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After waiting four extra months, the biggest race of the year for 3-year-old fillies has finally arrived.
By the looks of this field, it may end up being well worth the wait: three of the best horses in the country – regardless of age or gender – headline the field of nine lined up to contest this Friday’s running of the $1.25 milliion Kentucky Oaks (G1), the highlight race on a card loaded with stakes action.
The flashiest resume belongs to Swiss Skydiver, who has been nothing short of brilliant this season. She has racked up 4 graded stakes victories this year, all at different tracks, and dominated her rivals last time out in the Alabama Stakes (G1) to prove that she is in top form. Earlier in the year, she also took on the boys in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) and finished a solid second. She drew the rail for this race and will have Tyler Gaffalione back aboard.
The freakishly-fast Gamine shipped in from California for Bob Baffert, who obviously knows a thing or two about winning big races. This filly has been nothing short of breathtaking in her last 2 starts, taking home the Acorn Stakes (G1) and the Test Stakes (G1) in dominant fashion. Her only question mark is the Oaks’ 1 1/8-mile distance; both blowout victories came in one-turn races. John Velazquez will be back aboard as Gamine breaks from post 5.
The big challenger to the top two horses is Speech, who comes into this event after an impressive blowout victory in the Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland. This filly is also the only one to come close to beating Gamine; she narrowly lost an Oaklawn Park allowance by a neck. Speech has drawn post four for this contest, with Javier Castellano in the saddle.
The full field from the rail out: Swiss Skydiver, Tempers Rising, Donna Veloce, Speech, Gamine, Bayerness, Shedaresthedevil, Hopeful Growth, and Dream Marie.
#5 Gamine – After a lot of thought and consideration, I had to stick with my gut feeling that Gamine might be something truly special. I’m picking her despite the distance question marks, but those are legit, so this is not a spot where I would feel comfortable singling her. As far as a win bet goes, she’s the play based on her freakishly-fast last 2 races. If she can display that sort of speed once again, then it’s very hard to see anyone catching her. She also drew the perfect post for this race, which adds to her appeal. This could end up being the race of the year if Gamine and Swiss Skydiver both show up with their best efforts.
#1 Swiss Skydiver – This was one of the most difficult decisions of my handicapping career. Going against a horse like Swiss Skydiver is nearly impossible, especially with her outstanding resume and proven form going this distance. To be clear, she will be on every exotic ticket that I play, and she should probably be the favorite. I just believe that Gamine’s talent level is something special, which is why I eventually landed on her to win. Take nothing away from Swiss Skydiver, though, as this is one fantastic filly.
#4 Speech – This filly is in the best form of her life after winning the Ashland and is the only horse to come close to beating Gamine, but Swiss Skydiver beat her easily in the Santa Anita Oaks (G2), and that has to be in the back of your mind. Still, she has major talent and will likely be triple the price of the other big two horses in this race, making her the value play.
#7 Shedaresthedevil – If any of the big three fail to show up, this is the most logical candidate to hit the board. She has shown consistency all year long, picking up big wins in the Honeybee Stakes (G3) and Indiana Oaks (G3), but she lost to Swiss Skydiver by several lengths in the Fantasy Stakes (G3). She still has a long way to go before she can compete at the top.
#3 Donna Veloce – She was an early leading contender for the Oaks before injuries sidelined her for most of 2020. She has just 1 start this season, an easy win in the Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) back in March. She has the talent to make some noise here, but the long layoff is worrisome. You’d think that she’ll need a race before being able to compete with this group.
#8 Hopeful Growth – After winning the Monmouth Oaks (G3) last time out, it makes sense to take a big swing here. She doesn’t match up with the top three horses in this spot, but if someone doesn’t show up with her best effort, she could hit the board at a price.
#2 Tempers Rising – She has just 1 victory on her resume, coming in a maiden special weight over this track back in November. She’ll be hard-pressed to make an impact without some major improvement, even with longshot specialist Dallas Stewart training her.
#9 Dream Marie – This filly started off her 3-year-old campaign with a Gulfstream Park allowance victory, but she’s lost 6 straight since then. This will be her toughest race yet by a wide margin, and that doesn’t bode well for her chances.
#6 Bayerness – After 2 straight victories to start her career, this filly hasn’t found the winner’s circle She ran a decent third in the Indiana Oaks (G3) last time out, but this race will be a much tougher test.
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