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The Grade II $200,000 Rachel Alexandra Stakes has become a vital prep for not only the Grade II $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks five weeks later over the same Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots main track and 1 1/16-miles distance, but also the Grade I $1,000,000 Longines Kentucky Oaks five weeks after that. In 2017, the field is filled with quality befitting of such a champion as Rachel Alexandra, who easily annexed the 2009 Fair Grounds Oaks.
Stonestreet Stables’ Valadorna leads the way in the field of seven and exits a deceptively easy victory in first-level allowance company on Jan. 27 at a mile and 70 yards and has been working very well over this surface since December. Trained by Mark Casse, who has been winning with a quarter of his entrants this meet, the daughter of Curlin has a slight class edge on her foes, having finished second two starts back in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies by a diminishing three-quarters of a length at this distance after being held up for what might have been a vital second midway on the far turn. Regular rider Julien Leparoux once again rides from post five.
Though she may have Grade I ‘cred’, Valadorna has yet to win a stakes event in her four starts and will be challenged by two formidable graded stakes winners in Coffeepot Stables’ homebred Farrell, from the barn of three-time Breeders’ Cup-winning conditioner Wayne Catalano, as well as ERJ Racing, W C Racing and Dennis O’Neill’s Shane’s Girlfriend, who ships in for the powerful California-based Doug O’Neill string. The former was a clear victor in the local prep for this event, the Listed $145,000 Silverbulletday Stakes on Jan. 21, and romped two months prior at this trip in the Grade II Golden Rod Stakes at Churchill Downs. Channing Hill rides from post two.
Shane’s Girlfriend owns the highest speed figures in the field on the strength of a 13¼-length romp in Delta Downs’ Grade III Delta Princess two back on Nov. 19 and should be a serious pace threat after kicking off her season in a swiftly run renewal of the seven-furlong Grade II Santa Ynez on Jan. 8. Dodging the big gray bullet that is divisional leader Unique Bella – the 7½-length romper that day – Shane’s Girlfriend ships east for a barn that did the same with Land Over Sea last season to win the Fair Grounds Oaks with aplomb. Mario Gutierrez rides from post three.
#3 Shane’s Girlfriend – I’ll start with this: If the morning line holds up and this horse 3-1 it will be the best bet of the year so far! I’m not saying she’s a dead lock to win this one, but she should definitely be the favorite in the race. Two races back she won the Delta Downs Princess Stakes by an eye-popping thirteen and a half lengths and jumped up to number one on everyone’s Kentucky Oaks list. Last time out though she ran into Unique Bella…and it wasn’t pretty. Unique Bella is going to make a lot of horses look bad though, and O’Neill has brought this horse to Fair Grounds to pick up a win. I’m excited to see if she bounces back from that loss last time, and returns to the form we know she produce.
#2 Farrell – She keeps proving her worth as she’s now won back to back stakes races, and there is really no reason she can’t win another one with a solid effort here. If Shane’s Girlfriend wasn’t in the race Farrell would be my overwhelming pick, but Shane’s Girlfriend’s race at Delta Downs was just too good for me to ignore. However, look for Farrell to run well, and she has the home track advantage on her side.
#1 Untapped – I’m not going to get overly upset with her poor effort last time out in the Silverbulletday Stakes as she may have just hated the sloppy track. She had never ran on anything but a fast track so it could be a legit excuse. However, there is no way I’ll play her on top again until she proves that the track was the problem. I’d hate to have her knock my out of a pick four though so I think she’s one you have to include.
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#5 Valadorna – Until it’s form is proven differently I can’t play any of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies runners on top. The race looks to be very weak on paper right now as it’s winner Champaign Room ran poorly in her three year old debut. Valadorna did win her three year old debut by a half length in an allowance over this track, but it wasn’t overly impressive to me. At a short price I think she’s worth a play against.
NONE – The top four I have listed would not be a surprise and the bottom three I have listed have very little chance. No upsets in this one that I can see.
#4 Majestic Quality – Just simply seems to be outclassed in this spot which has come up extremely tough. Still a maiden so this is an odd entry.
#6 Wicked Luck – Nothing wrong with how she’s been running, but in the end I’m not sure she can compete with this group as its tougher than anything she’s faced yet. Nice enough horse though.
#7 Gris Gris – Maybe should have put her in the exotic category as she does seem to put in a solid effort every time. However, I just think as the fields gets tougher she’ll have a tougher time competing.
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