Fair Grounds this year, Believe You Can galloped to a stakes win ahead of Summer Applause, a fourth-place finish in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (GIII) behind Summer Applause, and a victory in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII) ahead of Summer Applause.

The Larry Jones trainee has had two works at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Oaks, posting a pair of quick five-furlong works. Her final preparation was a blistering five-furlong work on Sunday, in which the official clocking was 58.40, though some timed her in an even faster time. It is a bit worrisome that she completed such a rapid work, but Rachel Alexandra also posted a very quick time before her dominating Oaks win.

Believe You Can is by all means talented, but will need to run the best race of her career to earn the garland of lilies. For more on why Believe You Can is a top Kentucky Oaks contender, please click

#10. And Why Not:
With the same trainer and rider combination as the very gifted Derby contender Union Rags, And Why Not could kick off a tremendous weekend for her connections. I find this filly to have one of the most beautifully knitted pedigrees you could study. Her sire is the brilliant stallion Street Cry, who is the sire of the great Zenyatta, as well as the Derby-winning champion Street Sense and an astounding eleven more group or grade one victors. As if that is not enough stallion power, And Why Not’s broodmare sire is the great A.P. Indy. The bottom side of her pedigree is also full of influential stallions, including Storm Cat, Alydar, and Never Bend. She is also a a direct descendant of three Reine De Course mares, including the 1983 Broodmare of the Year, Courtly Dee, who sired an incredible seven graded stakes winners, including the champion Althea, as well as two graded stakes-placed horses.

And Why Not, a $775,000 yearling purchase, debuted in August as a juvenile at Saratoga, dominantly winning a six and one-half-furlong maiden special weight after rallying from off the pace. Following a third-place finish behind fellow Oaks contender Grace Hall in the Spinaway Stakes (GI), And Why Not finished a disappointing sixth over Keeneland’s Polytrack in the Darley Alicibiades Stakes (GI). She rebounded with a runner-up performance behind On Fire Baby – also another Oaks contender – in the Pocahontas Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs to conclude her juvenile career. And Why Not’s only start this year was an extremely unsatisfactory seventh-place finish in the Gulfstream Oaks Stakes (GII) at the end of March.

Despite her uninspiring 2012 racing performance, this Michael Matz trainee has been training well. Her final work for the Oaks at Churchill Downs came on Saturday, April 28, when she posted the fastest of forty-seven works at the four-furlong distance when she completed her breeze in 46.80 seconds.

Though her only start this year was quite discouraging, this regally bred filly is entering the Kentucky Oaks off a string of good works. She faces a tall task in the Run for the Lilies, but Michael Matz has conditioned her well and if she has anything going for her besides her training, it’s her pedigree.

#11. Karlovy Vary:
A daughter of the recently deceased, great sire Dynaformer, a win by Karlovy Vary in the Kentucky Oaks would certainly be emotional. Her bloodlines appear to provide her with much stamina and notably, she is a direct descendant of the great mare Bayou.

Karlovy Vary broke her maiden in her second start and following two seventh-place finishes, one of which came in the Golden Rod Stakes (GII) at Churchill Downs behind On Fire Baby, the Alex Campbell homebred won a turf allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream before scoring in the Central Bank Ashland Stakes (GI).

Her final preparation came on Saturday, April 28 at Churchill Downs when she completed five furlongs in 1:01.20, covering the ground well.

Though her only start on dirt was a disappointing finish over the track that she will race on in the Kentucky Oaks, this filly has greatly improved since then and is coming into her own. She certainly will have no problem with the distance, but the race for Karlovy Vary is a matter of whether she has an affinity for the surface or not. A good race by her would not be a shock in the least, but she will have to continue her improvement. For more on why Karlovy Vary is a top Kentucky Oaks contender, please click

#12. Colonial Empress:
The Empire Maker/Pleasant Colony cross this D. Wayne Lukas trainee is bred on hints that she will love a stretch-out in distance. Notably, she is a half-sister to the graded stakes-winning turf horse Pleasant Strike and a direct descendant of the Hall of Fame mare Gallorette.

Interestingly, this filly has only started three times, has never won, and has never competed in anything other than a stakes race. She debuted this February in the Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn, finishing fourth. Colonial Empress then ran a decent third in the Honeybee Stakes (GIII) at the same Hot Springs track before running last in the Fair Grounds Oaks (GII).

She has turned in two workouts at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Kentucky Oaks, her final work coming in a 48.40-second half-mile work.

Colonial Empress appears to be better in the mornings than the afternoons and I would be quite surprised to see her finish at the top in the Oaks.

#13. Amie’s Dini:
Though her sire, Bandini, is relatively unknown, he should aid her in the Oaks’ distance of nine furlongs, as he was a grade one winner at that distance. A descendant of a string of Claiborne Farm mares and two Reine De Course mares, Amie’s Dini has a solid pedigree, though it may not be as flamboyant as the bloodlines of other Oaks entrants. Though Amie’s Dini’s pedigree does not completely verify her ability to get nine furlongs, there are plenty of hints that she will be able to handle the distance.

Amie’s Dini debuted in a much less flashy way than the other contenders, winning a maiden claiming at Remington Park. Following two good allowance optional claiming performances at Churchill Downs, including a victory, Amie’s Dini made her sophomore debut at Oaklawn Park, finishing a noteworthy second behind the then-undefeated Now I Know in the Dixie Belle Stakes. She then handed Now I Know her first defeat in the other filly’s final race, scoring in the Martha Washington Stakes by 1 ¾ lengths after pressing the pace. Remaining at Oaklawn Park, Amie’s Dini turned in a pair of notable runner-up finishes in graded stakes races, and proved to be clearly second best in those races.

With a win at Churchill Downs already to her credit, Amie’s Dini already has very significant experience at the Louisville, Kentucky track. She has also turned in two works over the dirt surface there in preparation for the Oaks, her final work coming on Saturday, April 28 when she breezed five furlongs in an unimpressive 1:05.40.

Amie’s Dini, though a talented filly, seems to be outclassed in this group.

#14. Yara:
By the relatively unknown stallion Put It Back and out of a daughter of Gilded Time, Yara is not among the most royally bred of Kentucky Oaks entrants. She is, however, a direct descendant of the grade one-winning Reine De Course mare Happy Mood, who produced the granddam of the Canadian Triple Crown-winning and Hall of Fame member With Approval and his Hall of Fame-inducted half-brother, the Belmont Stakes (GI)-winning Touch Gold.

Yara’s first six races formed a pattern: fourth, then first, then fourth, then first, then fourth, and then first. Two of those wins were stakes victories, one of which came in the Davona Dale Stakes (GII) over Grace Hall. Following that triumph, Yara broke the pattern by finishing a distant fifth in the Gulfstream Oaks Stakes (GII).

Though it’s encouraging that her final work came at Churchill Downs, it was quite a relatively unsatisfactory work. It was a slow final time of 51 seconds flat for a half-mile and she changed leads to the incorrect lead in the stretch. She is not the best work horse, but the final preparation did not help her case in the Oaks.

Yara is an endowed filly, but I don’t think she will win the Kentucky Oaks, as she seems to be outshone by many of her competitors.

Also Eligible:

#15. Oaks Lily:
No other filly is as fittingly named as Oaks Lily, who was clearly named for this race since no name in her immediate family hints at that name. By the multiple graded stakes winner at nine furlongs, Badge of Silver, and out of a half-sister to a multiple stakes victor at one mile or longer, Oaks Lily is confirmed for the nine-furlong distance of the Kentucky Oaks.

Oddly, Oaks Lily is coming off a win in a maiden special weight. In fact, all but one of her starts have come in a maiden special weight. The only race that she has contested in that was not a maiden was the OBS Championship Stakes for fillies in March, in which she finished second. She has only finished in the money in half of her starts.

Her final work came on Friday, April 27 at Churchill Downs – a track at which she finished eleventh in her only start there. She completed a half-mile in 49.40 seconds.

I do not expect for Oaks Lily to perform well in the race for which she is named, as she is outclassed by this group. More than likely, however, she will not draw in.

My top selection is On Fire Baby, though it is a close call between her and Grace Hall. I also expect for Summer Applause to run a very good race. Of course, since it is a tough field, I believe horses such as Karlovy Vary, Hard Not to Like, and Eden’s Moon should not be ignored, either. No filly has yet stamped herself at the top of this class, but following the Run for the Lilies, the sophomore fillies picture should be much clearer. And should the winner of the Kentucky Oaks continue to be successful this year, she could very well become the fifth victor of the Oaks to be voted Champion Three-Year-Old Filly since 2007. 

Plum Pretty, winner of the 2011 Kentucky Oaks
Photo: Terri Cage
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