04/05/2009 11:00PM

Giant Oak stands tall in Illinois Derby


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Giant Oak was a giant disappointment this winter at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. Widely regarded as one of the top 3-year-old prospects there, he lost luster among Kentucky Derby watchers when he finished a troubled fifth in the Risen Star Stakes and a nonthreatening fourth in the Louisiana Derby.

Come Saturday, I imagine he will become a topic of conversation once again. That is because he looks poised to win Saturday's Illinois Derby.

Even better, he looks ready to do so at a square price. I would estimate him starting at about 7-2, down slightly from his 9-2 morning-line odds

This is a legitimately good horse that was just the victim of poor racing luck in New Orleans. He had a nightmarish trip in the Risen Star, running into traffic problems, and in the Louisiana Derby he actually ran deceptively well over a sloppy surface that was probably not what a long-striding colt like him wanted.

He also faced some quality opponents in the Louisiana Derby besides victorious Friesan Fire. Runner-up Papa Clem, who was beaten just a half-length by Pioneerof the Nile in the Bob Lewis in February, finished just 2 1/4 lengths in front of Giant Oak. And third-place Terrain, last year's fourth-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, was only two lengths ahead of him.

Take a glance at the field for the Illinois Derby and it is clear there is no opponent set to face Giant Oak with those sorts of accomplishments. There is just one stakes winner in the 11-horse field, that being Tampa Bay Derby winner Musket Man.

Now in his third start of his form cycle, Giant Oak looks ready for a peak performance, particularly with the return to Chicago, the home base of his trainer, Chris Block.

According to statistics from Daily Racing Form's Formulator program, Block has 4 wins, 4 seconds, and 2 thirds with 13 shippers to Hawthorne during the spring meet of the past five years.

Look for Giant Oak to rebound from his losses at Fair Grounds and score a victory in the Illinois Derby.

Ashland: Gozzip Girl can kick home

While the 3-year-old boys take center stage across many parts of the country Saturday, at Keeneland the focus is on the 3-year-old fillies in the Ashland Stakes.

Champion Stardom Bound, a winner of five straight Grade 1 races, is a deserving favorite and the most probable winner. But at odds expected to be around even money or less, she is too short of a price to warrant betting.

My choice - based on value - is Gozzip Girl, a winner of two straight races on the grass at Gulfstream Park. Although she is untested on a synthetic surface, being a daughter of Dynaformer, she strikes me as a filly that could take to racing over Keeneland's Polytrack surface.

Dynaformer's offspring have proven versatile, winning on turf, dirt, and synthetic surfaces.

Furthermore, Gozzip Girl has shown she possesses a powerful turn of foot - a key in a race over a synthetic surface - despite the fact that she is a big, long-striding filly.

Although she was able to save ground on the second turn in winning the Herecomesthebride Stakes in her most recent start, her trip was surprisingly tough. She broke with the field, but was blocked behind horses heading toward the first turn. She was taken back to last, leaving her with the whole field to pass. Despite the pace being a crawl, she did it, winning by a half-length.

Saturday, she is drawn better than some of her rivals, and should be able to secure a more forward position. And considering the finishing kick she possesses, if she takes to the surface it should prove hard for anyone, even Stardom Bound, to beat her.

Carter: Kodiak Kowboy an overlay

One race after the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on Saturday, a favorable wagering opportunity exists on Kodiak Kowboy in the Carter Handicap.

Coming off a needed comeback race in the Duncan F. Kenner Memorial at Fair Grounds, a race in which he finished second to horse-for-the-course Sok Sok, he looks poised for a move forward.

Coupled in the wagering with Biker Boy, who in contrast to Kodiak Kowboy has a front-running style, Kodiak Kowboy benefits from catching Fabulous Strike, the morning-line favorite, racing a furlong beyond his best. Kodiak Kowboy, meanwhile, won the Sport Page last year at the Carter's distance of seven furlongs.

At 5-1 on the morning, this four-time graded winner looms an overlay as part of an entry with Biker Boy.