Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sophomore Spotlight: Kentucky Oaks Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

While the Kentucky Oaks lost its most talented runner with the unfortunate defection of R Heat Lightning, it became a much better betting race in her absence. Two of the race’s favorites figure to be significant underlays, and most of the other contenders--and there are quite a few--will offer good value because of their more-fancied rivals disproportionate support.

Joyful Victory
(c) Wendy Wooley/EquiSport
Joyful Victory should be somewhere in the
2-1 range, but her reputation is based more on the mere margins of her last two victories rather than objective analyses of those performances. Decidedly a cut below the best of her generation at two when under the tutelage of Tony Dutrow, the grey was turned over to Larry Jones for her sophomore campaign and reeled off 8 3/4 and seven-length victories in the GIII Honeybee and GII Fantasy respectively. In the Honeybee, Joyful Victory saved all the ground and sat off a very fast pace in a perfect position. She did make an eye-catching move to sweep by the leaders turning for home, but her facile trip leading up to that point and the slow Beyer Figure she earned (82) do not warrant the hype she received. It was more of the same last out in the Fantasy, as Joyful Victory allowed her only competition--the lightly raced and somewhat rushed Arienza--to chase an overmatched foe through quick fractions before picking up the pieces late and drawing off. That race yielded another slow figure for Joyful Victory (83). The fastest speed figures often tend to come from a race favorite, but this is a rare instance where the chalk has a distinct disadvantage according to the numbers. Only four of the field’s runners have a lower Beyer top; three of those fillies are 50-1 on the morning line and the fourth is 20-1. Joyful Victory can certainly win, but her chance of wearing the lilies is drastically lower than what her odds will reflect. Kathmanblu will be similarly underlaid. She does have a visually impressive win over the strip in last year’s GII Golden Rod, but the bay has always given the impression that she is better on the grass.

St. John's River (c) Horsephotos
I’ll spread out in the Pick 4 and hope to be alive to five runners, but my value selection in the Oaks is St. John’s River, who is a very generous 30-1 on the morning line. She reminds me of my Derby pick (*spoiler alert*) Nehro in the progression she shows and the lightly raced runner appears poised for another step forward. St. John’s River has been the victim of ground loss in every one of her starts, and was caught wide again last out in the Fair Grounds Oaks behind a dawdling pace. She closed quickly and resolutely, but was left with too much to do and came up a half-length short. St. John’s River figures to appreciate the added 1/16th of a mile--her full-sister Panty Raid ran a nine-point Beyer top in her first 1 1/8-mile test in the GII Black Eyed Susan, and went on to become a Grade I winner at the distance on Polytrack and a Grade I winner at 1 1/4 miles on turf. While St. John’s River will offer the most value, Zazu is the most likely winner. She had an advantageous set-up when closing into a super-quick pace to defeat Turbulent Descent and Plum Pretty in the GI Las Virgenes, but Zazu came back to validate that performance when she fell a neck short of Turbulent Descent in the GI Santa Anita Oaks under much less favorable circumstances. She figures to get plenty of speed to run at here, and will be tough to hold off if she reproduces an effort comparable to what she has been running out in California.

I will also use Plum Pretty somewhat protectively, as her 25-length romp in the Sunland Park Oaks is difficult to take at face value, but also difficult to completely dismiss; Daisy Devine, who seems to be getting a bit overlooked despite pretty decent form; and Her Smile, an interesting acquisition by Bobby Flay and Todd Pletcher. As mentioned above, I will use five horses in the Pick 4, pressing St. John’s River and Zazu. I will also play St. John’s River to win, box her in the exacta with the other horses I’m playing in the Pick 4, and use her with a number of runners in the Oaks/Derby double.

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