October 7, 2022

Southern California fillies loom large in Kentucky Oaks

Paradise Woods posts a smashing 11-length victory in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) on Saturday, April 8, 2017, with jockey Flavien Prat aboard ©Benoit Photo

By Scott Shapiro

California-based males do not have a strong chance to capture their fourth straight victory in the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby next Saturday, but the same cannot be said regarding the Kentucky Oaks (G1).

After capturing the first two Kentucky Oaks of the decade with the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained Blind Luck in 2010 and Bob Baffert-conditioned Plum Pretty in 2011, three-year-old fillies from California have failed to cross the wire first in the traditional nine-furlong Friday feature. However, a strong duo in 2017 gives California a huge chance to earn the lion’s share of the $1 million purse and the “lilies for the fillies.”

The group is led by Santa Anita Oaks winner Paradise Woods. The daughter of Union Rags put forth an eye-popping performance, romping wire-to-wire by 11 lengths in the Grade 1 event, and heads to Churchill Downs as the possible favorite.

Trainer Richard Mandella always had high hopes and his filly has rattled off two straight wins since finishing second in her debut at six furlongs. And while she is light on experience, Paradise Woods certainly has the talent to beat this crop of young ladies next Friday. However, I have a couple of concerns heading into the Kentucky Oaks.

Firstly, unlike the Santa Anita Oaks, it appears next Friday’s race will have several runners who like to be prominently-placed early. This may require jockey Flavien Prat to install different tactics or use his filly much more than when she cruised on an uncontested lead posting a record breaking performance last month.

I also worry that she may regress off such a big effort. That was a massive step forward to win a Grade 1 race with that kind of ease first time against winners and around two turns. The average horse would take a step backwards next time out, but she is certainly not an ordinary filly.  Regardless of talent though winning consecutive Grade 1 two-turn events over different tracks is a huge ask.

Paradise Woods is scheduled to ship to Kentucky on May 1st.

The other main contender from the West Coast is Abel Tasman. The daughter of Quality Road earned 70 points in the prep races and heads to Louisville for her second start under the care of Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. She has finished first or second in 5 straight starts and should improve off her runner-up effort in the Santa Anita Oaks.

The China Horse Club-owned filly lacks early speed, but has shown she can finish races quite well. She had a very odd voyage last time out when off slow and wide throughout. She figures to receive a contentious early pace and with more time under the handling of Baffert, I expect a big late run from the Grade 1 winner.

Vexatious made her first 3 starts in Southern California, including a maiden-breaking effort at Del Mar last November, but has run in Louisiana and Arkansas in her 2 most recent starts posting third place finishes in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) and Fantasy (G3).  The Calumet Farm filly is going to ship in for Neil Drysdale, but she appears overmatched.

The same can be said for a pair of Doug O’Neill fillies on the also-eligible list.

Reddam Racing’s Mopotism finished fourth in the aforementioned Santa Anita Oaks and would need to take a huge step forward to be competitive in Kentucky.

Shane’s Girlfriend was impressive as a two-year-old but has regressed considerably in 2017. She appears unlikely to draw in but if she does, the filly will be a huge price and appears to be nothing more than a pace factor.

The Oaks is just 9 days away. I will have my final analysis of the race included in my Friday Brisnet.com Spotlight Selections.

Handicapper Scott Shapiro provides Daily Selections for the Southern California circuit and Indiana Grand at Brisnet.com