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Kentucky Oaks Preview: Paradise Woods Ready for the Challenge

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Steven Sarkowsky and Marty and Pam Wygod’s Paradise Woods has been installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite in a field of 14 3-year-old fillies and one also-eligible entered Tuesday for the 143rd running of the $1 million Longines Kentucky Oaks that serves as the centerpiece of Friday’s 13-race program.

The Longines Kentucky Oaks, run at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, will go as the 11th race with a 6:12 p.m. (all times Eastern) post time. If all 14 run, the winner’s share will be $564,200.

Trained by Richard Mandella, Paradise Woods made her stakes debut a memorable one, taking the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks by 11 3/4 lengths in her most recent start. Flavien Prat, who was aboard the filly in all three of her starts, has the mount Friday and will break from post position four.

The next two choices on Mike Battaglia’s morning line are two fillies riding winning streaks: Miss Sky Warrior and Farrell.

Owned by Arlene’s Sun Star Stable and trained by Kelly Breen, Miss Sky Warrior has won her past five starts, four of those coming in graded stakes. Listed at 9-2 on the morning line, Miss Sky Warrior is the only filly in the field to have won at the Oaks distance of nine furlongs, in the Grade 2 Gazelle that she won by 13 lengths. Paco Lopez has the mount and will break from post position 10.

Coffeepot Stables’ Farrell, winner of last fall’s Grade 2 Golden Rod at Churchill Downs by six lengths, has won her past four starts, highlighted by daylight victories in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra and the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks. Trained by Wayne Catalano, Farrell is 5-1 on the morning line and will be ridden by Channing Hill. Farrell will break from post position seven.

Top Choice

#4 Paradise Woods – It’s really amazing how horse racing works. California lost a superstar when Unique Bella went down with an injury right before the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, and the horse racing world was at a loss for who would be the Kentucky Oaks favorite. Paradise Woods stepped up and filled those shoes with ease, romping in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks by 12 lengths. Her speed figure came back faster than any other 3-year-old in the country, regardless of gender, so she could even be competitive in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Richard Mandella has compared her to Beholder, so that speaks volumes as to just how good she might become. All of these factors are too much for me to ignore, and if she can run back to that last race, I think that the rest of this group will be hard-pressed to keep up with her.

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#10 Miss Sky Warrior – She comes into the biggest race of her life on a FIVE-race winning streak! Last time out was a breakthrough performance when she dominated to win the Grade 2 Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct by 13 lengths. She has two other Grade 2 victories and a Grade 3 victory as well, and I think she even has the perfect running style for this race. She doesn’t need the lead, but you can count on her being in a good stalking position, especially from her outside post. Things couldn’t be more positive for her heading into this race.

#7 Farrell – Farrell enters on a four-race winning streak, all four of which were romps. She was basically a wire-to-wire winner in the first three races, but last time out in the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks, she showed that she could sit off the pace and still win. I love that they tried to experiment and that it worked out well. Sitting off the speed will be important in a race like this, where the pace can certainly be hot. It’s hard to knock this filly in any way, and it’s important to note that Fair Grounds horses have had great success in the Kentucky Oaks.

#14 Salty – The 14 hole is not the most ideal position for Salty, but with her “drop back and make one run” style, it might not be all that bad. She fell way behind early on last time out in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, but when she came running down the stretch, she passed them all with ease. She comes into the race with just three races under her belt, which is a cause for concern, but she won two of those three races impressively and only lost the other (her debut) by a neck. If the pace is swift enough, you can count on her coming with a serious run down the lane.

Exotic Plays

#6 Vexatious – This horse has a little bit of talent, but just how much talent, I’m not quite sure. She made her 3-year-old debut against the boys in what a loaded allowance race at Santa Anita, finishing a decent third. However, when she shipped to Fair Grounds for the Fair Grounds Oaks in her next race, she was no match for Farrell and again finished third. She finished third yet again in her most recent effort, the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes, in a race that she should have won if not for a poor trip. I’m not convinced that she’s good enough to win, but she makes sense underneath.

#11 Tequilita – She really had to prove herself at Gulfstream Park over the winter and did just that, winning the Grade 2 Forward Gal at a big price in her 3-year-old debut. After that big win, she finished second in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks, but Salty beat her fairly easily. I’m not sure she can turn the tables on a horse like Salty today, but she’s good enough to hit the board.

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Party Crashers

#13 Abel Tasman – In horse racing, things change rapidly. For proof, just take a look at the story of this horse. Two races back, she put quite a scare into superstar Unique Bella, giving her a challenge before eventually finishing a solid second. Unique Bella was going to be the heavy favorite for this race. However, with Unique Bella’s injury, it was Abel Tasman who became the headline horse for the Oaks. That didn’t last long, though, as Paradise Woods blew her away in the Santa Anita Oaks. Also, in between those two races, her owners decided to switch her training duties to Bob Baffert because Abel Tasman hadn’t worn the proper silks in her previous race. There’s a lot going on with this horse, but she does have quite a bit of talent. I’m not sure she can make up nearly 12 lengths on Paradise Woods, but if you want to play a price, this one makes the most sense by far.

Throw Outs

#8 Sailor’s Valentine – She won the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes last time out over a questionable field. Her speed numbers, no matter which ones you look at, don’t match up with this group at all. I think she’s up against it here in a big way.

#12 Daddys Lil’ Darling – It was a complete head-scratcher when this filly started on turf for her 3-year-old debut, but after that race, she overcame a rough trip to run a fast-closing second in the Ashland. I’m expecting a decent race out of her, so if you’re feeling lucky, you might sprinkle her underneath. I do think she’ll come with a run at the end.

#1 Ever So Clever – It’s been really hard to get a read on this one. She was running poorly entering the Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes last time out, yet she came flying late to pick up the win. The Fantasy was not the strongest race, though, so I’ll need her to prove it to me again.

#2 Lockdown – She entered the Gazelle last time out on a two-race winning streak, but Miss Sky Warrior smoked her by 13 lengths. That’s a lot of ground to make up in a race where Miss Sky Warrior might not by the best filly.

#3 Mopotism – It’s hard to ignore the fact that Paradise Woods beat her by 14 lengths last time out, or that Abel Tasman defeated her by a few lengths in that race as well. She seems like she could be a quality filly, but maybe not in a race of this magnitude.

#5 Jordan’s Henny – She broke her maiden to finish up her 2-year-old season and ran competitively with Miss Sky Warrior two races back at Gulfstream Park. She might have the talent to hang around, but she’s most likely a small cut below this group.

#9 Wicked Lick – She hasn’t won a race since September of 2016, but the good news is that the win came at Churchill Downs. She’ll have to hope she really loves this track, though, because her recent form won’t be good enough to beat this tough bunch.

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