Happy Kentucky Oaks day! The fields are drawn and the contenders are prepped, but before we take a look at the Oaks and Derby fields, we have some helpful last-minute references:
2014 Kentucky Derby Cheat Sheet
A quick thumbnail sketch of the field, perfect to share with your friends who are curious about the Derby. Send it to the folks attending your Derby party!
Going the Derby Distance 2014
Who has the pedigree to win the 2014 Kentucky Derby? And, perhaps more importantly, who does not?
2014 Kentucky Derby Running Styles
Taking a look at the 2014 Kentucky Derby field entrants’ running styles.
Ten Things You Should Know about the Kentucky Derby
Learning about the history of the Kentucky Derby has never been so easy!
Kentucky Derby History Watch
Find out which scenarios in this yearâ€™s Derby could result in Kentucky Derby history.
Hello Race Fans Oaks Cards Picks
We’ll also publish Derby card picks on Saturday, so be sure to come back!
Kentucky Oaks and Derby TV Schedule
Kentucky Oaks – 3pm ET NBC Sports Network
Kentucky Derby Undercard – 12 pm ET – NBC Sports Network
Kentucky Derby – 4pm ET – NBC
Kentucky Derby Post Race – 7pm ET NBC Sports Network
Check your local listings, and check the NBC site for other Derby related programming!
Have a great time and cash plenty of tickets!
News About the Contenders
Blood-Horse: Bad Foot Knocks Hoppertunity From Derby
Blood-Horse: Haskin Derby Report: A Whopper for Hopper
Blood-Horse: Starlight, Skychai Racing Buy General a Rod
Blood-Horse: Haskin’s Derby Report: Pletcher on Parade
Blood-Horse: Fiftyshadesofgold Will Start in Eight Belles
Blood-Horse: California Chrome Was Flashy From the Start
Blood-Horse: Zetcher Hopes for Lilies With Fashion Plate
Brisnet: Uncle Sigh continues McEwen’s quest to aid veterans
Brisnet: California Chrome jogs, ready to do more at Churchill Downs
Brisnet: Connections expect step forward for Oaks participants
Brisnet: Tapiture, Hoppertunity work in driving rain storm
Brisnet: Ria Antonia handles track and weather in Oaks work
Brisnet: Ring Weekend out with fever; Commanding Curve gets into Derby
Brisnet: Chitu throws protective shoe during drill from gate
DRF: Smaller ownership groups make their presence known in Kentucky Derby
DRF: Kentucky Derby: Who’s hot, who’s not for April 23
Churchill Downs, Friday May 2, post time: 5:49 PM ET
1 1/8 miles (9 furlongs)
The 140th running of the Kentucky Oaks features an incredibly talented field of 13, including five fillies that have already won or placed in a Grade 1 event. However, only two have attempted the 9 furlongs (1 1/8 miles) distance before, and that fact, along with the possibility of rain forecasted for Friday, makes this an interesting race to handicap (albeit, perhaps, for only place and show).
Appropriately enough given her current form, Untapable will be the post-time favorite. Her two starts this yearâ€”the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra and Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaksâ€”were superb performances, won with impressive ease by a combined 17 1/4 lengths. She began her juvenile campaign with two victories over this Churchill Downs dirt trackâ€”and then came an inexplicably poor showing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. Was it the razor-fast surface, the boisterous crowd or something else at Santa Anita that day that bothered her? Whatever it was, she appears to have put that clunker of a race behind her. Always a positive to see when handicapping, Untapable has twice won at Churchill Downs, including last year’s Grade 2 Pocahontas. Although she’s never attempted 9 furlongs, nor ever been faced with an off-track, neither should be an issueâ€”her half brother Paddy O’Prado finished a sharp-closing third over a sloppy track in the 2010 Kentucky Derby. Switched to turf, he later won the 10-furlong Grade 1 Secretariat and was a Grade 1 runner-up at 12 furlongs. Her red-hot sire Tapit won the 9-furlong Grade 1 Wood Memorial, while her damsire is 12-furlong Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Prizedâ€”this potent combination of stamina and speed has served her well thus far. She’ll break from the far outside post, with jockey Rosie Napravnik in search of her second Kentucky Oaks victory.
Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks winner Fashion Plate will undoubtedly take a lot of West Coast money. Unbeaten since switching to dirt, this filly likes to run on the front end and will likely be joined there by 9-furlong Grade 2 Gazelle winner My Miss Sophia. From of the first crop of 9-furlong Grade 2 Remsen winner Old Fashioned, Fashion Plate is out of the Australian-bred turf sprinting mare Miss Puzzle, so the real question about her is whether or not she can extend her speed over the 1 1/8 miles distance, especially if engaged in a speed duel by My Miss Sophia, a daughter of Old Fashioned’s sire Unbridled’s Song. Such a race scenario will likely favor Untapable or another late-closer with plenty of stamina.
In her 2014 debut, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Ria Antonia was no threat to Untapable in the Rachel Alexandra, finishing 14 lengths behind the winner. Switched to the barn of Bob Baffert, she returned to the site of her Breeders’ Cup victory and ran a non-threatening second to Fashion Plate in the Santa Anita Oaks. She has worked gangbusters in advance of this start, including a bullet 4-furlong (47.40) workout on a sloppy Churchill track on Monday, but a lack of stamina breeding in her pedigree doesn’t bode well for her chances against others in the field.
Grade 1 Ashland winner Rosalind may be overlooked by bettorsâ€”at their peril. She was closing best of all in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, finishing third and within a half-length of the top two. Twice she has finished behind Untapableâ€”once on dirt in the Pocahontas and once on synthetic in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet. In the latter race, she was just a nose behind the Oaks favorite at the wire, so she’s proven to be competitive with Untapable. While Rosalind hasn’t raced beyond 1 1/16 miles thus far, everything in her breeding suggests it won’t be a problem. Her sire Broken Vow won the 9-furlong Grade 2 Philip H. Iselin and was Grade 1-placed at 12 furlongs; her damsire Theatrical was a four-time Grade 1 winner at 12 furlongs, including winning the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Stamina is also visible in Rosalind‘s dam Critics Acclaim, who was a turf allowance winner at 10 furlongs. A quick early pace will set this deep closer up perfectly for a late-running challenge.
In addition to My Miss Sophia, the only other entrant that has already attempted 9 furlongs is her stablemate Grade 2 Demoiselle runner-up Got Lucky, but her chances in the Oaks aren’t help by her declining form. She’s been soundly defeated in her last two starts, first by Untapable and then by My Miss Sophia. Her breeding is impeccable: from the final crop of 12-furlong Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, Got Lucky comes from the same damline family as Belmont Stakes runner-up Bluegrass Cat and Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver. Although only a maiden winner (a dominant win, it should be noted, accomplished over a sloppy track), she’s never finished worse than second in all five lifetime starts. Particularly if the track is wet, this late closer may be worth a look at long odds.
Sugar Shock and Kiss Moon ran one-two in the Grade 3 Fantasy last out, with a mere half-length separating them when they hit the wire. Both are beautifully bred for stamina. A daughter of 10-furlong Grade 1 Pacific Classic winner Candy Ride, Sugar Shock is out of an unraced Distorted Humor mare whose own dam Unbridled Hope won the 10-furlong Grade 3 Ladies Handicap in dominating fashion. Kiss Moon is by lightly-raced Malibu Moon, a sire whose progeny include last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Orb; her dam Kiss the Devil was twice a 9-furlong Grade 3 runner-up on turf. Neither will likely be among most handicappers’ top three picks, but both have positives (beyond their stamina breeding) to recommend them. Frontrunning Sugar Shock gains the services of Calvin Borel, a jockey extremely knowledgeable and experienced when it comes to Churchill Downs. Kiss Moon also gets a jockey change, to Victor Espinoza, but more importantly, she’s put in two sharp 5-furlong workouts over this track and should be running well late.
Please Explain also comes out of the Fantasy where she failed horribly as the post-time favorite, finishing seventh of eight starters and 10 lengths behind the winner. Toss that race and her form isn’t bad, especially her maiden victory over Grade 2 Davona Dale runner-up House Rules. Again, like so many in this race, she’s bred to get the 1 1/8 miles, being by two-time 10-furlong Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Curlin, out of an unraced mare who’s a half sister to 10-furlong Grade 1 Pacific Classic winner Borrego.
In her last start, Unbridled Forever finished a distant third behind Untapable in the Fair Grounds Oaks, a race that her connections point out came after a two-month break, so she could have been ill-prepared for that start. Since then, she’s worked tremendously well, including a bullet 5-furlong workout last week, and she loves the track, having broken her maiden here last November in outstanding fashion. If ever a filly possessed a Kentucky Oaks pedigree, it’s Unbridled Forever, whose dam Lemons Forever captured the race in 2006 (and who also counts among her direct damline ancestors 1904 Kentucky Oaks winner Audience). Regular rider Robby Albarado will be aboard.
Thank You Marylou ran a distant third (7 lengths back) over Keeneland’s Polytrack in the Ashland. Returning to dirt may benefit her, but despite her promising pedigree (being by Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone out of a mare sired by Kentucky Derby runner-up Menifee), there are concerns about her ability to get the 9-furlong distance given that three of her four lifetime starts were sprints. A similar concern exists about Aurelia’s Belle. Twice this year she was easily beaten by the now-deceased Onlyforyou, and her recent victory in the one-mile Grade 3 Bourbonette Oaks came over Turfway’s Polytrack surface. A daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid, she’s beautifully bred for the distanceâ€”her second dam is a half sister to Eclipse Award winner Althea, a filly who equaled a track record in winning the 9-furlong Grade 1 Arkansas Derby over males.
Sunland Park Oaks runner-up Empress of Midway is the least experienced filly in the field, not just in terms of the number of starts she’s made, but more important, in terms of class. She’s never faced this kind of quality, and for a filly stretching out beyond 1 1/16 miles for the first time, it’s a huge negative. On the other hand, she does have an intriguing blend of stamina and speed in her pedigreeâ€”she’s a daughter of Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, and her second dam is a half-sister to Squall Linda, dam of the talented (and fast) Grade 1 winner Street Hero. Still, with so many talented and stamina-rich fillies in this race, it’s hard to back her chances.
Honestly, with such a competitive (and well-bred) field it’s hard to pick a winner here, but if you box these selections (after closely examining the contenders during the post parade and bearing in mind the track condition come post time), you’re likely to cash a winning ticket. Good luck!
Show: Unbridled Forever
Others for the exotics: Sugar Shock, Kiss Moon, Please Explain
News and Recaps
Untapable Turns It On in Kentucky Oaks
Untapable gives Napravnik second Oaks win
Kentucky Oaks: Untapable dominates despite wide trip
Favored Untapable Romps in 140th Running of Grade I Longines Kentucky Oaks in Front of 113,071
Update on all the Oaks runners on the day after the race (pdf) New
2014 Kentucky Oaks Replay
Kentucky Derby Derby
Churchill Downs, Saturday May 3, post time: 6:24 PM ET
1 1/4 miles (10 furlongs)
The Kentucky Derby this year is probably more notable for who isn’t here than who is. New Year’s Day, Social Inclusion, Honor Code, Shared Belief, Top Billing, Constitution, Havana, Cairo Prince and now Hoppertunity all didn’t make it through the demands of the Kentucky Derby prep season. Still, here we are with 20 horses lined up for the first classic of the season. Some think this is simply a formality for California Chrome, and others think that Wicked Strong fits the Derby-winning profile. Let’s take a look at the field.
California Chrome is a deserving morning line favorite at 5/2, having won four races in a row, capped by a Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby tour de force. There’s frankly not a lot to knock, as he’s probably the most imposing Derby favorite since Big Brown in 2008. If one were looking for reasons to oppose California Chrome, they are there. His last two efforts in the aforementioned Santa Anita Derby and the Grade 2 San Felipe may have been aided by speed-biased tracks in addition to being trouble-free trips. He’s been running for over a year now without any significant layoffs, and you could say there’s not much room for further improvement. He might not have to improve much in this particular instance to win, but at the short price and with a running style that puts him closer to an early pace that’s expected to be hotly contested, he has the feel of Derby favorite who backed into favoritism more by default, because of the other promising 3-year-olds who aren’t here.
Much has been made about Wicked Strong’s form reversal in winning the Grade 1 Wood Memorial. Why did he run so poorly in Florida? Is he a horse-for-course at Aqueduct? Sometimes horses just don’t like particular surfaces, and this could be compounded by the fact that his late closing kick was nullified on a track at Gulfstream that is not favorable to closers. There’s almost too much to like as he fits the profile of recent Derby winners who come from well off the pace. He’s got the pedigree and he decisively defeated perhaps the strongest group assembled for a Kentucky Derby prep race this year. He should be well backed come Saturday despite a not ideal-draw outside in post 19.
At third choice on the morning line, Danza is certainly one of the tougher horses to handicap in here. His 41-1 Grade 1 Arkansas Derby win was a shocker. It was also his first two-turn effort and that gives him license to improve. The problem is, how does one gauge the Arkansas Derby effort? Was that huge effort an aberration or a sign of a horse that could be expected to further improve? One can excuse his distant third in his return to the races as a 3-year-old at Gulfstream. He was wide while chasing a slow pace against an odds-on stablemate. The speed figure gurus are usually wary of horses who improve as much as Danza did, but the bottom line is that there is no other horse with as much upside in the field.
Intense Holiday took turns with Vicar’s in Trouble in a pair of Fair Grounds races. His last effort in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby was cause for concern as he lost his concentration in the stretch and bumped into the rail on his own volition. He’s a closer in a race where there are better closers to be found, and if you like him at his 8-1 morning line, you must like Vicar’s in Trouble at 20-1, no?
Having won three of his last four starts, all at Fair Grounds, including a wire-to-wire score in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, Vicar’s in Trouble is poorly drawn in post 1. He’s been quietly dismissed by some as a horse whose modest pedigree is ill-suited for classic distances. As a multiple graded stakes winner in a field with only a handful of them, there are worse 20-1 morning line shots in recent Derby history than Vicar’s in Trouble.
Samraat has never run a poor race while showing slight improvement with each start as the distances have gotten longer. There’s not much to knock here, and it would be surprising should his 15-1 morning line price drift upwards by post time. His running style is more of a tracker, and that got him beat last time in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial when chasing a legitimate pace, which left him vulnerable to late-closing Wicked Strong. He could be one of the horses who is best positioned to inherit the lead at the top of the stretch should the expected hot pace develop, and if past Kentucky Derbys are any indication, that should be good enough for at least a share late.
Lightly raced Chitu has won three of four career starts and he’s one of a just a few in here that still have some upside. He’s been only two turns twice and was competitive in both, particularly in defeat to Candy Boy in the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis when he was running against a closers bias at Santa Anita. Though Chitu has shown plenty of early speed, he’s also shown an ability to rate, and while that alone may not be good enough to win this, he’s naturally fast and talented enough to be last of the early speed group still going as they turn for home.
Wildcat Red and General a Rod have taken turns beating each other in a trio of races at Gulfstream Park. Both have displayed early speed, which is in asset at Gulfstream but perhaps a liability in this race. Of the two, General a Rod would seem to have the most upside, having raced wide in each of those efforts while giving up ground to a faster horse early in Wildcat Red. Still, both project to be part of the early pace, but neither is likely to factor in the result.
Tapiture won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club over this track and subsequently won the Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn. One gets the feeling that we’ve already seen his best efforts. Still, he’s another one with a pedigree for 10 furlongs that’s a cut above the rest, and while he hasn’t taken the step forward that earlier efforts this winter portended, he has shown some of the necessary grit needed when he fought back for second in the Grade 2 Rebel.
Dance With Fate is certainly an interesting addition to the field as he’ll likely be dismissed as a synthetic and turf surface specialist, but there are excuses to be found in his poor effort in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in that he had a bad break and raced wide on both turns. His other effort on dirt before that in the Grade 1 FrontRunner was a decent second in September last year. The bottom line is that he’s improved as a 3-year-old and he’s one who is likely to benefit from a contested early pace.
Ride On Curlin has danced a lot of dances and he’s settled for minor placings in all five tries in graded stakes company. Though both wins have come sprinting, he has had some impossible trips while routing. He’s reunited with a Churchill specialist in Calvin Borel, and that alone is sure to attract some wagering dollars, which probably tips him from a decent longshot to an overbet horse.
Uncle Sigh is putting the blinkers on for the first time and that certainly throws a wrench in the puzzle of early pace. Trainer Gary Contessa claims that it will relax him, but the early speed he’s shown in the Grade 3 Withers and Grade 3 Gotham when coming up short against Samraat begs to differ with the trainer’s assessment. Given his lone win in a New York-bred maiden race in December, it’s difficult to envision him turning the tables on rival Samraat. On the other hand, if you do like Samraat, Uncle Sigh is certainly worthy of closer consideration.
Candy Boy has certainly shown the type of improvement that would normally automatically warrant a closer look, but that closer look reveals that his best effort, in the Grade 2 Robert B Lewis, was earned under optimal circumstances: a track profile that day that fit his running style, some pace to run at while saving ground, and a trouble-free trip. He chased California Chrome in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and just couldn’t keep up, and while that change of tactics was warranted for that particular day, a return to a closing running style may find him in too deep with some of the other, better closers in here.
Medal Count is something of a buzz horse, as he’s started to put it all together with back-to-back strong efforts at Keeneland on the synthetic only eight days apart last month. Adding to the allure is one of the few solid stamina pedigrees in the field. The problem is that this will be his third start in the last 29 days and that may be too much too ask, especially at the classic distance of 10 furlongs.
Vinceremos threw a total clunker last time when finishing dead last in the Grade 1 Blue Grass, but his dirt efforts before that were decent enough to warrant a second look. Both efforts in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and Grade 3 Sam F. Davis were game and gritty,, and that’s something not picked up with speed figures, which is an area where he falls short compared to the rest of the field.
Impossible to make a case for Harry’s Holiday as nothing more than an early pace presence. We Miss Artie is something of synthetic surface specialist whose worst efforts have come on dirt. Commanding Curve may finally get the fast pace his closing style suits and at 50-1 is worth consideration to hit the board.
Placings: Chitu, Commanding Curve (Place), Vinceremos
News and Recaps
California Chrome dazzles in Kentucky Derby
California Chrome Shines in Kentucky Derby
Kentucky Derby: California Chrome makes it look easy
How the Derby horses are doing the morning after New
2014 Kentucky Derby Replay
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