04/29/2014 11:01AM

Looking at the Kentucky Oaks


Regardless of what post she drew (she drew the far outside in a field of 13), Untapable at 4-5 on the morning line for Friday’s Kentucky Oaks makes complete sense to me. A morning line on her of 3-5 would have made sense, too. We’ve known for weeks that Untapable would be favorite for the Oaks by an even bigger margin than California Chrome will be in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, and California Chrome will be favorite Saturday by a substantial margin.

Untapable has been absolutely brilliant in her two starts this year, winning the Rachel Alexandra and Fair Grounds Oaks by lopsided margins, using contrasting running styles in both races, and earning a pair of triple-digit Beyer Figures that are higher than anything any other member of this Oaks field has ever earned.

As if that wasn’t enough, it looks like there is plenty of pace in this Oaks. That means the Oaks will be honestly run and won’t be cheaply won, and that figures to only underscore the substantial advantage Untapable owns going into the race. Moreover, racing luck will play an exponentially lower factor in a 13-horse Oaks field than in a 20-horse Kentucky Derby field, and that should work to the benefit of the best horse.

However, only in comparison to the Kentucky Derby is a 13-horse field a manageable one. A 13-horse field is still a very big field, and stuff can happen. These races aren’t run on paper, or in a vacuum, and if stuff does happen to Untapable Friday, there are two who I think could be potential opportunists – Ria Antonia (morning line of 10-1), and Unbridled Forever (morning line of 12-1).

I must admit I was very skeptical of Ria Antonia following her upset win (via disqualification) in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies last fall, because that race was so aberrational compared to her other four performances, it begged for validation. And I remained a skeptic after Ria Antonia was drowned by Untapable in the Rachel Alexandra when both made their 3-year-old debuts. But Ria Antonia finally convinced me with her effort in last time out in the Santa Anita Oaks that she is indeed a real horse.

Ria Antonia, who was making her first start for trainer Bob Baffert, was surprisingly favored in the Santa Anita Oaks despite being completely up against it pace-wise. Sure enough, lone speed Fashion Plate (who is also running in the Oaks) turned her easy and uncontested Santa Anita Oaks early lead into a victory. But by rallying to finish a game second, I thought Ria Antonia did very well under adverse conditions.

I do acknowledge the possibility that Ria Antonia might just be a horse for course at Santa Anita. But my belief is Ria Antonia has simply improved (significantly), and can take another big step forward in the Oaks with a far more favorable pace set up.

Unbridled Forever had no obvious excuse when a distant third behind Untapable in the Fair Grounds Oaks last time out, but there are subtle reasons to think she can do better. Unbridled Forever might be a filly who prefers to run outside of horses, but she had an unnecessarily wide trip in the Fair Grounds Oaks in a race that had but five starters. More importantly, I sense Unbridled Forever might best when she can drop back and make one run. In the slow-paced Fair Grounds Oaks, she couldn’t do that and still hope to win, so she instead made her move leaving the backstretch, a premature move she was unable to sustain. But like Ria Antonia, Unbridled Forever is in line for a much better pace set up Friday.

Make no mistake, however. It will take a lot to tip over Untapable, 13 hole, and all.