05/06/2011 12:17PM

Oaks Day 2011


12:15 pm: Wake up already. It may be only 9:15 am in California, but they've already run the first four races on the Kentucky Oaks card, and it's just a little more than an hour until the first of six straight stakes races at Churchill Downs, culminating with the $1 million Kentucky Oaks at 5:45 p.m.

The news of the day so far was the official withdrawal of Uncle Mo from tomorrow's Kentucky Derby, making it three straight years that the Wood Memorial winner (and my Derby pick) has not made it to the starting gate (see I Want Revenge in 2009 and Eskendraya last year.)  The scratch card was submitted to the stewards before Derby wagering opened at 9 a.m.

Whether you loved or hated him, Uncle Mo's defection makes the race even more wide open. There was some chance, however large or small, that he might run back to the juvenile form that might have dominated this field. Now, regardless of whom you like, it's hard to argue that there's a horse in the field who has established form that would make a dominant victory unsurprising.

His absence also means that all three finalists for the 2-year-old Eclipse -- Uncle Mo, Boys at Toscanova and To Honor and Serve -- failed to make it to the Derby. Of the nine horses who received even a single third-place Eclipse Vote, only two -- Comma to the Top (5th) and Santiva (9th) -- got to the race. The other absentees besides the top three: Pluck (4th), Kantharos (6th), J P's Gusto (7th) and J. B.'s Thunder (8th).

Not sure whether I'm getting involved in the Oaks Day pick-6, where there's no carryover following a $63k payout Thursday. The new 50-cent pick-5 on races 7-11 and the 50-cent late pick-4 on races 8-11 look more enticing at the moment.

The first two dirt races on the card went to favored Smooth Charm ($8.80 in the 1st) and Juanita ($6.80) in the third. Both winners wer near the pace, running second early, but the second and third finishers in the 3rd rallied from 7th and 8th. The track appears fair and only moderately quick.


12:50 pm: The turf course, which has taken plenty of rain this week, is listed as "firm" but produced slow early fractions in the first two of the day's four grass races. In the 2nd, maiden older fillies went the first six furlongs in 1:15.71 en route to a mile in 1:39.66. In the 4th, for older-male N3x allowance types, the first 6f went in a very pokey 1:16.31, then came home in 35.67 for a final 9f time of 1;51.98.

In the day's first dirt sprint, the 5th, the early fractions going 7f were a blistering 20.59 and 44.26. The N1x allowance race for 3-year-old fillies went to Might, a full sister (Arch-Liable) to Blame. It will be interesting to see how her fine time of 1:22.10 compares with the G3 Eight Belles later on.


1:10 pm: Here's the cheat-sheet for that all-stakes pick-6 I'm not playing. I would hav been extremely uncreative and started out with the two obvious favorites, Blind Luck and Unrivaled Belle.

1:40 pm: The stakes racing got off to a rousing start as Blind Luck recovered from an awkward start to circle the field and run down Unrivaled Belle in the final strides of the La Troienne, reversing the 1-2 finish of the Breeders' Cup Distaff 26 weeks ago. The first two finishers both turned in highly encouraging performances: Blind Luck got over her recent run of seconditis with a big win over a key divisional rival, while Unrivaled Belle ran extremely well for a mare coming off a six-month layoff.

Not sure what to make of the time of 1:42.93, which you would think would have been more than 0.93 seconds faster than the maiden race that kicked off the card, especially given the quicker pace (1:11.88 vs. 1:13.34.)

After last year's Unrivalled Belle-Rachel Alexandra finish and this Distaff rematch, you would think the La Troienne will be considered for an upgrade to G1 status next year.


2:00 pm: Here's the preliminary pick-5 play. The inscrutable race to me was the American Turf, where I've got eight of them as A's or B's:


There's some kind of a tote-related delay at Churchill. Post time for the 7th has been moved back 10 minutes.


2:12 pm: Make that 15 minutes. Post time for the 7th is now 2:22 pm.


2:25 pm: Diva Ash took them from box to wire in the Edgewood as the 7-2 second choice. Seven races, still waiting for the first winner to pay $10 or more.

Desormeaux, who rode Diva Ash, on HRTV regarding the turf course: "You can still hear the water squeegeeing out of it...Your horse better like it soft or yielding."


2:40 pm: With a mere $56k in the win pool, Dialed In is the 7-2 favorite in early Derby wagering with Nehro the 7-1 second choice.


3:20 pm: Oops in the pick-5. Victoria's Wildcat ($15.20), bet down from 12-1 ML to 6-1, rallied into a hotly contested pace and won the G3 Eight Belles for Hess/Desormeaux. Maybe the track's slowing down, but the winner's time of 1:23.03 was almost a second slower than Might's 1:22.10 two races earlier in a N1x for 3-year-old fillies.


4:10 pm: Not my day. My top four choices in the Alysheba neglected to finish in the top four as First Dude outbobbed Regal Ransom with Equestrio third and Awesome Gem fourth in a blanket finish. It's not often you can say this: First Dude was winning the first stakes race of his career -- and became a millionaire in the process.

Looks like First Dude may not want to be first early: After 11 straight defeats in races where he usually vied for the lead, he's now won two straight from off the pace.

Equestrio's close third at 17-1 may bode well for fans of Dialed In since Equestrio, a 4-year-old, is the only horse to have finished in front of the Derby favorite in his four starts.


5:00 pm: Banned ($8.60), fifth in the BC Juvenile as the 5-1 third choice and a loser at 3-5 in his sophomore debut, suddenly and impressively lived up to his potential with a runaway victory in the G2 American Turf for 3-year-old turfers. The Kitten's Joy colt came flying in upper stretch and shot past frontrunner Great Mills, then drew off by daylight as Close Ally nosed out Air Support for second.

Looks like there are live pick-6 tickets that would end happily with an Oaks victory by Joyful Victory ($12k), Summer Soiree ($47k), Kathmanblu ($31k), Zazu ($31k) and Plum Pretty ($95k). Otherwise, a $95k carryover into Derby Day.

It appears everyone's covered in the pick-5, at $1 willpays (according to TVG) ranging from just under $5k on Joyful Evening to $583k on Suave Voir Faire and Street Storm.


5:30 pm: Post time for the Oaks is now 5:58 pm. There's national coverage on Versus, the NBC-owned cable station that is carrying most of the NBC Sports coverage this week. Versus will carry Derby Day coverage tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., when NBC takes over until 7 p.m.


6:20 pm: It didn't get me out for the day, but Plum Pretty's Oaks victory restored my faith in logic and mathematics. I have no idea how, coming off a towering top-fig 99 Beyer Speed Figure, she went off at 6-1 while Joyful Victory, sporting Beyers of 83 and 82 in two lengthy Oaklawn victories, was the 2-1 favorite. It's not as if the figs at Oaklawn were running low this year -- the Arkansas Derby got the highest Beyer of any of the final Derby preps, and Havre de Grace got a 108 in the Apple Blossom. Joyful Victory's two victories in small and unaccomplished fields were clearly subpar.

Plum Pretty barely made it over the fast-closing St. John's RIver for a 12-13 exacta but don't think that suggests there was an outside bias: Plum Pretty raced in the two-path most of the way and St. John's River went straight to the rail before the first turn, staying there until midstretch.

Plum Pretty ($14.60) completed (all $2 payoffs) a $6,178 pick-4, a $32,342 pick-5 and a $95,790 pick-6.

Thirteen chances to get it all back, and then some, tomorrow.