05/02/2008 11:53AM

Oaks Day Live


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11:55 am: Happy Oaks Day. I'm playing it from home in cool and cloudy Long Island, surrounded by two greyhounds rather than 100,000 Louisvillians, which is not an entirely unfavorable swap. It's 75 and partly cloudy in Derby City, with a rather grim forecast for the next 12 hours: A 40 to 70 percent chance of scattered thunderstorms throughout the day and "strong storms" hitting around 11 p.m. The good news is that Derby Day itself is looking better, with sunshine supposedly arriving right around Saturday's first post.

I'll be following the Oaks card here until its conclusion but apparently only via online replays until ESPN comes on the air at 3 p.m. HRTV is still unavailable via cable in New York and TVG doesn't have the signal, but at least on the Nassau OTB channel I'm getting an old-school odds feed and live calls. It's got the feel of a 1980's OTB parlor.

Two down, 21 to go on the Oaks and Derby cards. Fancy Fusaichi ($9.80) took the Friday opener, running down favored Over Under in the final yards to win the filly N2x with a mile in 1:35.71 for Kinsman/Mott/Prado. In the second, favored Honest Pursuit ($4.80), a 3-year-old Storm Cat-Honest Lady filly who won a maiden race by 6 1/2 at Keeneland last time out, scored by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:44.55 for Overbrook/Stewart/Albarado. Huge difference in the early pace of the first two races: 109.77 for the first six furlongs in the one-turn opener, 1:13.92 in the two-turn second.

I played a little 3x2x4x4 early pick four on races 1-4, the first of six pick-fours over the next two days that will account for most of my Oaks and Derby Day action. Taking a pass on today's all-stakes Churchill pick six, which begins with the Aegon Turf Sprint in the 5th, since the carryover's only $13k. If I want to annoy myself by getting involved with a pick-six that starts with a turf sprint, there's a two-day $108k carryover at Aqueduct that kicks off with statebred maidens going six on the inner. (Update: Races 4 and 9 at Belmont are off the grass; 6 & 7 still on.)

Need a 3,4,7,8/5,6,9,11 in races 3 and 4 from Churchill, where my odds feed just disappeared in favor of yesterday's Belmont replays.

Stakes scratches: Bayou Lassie and Silver Knockers (Louisville, race 6); Summer Courtship (Edgewood, race 7); Eight Belles (Oaks, race 10).

1:03 pm: No time like Oaks or Derby Day to put over a well-meant firster and the Borel boys (trainer Cecil and jockey Calvin) struck in the 4th with Royal Prado ($13.60), who smoked the field in 1:09.67, just three hundredths slower than the N1x in the third. Royal Prado's charms were there for all to see -- two bullet works at Oaklawn and two nice moves at Churchill -- but I missed them and so apparently did most pick-4 players: The payoff was $1,071 for a sequence that included 7-5 and 9-5 favorites and a 7-2 third choice, better than double the parlay.

2:45 pm : Here's how I'm playing the late pick-four on the Oaks card:

Edgewood Stakes (race 7): Clearly Foxy and Grade and Power look like the class of the field. A: 4,6; B: 1,8; C: 2,5.

Alysheba Stakes (race 8): A very tricky race with a key opening quarter -- will Jonesboro and Giant Gizmo go after Wanderin Boy or let him get loose? I'll go four deep with Wanderin Boy, Gizmo and the logical closers Chelokee and Magna Graduate. A: 2,3,5,6

Crown Royal American Turf (race 9): Three deep with Nistle's Crunch (visually impressive allowance victory), Prussian (serious raw talent) and Sailors Cap (huge effort in last.) A: 2,8,9

Kentucky Oaks (race 10): I like Proud Spell a lot. She ran faster than Pyro on the same cards twice at the Fair Grounds and I'll forgive her Polytrack effort in the Ashland. I'll back up with Country Star, who still has lots of upside and every right to be a very good one. A: 8; B: 6; C: 1, 3, 10,11.

3:30 pm: Sloppy and yielding at Churchill, where it's really pouring right now. ESPN came on at 3 p.m. and it's been doing a nice job of covering the races that shut-ins like myself otherwise couldn't see. The main track was being belatedly sealed as of 3:25 p.m.

The track was only wet-fast for the Louisville Stakes an hour ago, where champion Ginger Punch rebounded from her Apple Blossom fiasco with an easy and authoritative victory. Sitting just off glacial fractions of 25.25, 50.23 and 1:14.06, she shook off Unforgotten in upper stretch and scored by 3 3/4 lengths over Leah's Secret with Lear's Princess a disappointing third. Ginger Punch -- favored by just a few dollars over Lear's Princess when both were 4.50-1 in the BC Distaff last fall, paid $3 and ran the mile and a sixteenth in 1:43.08 for Stronach/Frankel/Bejarano.

The grass course was getting pretty wet by the time they ran the Edgewood. Zee Zee went right to the front and was never threatened. My Baby Baby made a little late run to be second but everyone else was spinning her wheels behind the $8.40 Zayat/Mott/Desormeaux winner.

After the race, Mott told DRF's Jay Privman on ESPN that he was thinking about scratching Prussian from the Crown Royal American Turf because of the rain. Prussian tired badly on a yielding course as the 7-2 second choice in the BC Juvenile Turf, but that course had been soaked for a lot longer than this one. [Update: Prussian scratched.]

4:27 pm: Giant Gizmo's first stakes victory, a very nice 5-1 score in the G3 Alysheba, overshadowed by the breakdown of Chelokee over the sloppy sealed track. Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian, said on ESPN that the 4-year-old Michael Matz trainee fractured the condylar bone in his right front ankle, calling the injury similar to Barbaro's. Chelokee did make it onto the horse ambulance. Everyone's first thought was that the sloppy track was the culprit, though Bramlage pointed out that numerous long-term studies shows no higher incidence of breakdowns on wet than dry tracks. The colt was reported to be standing and walking an hour later and will be sent to Lexington for surgery in the next day or two.

A few minutes later, Elusive Lady was announced as a late scratch from the Oaks.

As for Giant Gizmo, second graded-stakes winner of the day for Stronach/Frankel/Bejarano, the Giant's Causeway 4-year-old has now won on turf, Cushion, Poly and dirt and is a welcome addition to the handicap ranks. He paid $12.60 and won by 3 3/4 lengths over 11-1 Better than Bonds, with 1.90-1 favorite Wanderin Boy a neck back in third. The winner's time of 1:43.96 was nearly a full second slower than Ginger Punch's Louisville two races earlier, but over a radically different track.

5:00 pm: Argggh. With Prussian a late scratch, 21-1 Tizdejavu ends up loose on the lead on the rain-soaked course in the Crown Royal American and hangs on by a desperate neck over Sailor's Cap, who I scratched into an extra time when Prussian was pulled, with Nistle's Crunch third. Oh well, four more pick-fours tomorrow.

Tizdejavu, a Tiznow 3-year-old owned and bred by his sire's connections, was making his grass and stakes debut after going 1-for-4 on Polytrack at Turfway and Keeneland. He ran the mile and a sixteenth under Garrett Gomez in 1:46.14, suggesting the turf course has slowed down a lot since Zee Zee's 1:44.73 two races earlier.

5:30 pm: Meanwhile, back at the Belmont ranch, Hepcat ($6.60) won the finale to complete a $16,904 pick six. Improvers of the breed bet a healthy $377,944 on top of the $108k double-carryover.

6:20 pm: Proud Spell looked like a winner every step of the way, and her authoritative five-length Kentucky Oaks triumph was a feel-good victory whether or not you bet on her. She ran in the right race by staying in the Oaks instead of the Derby, and her handlers were rewarded for their faith in obscure rider Gabriel Saez with an absolutely perfect ride.

She's now also come back to beat every filly who has ever finished in front of her. Second to Indian Blessing in the BC Juvenile Fillies and Silverbulletday, she avenged those defeats by thrashing last year's champion 2-year-old filly in the Fair Grounds Oaks. She was a dull third to Little Belle and Bsharpsonata in the Ashland over Polytrack, and came back to beat the two of them today. Unless her fellow Larry Jones trainee Eight Belles runs a big race in the Derby tomorrow, she's the leader of the 3-year-old filly division until further notice.

It's hard to say whether her Oaks victory should be seen as a positive regarding Eight Belles's chances. It's not as if Proud Spell is the second stringer. She's a small filly and her handlers thought a 10-furlong run against 18 or 19 colts wouldn't be fair to her, while Eight Belles is a more strapping individual. Pure Clan, beaten by identical 1 1/4-length margins by Eight Belles in her last two starts, finished third in the Oaks, beaten 5 1/4 lengths (only 1 1/4 lengths separated the 2nd through 6th finishers), but might have been closer with a smoother trip.

Proud Spell, a daughter of 2002 Derby runner-up proud Citizen, paid a square $8.80 and ran the mile and an eighth in 1:50.01, which stacks up pretty well against Giant Gizmo's 1:43.96 going a sixteenth shorter in the Alysheba. She completed a $2 pick-four (sigh) worth $11,666.80, and a $24,933.40 pick-six.

Thought I might catch the Oaks Day nightcap back on the OTB channel but nah, they've already switched over to a roundtable discussion, in Italian, of Neapolitan cinema.

Time to get to work on Saturday's card. I'm pretty sure there's another big race at Churchill tomorrow.

8:10 pm: Here's a link to the Oaks-Derby Double will-pays. The shocker is that Court Vision is the fourth choice behind Big Brown, Colonel John and Pyro.