By Gene Kershner
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - - It’s a beautiful sunny day here in Louisville. Temperatures are supposed to be in the mid 80s and a crowd in excess of 110,000 is expected today at historic Churchill Downs. The 138th Run for the Lilies, also known as the $1 million Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, is the feature race on Friday’s card under the iconic Twin Spires. The race will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network (formerly VERSUS) at 5 p.m. The Oaks has drawn a full field of 14 fillies, including a Canadian-bred runner, Hard Not to Like (20-1), a potential Queen’s Plate candidate this summer. The race for 3-year-old fillies will be run over 1 1/8-miles over a fast Churchill Downs track.
Grace Hall (5-2), the morning line favorite, is the only filly in the field to win a race at the nine furlong distance of the Oaks. She won the Gulfstream Park Oaks going away by 6 1/2-lengths with Javier Castellano in the irons for trainer Anthony Dutrow. Yara and Why Not are the only two other fillies to run at the distance as some of the more talented fillies in the field are stretching out for the first time.
Todd Pletcher-trained filly Broadway’s Alibi (4-1) looked spectacular during her morning gallop on Thursday and has run mostly sprint races in her five race career, wherein a mile is the farthest she has raced. With the dangerous Pletcher/Velazquez connections, she’ll be hard to ignore at the windows.
A horse for the course, On Fire Baby (4-1), has won both career starts at Churchill, a stat that one should consider extremely important when handicapping races under the Twins Spires. She drew the rail for trainer Gary Hartlage and looks to continue to move forward after her impressive win in the Grade 3 Honeybee at Oaklawn Park.
I visited the Canadian filly, Hard Not to Like’s barn on Thursday morning and trainer Gail Cox, who is high on her chances to continue her good fortunes after a solid second place finish in the Grade 3 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland Race Course on April 7. She happens to also be my preliminary top pick in a March 30 Queen’s Plate poll conducted by the Woodbine media team, that I was invited to participate in.
The trainer said she feels the morning-line odds of 20-1 on Hard Not to Like are a result of her never racing on dirt. But, she said, the filly trained on Payson Park’s dirt track throughout the winter and her final breeze prior to heading to Louisville was on Woodbine’s dirt track. “And she’s won a lot of nice races,” Cox said, “including beating the boys twice.”
Cox thinks her post position is favorable to her filly’s running style and with the amount of speed involved, she’s hoping that her girl picks up the pieces should a pace meltdown ensue. She’s also taking it one race at a time, not committing to either the Woodbine Oaks or the Plate when asked where she will be pointed after the Oaks.
[Update: Cox had put rider Rafael Bejarano on Hard Not to Like, as scheduled rider Robby Albarado was taken off all of his mounts after being arrested for assault and domestic violence according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.]
In addition to Hard Not to Like, 12-1 Eden’s Moon looks to be an interesting filly that has a Grade 1 victory under her belt in the Las Virgenes at Santa Anita. She missed by a length in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks in her last out, which was won by Willa B Awesome, who came back to win her last out, the Melair, a restricted stakes for Cal-breds.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – On Fire Baby; 2 – Broadway’s Alibi; 3 – Grace Hall; 4 – Eden’s Moon
There is a nice lineup of races today in Louisville as such stars as Stephanie’s Kitten, Plum Pretty and Mucho Macho Man will highlight some of the stakes today.
Here’s a look at the field for the Oaks:
|Post Position||Horse||Morning Line||Trainer||Jockey|
|1||On Fire Baby||4-1||Hartlage||Johnson|
|2||Grace Hall||5-2||A Dutrow||Castellano|
|5||Hard Not to Like||20-1||Cox||Bejarano|
|9||Believe You Can||10-1||Jones||Napranik|
|10||And Why Not||15-1||Matz||Leparoux|