The Return to Normalcy Tour at Churchill Downs starts Friday when the Longines Kentucky Oaks returns to its traditional spot on the eve of the first Saturday in May. A field of 13 will be on hand for the famed Grade 1 stakes that has once again attracted a stellar collection of the best 3-year-old fillies in training and turned the 1 1/8-mile stakes into a highly attractive betting affair.
1. Pauline’s Pearl (20-1 morning line odds): She’s certainly interesting at the odds and from the rail. After finishing a good second in the Honeybee Stakes while making her stakes debut, she earned her spot in this field by winning Fantasy Stakes over another Oaks starter in Coach. Deserves some consideration to figure in the exotics. Notable that she gets Asmussen’s top rider, Ricardo Santana Jr.
JOCKEY: Ricardo Santana Jr. TRAINER: Steve Asmussen
2. Maracuja (20-1): Was second to one of the Oaks favorites, Search Results, in the Gazelle Stakes, so you can’t toss her out. That was a big improvement over previous tries and there’s a good chance she may bounce off it in a bigger and better field.
JOCKEY: Kendrick Carmouche TRAINER: Rob Atras
3. Clairiere (5-1): Asmussen’s leading candidate has never been worse than second in four career starts. Has raced against Travel Column three times, winning once. A quick pace and the added distance will definitely help her cause.
JOCKEY: Tyler Gaffalione TRAINER: Steve Asmussen
4. Crazy Beautiful (15-1): Another interesting longshot possibility. She was Grade 1-placed at age 2, then was reluctant to load when a distant second in her 3-year-old debut. She was better behaved in the Gulfstream Park Oaks and won by 2 ¼ lengths. Continued improvement would make her a contender here.
JOCKEY: Jose Ortiz TRAINER: Ken McPeek
5. Pass the Champagne (15-1): She was only a head behind Malathaat, the Oaks favorite, in the Grade 1 Central Bank Ashland Stakes, which makes her a big threat at nice odds. The drawback is that the added distance may work against her.
JOCKEY: Javier Castellano TRAINER: George Weaver
6. Travel Column (3-1): In her last three starts, all in Grade 2 company, she has two wins and a second by a neck. With two wins already at Churchill Downs, she figures to be a force in this field and just might be the one to beat.
JOCKEY: Florent Geroux TRAINER: Brad Cox
7. Ava’s Grace (50-1): Scratched.
8. Moraz (30-1): She’s never been worse than third in five career starts and it’s hard to toss her out. But in a field as competitive as this, you would like to see at least one stakes win to her credit and so far, she’s 0-for-3 in that regard. At least she has the services of a hot jockey in California’s Flavien Prat.
JOCKEY: Flavien Prat TRAINER: Michael McCarthy
9. Coach (50-1): Another who has long odds and has been competitive with several of the main horses in this race. She was third in the Fantasy, so it wouldn’t be a shock if she wins, but it doesn’t seem likely, either. On the bright side, maybe she kicks off a huge weekend for Luis Saez and Brad Cox.
JOCKEY: Luis Saez TRAINER: Brad Cox
10. Malathaat (5-2): She’s undefeated and the morning-line favorite. You can’t knock four wins in as many tries, but she had to work hard to win the Central Bank Ashland in her lone race at 3-year-old. The other top contenders appear to have an edge in being battle-tested this year and perhaps that will be the deciding factor in the final furlong.
JOCKEY: John Velazquez TRAINER: Todd Pletcher
11. Will’s Secret (30-1): She won a pair of Oaklawn stakes, including the Honeybee Stakes, but then was a little more than five lengths behind Malathaat when third in the Central Bank Ashland. A wide trip may have hurt her there, but ground loss could be a problem once again here from post 11.
JOCKEY: Jon Court TRAINER: Dallas Stewart
12. Search Results (3-1): She’s a perfect 3-for-3 and seems ready to handle the big step up in class from a Grade 3 win at Aqueduct to the Oaks. The post is a concern, but the skills of jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. just might negate that. She is definitely one of the major players in a highly contentious race.
JOCKEY: Irad Ortiz Jr. TRAINER: Chad Brown
13. Competitive Speed (50-1): Having lost by four lengths or more in her last three starts, she has not lived up to her name. We’ll pass on her, especially from post 13.
JOCKEY: Chris Landeros TRAINER: Javier Gonzalez
14. Millefeuille (20-1): She led in mid-stretch in the Gulfstream Park Oaks but settled for second behind Crazy Beautiful. She was a little less than a length behind Malathaat as a 2-year-old in the Demoiselle Stakes, so, there are things to like in her past performances. What’s much tougher to like is post 14 in a field where there’s little to choose between many of the top contenders and significant ground loss promises to be costly.
JOCKEY: Joel Rosario TRAINER: Bill Mott
THE PICK: Travel Column
LIVE LONGSHOT: Pauline’s Pearl