05/02/2012 2:05PM

Kentucky Oaks: Grace Hall, On Fire Baby should have plenty of speed to track

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Barbara D. Livingston
Grace Hall, the morning-line favorite for the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, figures to get a stalking trip.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Folks keep talking about how tough the Kentucky Derby is this year, but the filly counterpart isn’t a whole lot easier. Yes, Grace Hall merits favoritism Friday in the 138th running of the Kentucky Oaks, but a wide array of results seems plausible when the filly classic is run before 100,000-plus at Churchill Downs.

[KENTUCKY OAKS: Get PPs, watch analysis video, and read latest updates]

Grace Hall, with Javier Castellano riding for trainer Tony Dutrow, will start from post 2 in a field of 14 set for the Grade 1, $1 million Oaks, the annual highlight of Derby Eve. The daughter of 2003 Derby runner-up Empire Maker has done little wrong in posting four wins and two seconds in her six-race career, with perhaps her most impressive performances coming here last fall when she was second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and in her last race, a dominating score in the Gulfstream Park Oaks.

“I don’t think Grace Hall could be in any better physical condition, mental condition,” Dutrow said. “In preparing her for the Oaks, I don’t think it could have gone any better, period.”

But there are a few other Oaks fillies with similarly outstanding credentials who come into this 1 1/8-mile race in peak form. On Fire Baby, drawn right alongside Grace Hall in post 1, not only swept the Pocahontas and Golden Rod here last fall, but confirmed that quality this winter at Oaklawn Park with two sharp races, ending with an easy triumph in the Honeybee Stakes for trainer Gary “Red Dog” Hartlage.

“The filly’s done everything right the last couple of weeks, so we’re going to walk her over there with confidence,” said Hartlage, a popular Churchill veteran with a huge local following.

Early speed abounds in this race, with On Fire Baby and Grace Hall likely to seek out a comfortable tracking spot from just behind the leaders. That unofficial group of front-runners could include Eden’s Moon, Broadway’s Alibi, Sacristy, Believe You Can, Amie’s Dini, and Yara.

Of those, Broadway’s Alibi, trained by Todd Pletcher, might rate the best chance to simply outfoot the others, having flaunted unassailable speed in winning her last four starts, ending with the Forward Gal at Gulfstream and the Comely at Aqueduct. Pletcher is a two-time winner of the Oaks with Ashado (2004) and Rags to Riches (2007).

Still, as with pre-Derby speculation, there is the widely held thought that the Oaks is not stealable and holds the potential to set up for a horse who can close from behind. If that’s true, then perhaps On Fire Baby and Grace Hall will benefit. Or Summer Applause, who drew next to that pair in post 3 with Garrett Gomez riding, or perhaps even Karlovy Vary, one of just three Grade 1 winners in the field (with Grace Hall and Eden’s Moon).

Summer Applause, along with Believe You Can, emerged from the Fair Grounds meet in New Orleans as a proven Oaks candidate.

“I really do think she belongs with the best in here,” trainer Bret Calhoun said. “Hopefully, Garrett can work out the right kind of trip for her from right behind all the speed to the outside.”

Karlovy Vary, winner of the Ashland at Keeneland last out at an overlaid 15-1, is listed at 20-1 on the Churchill morning line, which trainer Rusty Arnold said he understands – somewhat.

“The Ashland was over a different surface [Polytrack], and her only race over the dirt was a bad one,” Arnold said. “But she’s a different filly now. She’s had a great week here, with a really good work and good gallops.”

Karlovy Vary was sired by Dynaformer, who was euthanized last Sunday at age 27 and whose litany of top progeny included the great Barbaro.

Eden’s Moon is one of two fillies, along with Jemima’s Pearl, to be saddled by Bob Baffert, who won the Oaks last year with Plum Pretty. Eden’s Moon won the Grade 1 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita in March, while Jemima’s Pearl, who started her career in Ireland, most recently was third in the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

Rosie Napravnik, who rides Believe You Can, will seek to become the first woman jockey to win the race. She nearly pulled off the feat last year when a late-closing second on St. John’s River.

D. Wayne Lukas, the Hall of Fame trainer with four Oaks wins, is a real longshot to win his fifth when saddling Colonial Empress, the only maiden in the field.

Oaks Lily is the lone also-eligible on the program and will make the race only in case of a defection prior to scratch time at 9 a.m. Eastern on Friday.

The Oaks, the 11th of 12 Friday races, will anchor a one-hour broadcast (5-6 p.m. Eastern) on the NBC Sports Network, with post time set for 5:45. For the fourth straight year, many attendees will be attired in pink as a tribute to breast-cancer fund-raising and research.

The Oaks is the first leg in a pair of two-day wagers: a daily double combining the Derby and Oaks and a pick three linking the Oaks, Woodford Reserve, and Derby. It also ends several multi-race wagers, including an all-stakes pick six with a $200,000 pool guarantee; races 6-10 are the La Troienne, Eight Belles, Edgewood, Alysheba, and American Turf.

First post both Friday and Saturday is 10:30 a.m. Eastern.

Kentucky Oaks (G1), Post Time: 5:45 ET Friday

Purse: $1,000,000; 1 1/8 miles

Post

Horse

Trainer

Jockey

ML Odds

1

On Fire Baby

G. Hartlage

J. Johnson

4-1

1

Grace Hall

A. Dutrow

J. Castellano

5-2

1

Summer Applause

B. Calhoun

G. Gomez

15-1

1

Eden's Moon

B. Baffert

M. Garcia

12-1

1

Hard Not To Like

G. Cox

R. Albarado

20-1

1

Broadway's Alibi

T. Pletcher

J. Velazquez

4-1

1

Sacristy

W. Catalano

M. Smith

50-1

1

Jemima's Pearl

B. Baffert

J. Talamo

10-1

1

Believe You Can

L. Jones

R. Napravnik

10-1

1

And Why Not

M. Matz

J. Leparoux

15-1

1

Karlovy Vary

R. Arnold

J. Graham

20-1

1

Colonial Empress

D. W. Lukas

C. Nakatani

50-1

1

Amie's Dini

R. Moquett

J. Court

10-1

1

Yara

J. Garofollo

J. Castanon

30-1

1

Oaks Lily (AE)

T. Hills

R. Bejarano

50-1