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Kentucky Oaks among many other great contests on Derby weekend

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
Kentucky Oaks among many other great contests on Derby weekend
Nest (orange and blue), shown winning the Demoiselle earlier this year, is the morning-line favorite for Friday's Kentucky Oaks. Photo by Joe Labozzetta, courtesy of New York Racing Association

May 6 (UPI) -- One of the downsides of big races like the Kentucky Derby is they tend to eclipse some other top-shelf racing going on around them, including the Kentucky Oaks, the Friday feature at Churchill Downs that shapes up as a classic.

There are lots of other stakes action, too, from New York to California and from Florida to Toronto, on turf and dirt, at virtually all the distances known to American racing.

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And, while it's Derby weekend in Louisville, the candidates for the original Derby are still sorting themselves out for the June 4 renewal at Epsom Downs in England.

Wednesday's Group 3 Chester Vase saw the Coolmore forces atop the Godolphin blue as that global duel between those behemoths continues unabated. See the "Around the world ..." section for more.

RELATED Kentucky Derby: Pace makes the race, but only if fortune smiles

Saturday's $3 million Grade I Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs has all the major players. All that's needed now is good fortune from the racing gods. Oh, and maybe a break from the forecast of nasty weather.

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We preview the Derby separately, so we have room here for all the rest of the great racing this weekend. By any measure, Friday's feature under the Twin Spires is among the greatest of them.

Distaff

How can you tell Friday's $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks is a cracker of a race? How about when undefeated Echo Zulu, last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and Eclipse Award champion, is not the favorite?

Also down the morning-line odds are undefeated Kathleen O., winner of the Gulfsream Park Oaks; Nostalgic, winner of the Gazelle at Belmont Park; Yuugiri, winner of the Fantasy at Oaklawn Park; and Desert Dawn, winner of the Santa Anita Oaks.

Then there's Shahama, undefeated winner of the UAE Oaks in Dubai; and Secret Oath, whose bid to take on the boys in the Kentucky Derby was thwarted only by a solid third-place finish in the Arkansas Derby.

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In some years, any of those could be the favorite for Friday's prestigious Oaks. This year, the favorite is Nest, a Curlin filly trained by Todd Pletcher who has won three of her four previous starts, but appears to be peaking at just the right time with an 8 1/4-length victory in the Grade I Ashland at Keeneland on April 8.

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Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia makes Nest the 5-2 favorite, with Kathleen O. at 7-2 and Echo Zulu at 4-1.

Those looking to beat Nest will cast a jaundiced eye on her victories in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and the Ashland. The fillies who finished second and third in the Suncoast have shown nothing in their subsequent starts.

And the Ashland runner-up, Cocktail Moments, has only a maiden win to show from four starts. The Ashland also was contested on a wet-fast track on a miserably cold and rainy day in Lexington.

On the flip side of that, the weather guessers had rain and thunderstorms in Thursday night's and Friday's forecast for Louisville. Previous winners on wet tracks? Nest, Echo Zulu, Kathleen O., Shahama and Gazelle runner-up Venti Valentine.

One more thing: It will be interesting to see how Shahama does in the Oaks as the UAE Derby winner, Crown Pride, is set to tackle the Kentucky Derby the following day. An Oaks-Derby double ex Dubai would be a shocker to the Bluegrass bluebloods.

Among the older distaffers:

Shedaresthedevil and Pauline's Pearl are the morning-line picks in a field of seven for Friday's $750,000 Grade I La Troienne at 1 1/16 miles on the Churchill Downs dirt.

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Shedaresthedevil is 5-for-5 under the Twin Spires, including the 2020 Kentucky Oaks. But she was third in her last start, the Grade II Azeri at Oaklawn Park, trailing Ce Ce and Pauline's Pearl home after leading through the early furlongs.

Pauline's Pearl was eighth in last year's Oaks in her only previous appearance in Louisville. Battle Bling comes from New York in good form and could benefit from a pace battle.

Sunday's $100,000 Serena's Song for at Monmouth Park has a field of 10, led by Leader of the Band, winner of last year's Grade III Monmouth Oaks. Most of the rest are allowance types.

Sunday's $200,000 Grade II Ruffian for fillies and mares at Belmont Park attracted six. Chad Brown's operation saddles two -- Royal Flag, a multiple graded stakes winner who was fifth in the 2021 Breeders' Cup Distaff, and last year's Grade I Acorn winner Search Results.

Zaajel, a Shadwell homebred filly from the Todd Pletcher barn, also is dangerous in this spot.

Classic / Dirt Mile

Olympiad rolls into Friday's $500,000 Grade II Alysheba at Churchill Downs as the 9-5 morning-line favorite after three straight wins. In his latest, the 4-year-old Speightstown colt won the Grade II New Orleans Classic by 2 lengths.

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Chief rival in the 1 1/16-miles test would appear to be Happy Saver, a 5-year-old by Super Saver who was a close second in the Grade I Clark Stakes over the course in his last start back in November.

Dean's List gets the best grade on the morning line for Saturday's $100,000 Long Branch for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park.

The Speightstown colt, trained by Todd Pletcher, finished second in the Grade III Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct in March, behind only one-time Kentucky Derby contender Morello.

Dash Attack, Glider and Fluid Situation all could figure as they come down the stretch, down the shore.

Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Pat Day Mile at Churchill Downs is the long-awaited comeback race for Jack Christopher, a Munnings colt not seen since winning the Grade I Champagne at Belmont Park last October.

Also in the 12-horse field is Pappacap, runner-up in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile, finally dialed back off classic distances after finishing a fading fifth in the Florida Derby in his most recent.

Greatest Honour and Cody's Wish stand out among five in for Saturday's $200,000 Grade III Westchester at Belmont Park.

Greatest Honour, winner of last year's Grade II Fountain of Youth and third in the Florida Derby, exits a third-place finish in the Grade III Ghostzapper Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

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He was sixth, however, in March in the Grade III Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs with Cody's Wish second.

Locally-based Shared Sense and recent California import Dream Shake are the morning-line favorites in Saturday's $160,000 Knicks Go Stakes at Churchill Downs. The latter was third in the 2021 Santa Anita Derby, then finished second in the Pat Day Mile in his previous visit to Churchill Downs.

Sprint

Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Churchill Downs Stakes again pits Aloha West against Jackie's Warrior.

The two last met in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Del Mar with Aloha West rolling down the stretch to win by a nose while Jackie's Warrior, the odds-on favorite, faded to finish sixth.

Jackie's Warrior returned to win the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 16, while Aloha West has been idle since Del Mar. Also here is Cezanne, transferred from Bob Baffert to Todd Pletcher after finishing second in the Grade III Oaklawn Mile.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Derby City Distaff at Churchill Downs has a field of eight, with the talent level befitting its status and purse.

The field includes the top four from last month's Grade I Madison at Keeneland -- Just One Time, Bell's the One, Kimari and Lady Rocket; Obligatory, winner of the Grade III Hurricane Bertie at Gulfstream Park in her last; and Edgeway, last seen winning the Grade III Las Flores at Santa Anita by 7 lengths.

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Matareya looks like the one to beat in Friday's $500,000 Grade II Eight Belles for 3-year-old fillies at Churchill Downs.

The Godolphin homebred filly by Pioneerof the Nile seeks her third straight win. In the last, she claimed the Grade III Beaumont at Keeneland going the same 7 furlongs by 8 1/2 lengths.

This is tougher with Pretty Birdy, winner of the Purple Martin at Oaklawn Park, Marissa's Lady, winner of five from six starts, Gerrymander, winner of the Tempted at Belmont Park and Ain't Easy, third in the Santa Anita Oaks, all in the mix.

Boardroom swings back into action in Sunday's $150,000 (Canadian) Whimsical for fillies and mares on the Woodbine all-weather. The 5-year-old Commissioner mare has five wins, a second and a third from seven career starts, all at Woodbine, including last year's Whimsical.

Turf

Saturday's $1 million Grade I Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic at Churchill Downs has a field of 10, three of them trained by Chad Brown and, despite the purse and Grade I status, none from overseas.

Brown's trio are Adhamo, second in the Grade III Fair Grounds Stakes in his last, Tribhuvan, winner of the 2021 Grade I United Nations; and Public Sector, who makes his first start of the season after going 3-for-4.

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Shirl's Speight rides a three-race win skein into the Turf Classic, including last month's Grade I Maker's Mark Mile at Keeneland. Six-year-old Ivar is a dependable, top-level competitor.

But as a group, this field could be in trouble if some really good Europeans travel for the big-money turf races in New York this summer or Churchill's "Arlington Million" weekend in August.

Sy Dog, undefeated after three starts, is the morning-line pick among 11 3-year-olds entered for Saturday's $500,000 Grade II American Turf at Churchill Downs. He won the Grade III Transylvania at Keeneland in his last start.

Several others were also-rans in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf and several more come from the Grade III Jeff Ruby Steaks on the all-weather course at Turfway Park.

Chad Brown sends out the two favorites -- Rockemperor and Sacred Life -- in a field of eight for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Fort Marcy at Belmont Park. He also has a third string in L'Imperator.

Filly & Mare Turf

Bleecker Street, undefeated after five starts, is the morning-line favorite in a field of nine set for Friday's $250,000 Grade III Modesty at Churchill Downs.

The Quality Road filly, trained by Chad Brown, won the Grade III Endeavour and Grade II Hillsborough at Tampa Bay Downs in her last two starts.

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Also of note in this event, transplanted from the defunct Arlington Park, is another from the Brown barn, Fluffy Socks, who has hit the board in 10 of 12 starts, many of them graded stakes.

Friday's $500,000 Grade II Edgewood at Churchill Downs is 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-old fillies. We've learned to look for Chad Brown charges in this kind of race and the Edgewood is no exception as he has not just three, but the three favorites.

Dolce Zel and Spicer finished first and second in the Grade III Florida Oaks at Tampa Bay Downs in March and McKulick makes her 3-year-old bow after finishing a close third in the Grade II Miss Grillo at Belmont Park Oct. 20 in her most recent.

Four of the six 3-year-old fillies entered for Saturday's $100,000 Grade III Senorita at Santa Anita were bred in Ireland, one in England and one in Florida. None stands out, and the winner will have reversed a trend of good but not great efforts.

Turf Mile

Saturday's $500,000 Grade II Longines Distaff Turf Mile for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs looks like a battle between two foreign-breds trained by Chad Brown.

French-bred Speak of the Devil makes her first U.S. start after a successful career in France. In Italian, a British-bred filly, has won the last three of four starts, all in Florida. Lady Speightspeare also should be in the mix.

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Already in the books: Gray's Fable led from gate to wire in Thursday's $160,000 Opening Verse Stakes at Churchill Downs and held on to win by a head over Hidden Stash. Mr Dumas, the favorite, finished third.

Gray's Fable, a 7-year-old Gio Ponti gelding, finished 1 mile on firm going in 1:36.22 for jockey Luis Saez.

Turf Sprint

Big Invasion came running three-wide at the top of the stretch in Wednesday's $200,000 William Walker Stakes for 3-year-olds at Churchill Downs, cleared the field in the final furlong and won by 2 lengths over B D Valeski. Run Curtis Run was third.

Big Invasion, a Declaration of War colt trained by Christophe Clement, got 5 1/2 furlongs on firm turf in 1:03.73 while winning for the third straight time.

Friday's $500,000 Grade II TwinSpires Turf Sprint at Churchill Downs immediately precedes the Kentucky Oaks. The Oaks should be no problem for punters who can crack the Turf Sprint.

Thirteen are entered, including the Wesley Ward-trained Arrest Me Red, Qatar Racing's Royal Ascot nominee Caravel and 2021 Kentucky Downs winner The Lir Jet plus four others coming from wins in their last start.

There's plenty of speed, some stalking types and a few whose records show versatility that might be useful in this mix.

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Already in the books: Toby's Heart rallied six-wide from next-last in a field of eight to win Thursday's $200,000 Unbridled Sydney for fillies and mares at Churchill Downs by a neck over Change of Control. Goin' Good was third.

Toby's Heart, a 4-year-old daughter of Jack Milton, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on firm going in 1:04.11 with Jose Ortiz up.

Juvenile

Tom's Regret arrived at Thursday's $200,000 Kentucky Juvenile at Churchill Downs the winner of her only previous race at Santa Anita. That was a laugher, as she destroyed three rivals, winning by 11 1/2 lengths.

She had to work a little harder this time around, but not much. After shrugging off a mild early challenge, the Tom's Tribute filly opened up a daylight lead in the stretch and rolled home a winner by 1 length over The Big Wam.

With Tyler Baze in the irons, Tom's Regret ran 5 furlongs on a fast track in 58.23 seconds.

Marathon

Lone Rock was alone on the lead through the last half mile of Tuesday's $160,000 Isaac Murphy Marathon Stakes at Churchill Downs, and just accelerated away down the stretch to win by 7 1/2 lengths.

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Hozier was best of the rest as Lone Rock, a 7-year-old Majestic Warrior gelding, ran 1 1/2 miles on a sloppy track in 2:33.49 with Ramon Vazquez aboard. The victory backed up Lone Rock's win in the $150,000, 1 1/2-miles Temperence Hill Stakes at Oaklawn Park in his last start.

Also:

Churchill Downs

Top Gunner stalked the pace made by Quick Tempo in Wednesday's $160,000 St. Matthews Stakes, took over when prompted by jockey Reylu Gutierrez and won off by 2 lengths. The favorite, Tulane Tryst, edged Quick Tempo for second.

Top Gunner, a 5-year-old Into Mischief gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:08.88.

Will Rogers Downs

Distorted Flash got first crack at the lead in the stretch run of Monday's $55,000 Wilma Mankiller Stakes for fillies and mares and coasted home first as the favorite, Dicey, came up 1 3/4 lengths short with a late run from the back of the pack. Gotta See Red was third.

Distorted Flash, a 5-year-old mare by Flashback, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:10.43 with Gerardo Mora in the irons for trainer Joe Offolter.

The Wilma Mankiller Stakes is named for the first woman elected principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, a catalyst for community action and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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On Tuesday, Dame Plata got through along the rail heading for home in the $55,000 Highland Ice Stakes and battled past pacesetting Shannon C to win by 1 length.

Dame Plata, a 6-year-old Cross Traffic gelding, ran 6 furlongs on a still-sloppy track in 1:09.67 with Alberto Pusac riding.

Around the world, around the clock:

England

With the Cazoo Derby just a month over the horizon, Godolphin and Coolmore continue to jockey (pun intended) for position.

The latest chapter in that heavyweight bout was Wednesday's Group 3 Chester Vase, featuring as the favorite, in the blue corner, New London, a Dubawi colt undefeated after two races, and in the purple-and-blue iteration of the Coolmore partners, Changingoftheguard, a Galileo lad who was winless in three starts at 2, but victorious by 6 lengths in an all-weather start at Dundalk to kick off his 3-year-old duties.

Apparently the penny dropped for Changingoftheguard in Dundalk because the Vase was strictly no contest. Stepping as smartly as his namesake, the colt was right on the lead and drew off to win by 6 1/2 lengths with Ryan Moore up for Aidan O'Brien.

New London, with the expected William Buick-Charlie Appleby connections, could only watch while finishing second. Two others were window dressing.

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The outcome was different in Saturday's bout between the global giants as the Appleby-trained Coroebus and Native Trail finished 1-2 in the Group 1 Qipco 2000 Guineas at Newmarket with O'Brien's top Derby hope, Luxembourg, third.

Coolmore, in partnership with Moyglore Stud Farm, also scored one race earlier in the Cheshire Oaks as the appropriately named Thoughts of June led the way, then was all out to preserve victory by a neck over the favorite, Above the Curve.

Thoughts of June, also by Galileo and also benefitting from Moore and O'Brien, posted her first win after finishing second last time out behind Above the Curve at Leopardstown.

Above the Curve, an American Pharoah filly owned by different Coolmore connections, is trained by O'Brien's son, Joseph Patrick O'Brien, who looks ever more the heir apparent.

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