December 12, 2018

Always Dreaming, Abel Tasman top marquee on Oaks undercard

Always Dreaming with John Velazquez up wins the 143rd Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs on Saturday, May 6, 2017 (c) Rickelle Nelson/Horsephotos.com

The return to Churchill Downs of the stars of 2017 Kentucky Derby weekend highlight the undercard of Friday’s Kentucky Oaks Day program.

Always Dreaming, who won the Kentucky Derby (G1) by 2 3/4 lengths, will look to get back in the winner’s circle for the first time since wearing the roses in the $400,000 Alysheba (G2) at 1 1/16 miles. Abel Tasman, who made a last-to-first rally against 13 rivals to win the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and was later voted champion three-year-old filly, will be a solid favorite in the $350,000 La Troienne (G1), also at 1 1/16 miles.

Though he’s had the benefit of one run this year, Always Dreaming’s task appears more difficult on paper. Unplaced in two of his final three starts of the season after the Derby, the Todd Pletcher trainee was back in action for the March 31 Gulfstream Mile (G2), where he proved second best by three lengths to Conquest Big E.

The Alysheba is relatively loaded. Good Samaritan, who beat Always Dreaming in the Jim Dandy (G2) last summer, made an eye-catching return to action in the New Orleans H. (G2) on March 24. The main concern is that Alysheba distance might be a tad short for the talented closer.

Multiple Grade 1 veteran Hoppertunity is a past winner of the Clark H. (G1) over the Churchill strip, and most recently displayed his marathon skills with a dominating score in the 1 1/2-mile Tokyo City (G3) at Santa Anita. Awesome Slew is another stakes winner over this track, having won the Ack Ack (G3) over a mile last fall with a close loss in the Churchill Downs (G2) earlier last season to boot. He should benefit from his recent second-place effort in the Carter H. (G1), though he’s typically been more effective around one turn.

Hawaakom is inconsistent in graded company, but the eight-year-old is quick enough to land a share with his best. Backyard Heaven, with only three races behind him, steps up after earning a 106 BRIS Speed rating against first-level allowance foes at Aqueduct in mid-March.

Abel Tasman, who missed by a half-length to Forever Unbridled in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) when last seen in November. She’ll get pace to chase in the name of Farrell and Apologynotaccepted.

Salty finished behind Abel Tasman in all four meetings last year, but could move forward off a narrow loss in the seven-furlong Madison (G1) last out. Martini Glass enters off a solid win in the Azeri (G2) over Grade 3 winners Tiger Moth and Streamline, while Ivy Bell looks to make it two-for-two since moving to the Pletcher barn after a recent tally in the Inside Information (G2).

Latent Revenge will look to improve on his second-place finish in last year’s edition when he tries to out-dash 10 rivals in the $200,000 Twin Spires Turf Sprint at five furlongs. Woodford (G2) winner Bucchero was second best in the Shakertown (G2) last time, while Vision Perfect was solid in his 4 3/4-length score in the $75,000 Silks Run at Gulfstream in March.