05/01/2008 2:10PM

Oaks trends, Oaks Day Opinions


Here are some opinions on Friday's stakes races at Churchill Downs.  Hopefully, the inevitable soccer game will be over by post time.

Aegon Turf Sprint:
When you think turf sprints, you think lots of speed, but there doesn't appear to be much pace in the Aegon.  That should benefit front-running Mr. Nightlinger, the gate-to-wire winner of the Grade 3 Shakertown at Keeneland on April 13.  The problem with Mr. Nightlinger is that he was 21-1 in the Shakertown, and will be 2-1 or so on Friday.  Therefore, I'll use him in my multi-race wagers and exotics, but won't play him to win.  Indian Ashton is somewhat interesting as the California invader ran a good second behind classy Bonfante in his first start of the year.  He's lightly-raced with tactical speed, and you can certainly argue that he has a good deal of upside.  He wouldn't be a surprise, but like Mr. Nightlinger, he offers no value to win at his 5-2 morning line.  I'll pick a bomb on top although I'm not very confident.  The Nth Degree hasn't done anything this year, but he shows up occasionally as evidenced by his upset victory in the 2007 Shakertown.  He'll have to be a bit closer to the pace in this spot, but will certainly be a good price.  Salute the Count has been competing in high-priced optional claimers, but is a true turf sprint specialist (5-9 going five panels on the lawn).  It's Dutrow and Desormeaux looking to start their weekend with a bang.
Selections:  The Nth Degree, Mr. Nightlinger

This looks like a pretty intriguing match-up between Ginger Punch and Lear's Princess, and although both are coming off disappointing efforts, they loom the runners to fear most.  I'll give Ginger Punch one more chance despite her recent loss in the Apple Blossom.  She may have been too aggressively ridden that day, and may be more effective with a target in front of her.  Also, she was facing a quality, undefeated filly in Zenyatta, and this race may amount to a slight drop in class.  I'm expecting stalk and pounce tactics to get her back in the winner's circle.  Lear's Princess defeated champion Rags to Riches in the Grade 1 Gazelle last year, but has competed on turf in 2008.  She chased another champion, Dreaming of Anna, in her two starts at Tampa Bay Downs, and may have been compromised by slow fractions in both of those races.  She seems more comfortable on the dirt, and goes out for the always-dangerous Kiaran McLaughlin.  Unforgotten won her maiden over this surface, and she overcame a speed-favoring surface to win the Goddess at Delta Downs two starts back.  She may be biting off a bit more than she can chew in this spot, but will offer value on the bottom of exotic wagers.  Kettleoneup won the Falls City over this track in her final start of 2007, but she didn't do anything in the Apple Blossom, and her Beyers are in decline.  She may need a quick pace to adequately setup her kick, and may not get that scenario here.
Selection:  Ginger Punch

Wanderin Boy
won this race last year off the layoff, and trainer Nick Zito will attempt to duplicate the pattern on Friday.  Wanderin Boy is a need-the-lead type, but I think he's the fastest of this group, and some of his opponents have seen better days.  Among them may be Magna Graduate, a hard-hitting earner of over $2.3 million.  Magna Graduate improved to a triple-digit Beyer in his last start at Aqueduct despite racing wide on the far turn, but he lacked the oomph necessary to push by in the stretch.  He has tons of back class, and may work out a good stalking trip behind a solid pace.  Chelokee returned to the races as a solid winner in a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park, and is another with a good stalking style.  He has won four of his last five races, is perfect at this distance, and showed his affinity for the Churchill strip with a win in the Grade 3 Northern Dancer last June.  He's dangerous. 
Selection:  Wanderin Boy

Crown Royal American Turf:
Tough, tough race.  I'll go with Sailor's Cap, an impressive allowance winner last month at Keeneland.  Earlier in his career, the Distant View colt was a bit speed-crazy, but he rated better over the yielding going at Keeneland, and slingshotted to the front in upper stretch after finally figuring out his lead change.  His new tactical speed should help greatly with several speed horses entered in this race, and the recent bullet workout indicates he's retained his form.  Prussian was all the rage after the Danzig colt won his first two starts, but the rose came off the bloom a bit when he faded to tenth in the inaugural Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf.  He understandably tired in his first start of the year over polytrack in the Transylvania, but should be much tighter for this.  He likes to be on the lead, and there are some others that may hound him early.  Nistle's Crunch has been a nice find for Ken McPeek.  He handles dirt, synthetics, and turf, and though still a bit green, his natural ability has carried him through.  He will break from a solid inside post, and should get a good pace to attack.  Don't count him out.  Cannonball was no match for Kentucky Derby entrant Adriano in the Lane's End, but he should appreciate switching back to turf.  He's consistent, and should be forwardly-placed. 
Selections:  Sailor's Cap, Prussian, Nistle's Crunch

Kentucky Oaks:
I love Pure Clan in this spot.  She's been legged up with two good races at Oaklawn, and she blew past Eight Belles after the wire of the Fantasy.  She won a pair of graded races over this surface last year, and the rider switch to Prado looks very, very live.  She doesn't have to worry about Eight Belles on Friday.  Proud Spell is a tough young lady, and I give her the utmost respect.  She tries so hard in every race, and she handled champion Indian Blessing through sheer force of will in the Silverbulletday.  I'm willing to give her a mulligan for the polytrack loss in the Ashland as she at least made a run over a surface that she may not have liked.  She has good tactical speed, and will be tough to run down in the lane.  Rasierra is an interesting bomber for the exotics.  She removes blinkers for the third start of the form cycle, and she has shown improved speed in her recent workouts (presumably without the blinks).  The distance may be pushing it just a bit, however.  Awesome Chic has a very stout pedigree, and she relished stretching out to two turns in the Florida Oaks.  This talented filly did benefit from a good trip that day, but you could certainly do worse than her at 20-1 on the morning line.  Country Star has a great deal of talent, but her schedule was interrupted by a fever, and she didn't lift up her hooves in the Ashland.  You can't ever count out Frankel, but I wonder if she's set for this off the one sub-par performance.  Bsharpsonata is wonderfully consistent.  I mean, how can you not root for a filly that's won sprinting on dirt, routing on dirt, routing on grass, and sprinting in the slop.  Throw in a runner-up effort on poly, and you know she comes to play every chance she gets.  I'm a bit concerned that this distance is a bit far for her, though.
Selections:  Pure Clan, Proud Spell

More importantly, who do you like on Friday?  I'd like to know.

Be back tomorrow with Derby Day picks and more.

Best of luck,