Cathryn Sophia is a steal at a 9-2 morning line in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, to be run at a mile-and-an-eighth Friday at Churchill Downs at 5:49 p.m.
Just about every "expert" that I follow and respect has panned Cathryn Sophia, saying she was exposed as a "one-turn" (sprint type) horse in the Ashland Stakes on April 9 at Keeneland, where she finished third by half a length.
I, on the other hand, recognize that the Ashland was her first try in a race involving two turns (her first one-mile race was just one turn), and think she benefitted from the experience, both in terms of a slight check into turn one and that maybe she's averse to the whip; she seemed to shy a bit after jock Javier Castellano tapped her in the stretch as she appeared to flatten just a bit. Her hand-ride and stalking tactics in previous starts suggests, in my view, that post 12 today is a benefit and she's simply the most talented filly in the field.
In my Oaks-Derby wagers, I will use Cathryn Sophia and Rachel's Valentina (#11, 7-to-2 morning line and the only other horse I think can win the Oaks), with three horses -- Shagaf, Nyquist and Gun Runner.
Shagaf (#16, 20-to-1 morning line) remains my top selection and betting key.
Contrary to popular opinion about Shagaf as too slow (based on past "speed" figures) or inferior based on his Wood Memorial effort on April 9, my view is that trainer Chad Brown knew the horse had a Derby spot locked up after winning the Gotham Stakes in March and used the Wood to experiment with tactics.
The replay validates this logic. After a suspect start and getting hemmed in on the rail, jockey Irad Ortiz settled Shagaf about 10 lengths off the speedy front-runners in the backstretch, but it's easy to see the horse was moving easily, even in the face of kickback of mud, before Ortiz rode Shagaf up on the heels of others and had to put on the brakes, Simply, the horse was asked to do too much throughout the race and simply wilted in the homestretch.
Any person who has competed in a road race knows, too, that it's hard to stop from a full head of steam and restart again on a dime. especially three-quarters of the way through the race. My call is that Shagaf simply lost all momentum. I am more confident in the horse, too, with jockey Joel Rosario aboard and am just as bullish on trainer Chad Brown as I was back in January when submitting my Derby futures wager on Shagaf.
In the Kentucky Derby, I love his draw; post #16 is to the inside of the auxiliary gate and finally provides Shagaf with a good stalking position off the early speed.
Ignore the speed figures; this one has faced just about every scenario, even modest trouble in the Gotham, and so I think he is simply battle tested and has experienced adversity already, which is optimal in a 20-horse stampede.
I'm bullish on Shagaf and will use him with 3-to-1 favorite Nyquist, who also gets an advantageous post and is perceived as a need-the-lead type but showed in the Breeders Cup Juvenile he can stalk.
I also like 10-to-1 Gun Runner a bit, if for no other reason than he's a proven stalker who should get a rail trip and run the least amount of ground, breaking from post #5 with zero speed to his inside and the "speed" horses flanked to his outside.
Rather than a "here's how I bet," here's a list of the positions where I think certain horses who could finish first through fourth. I'll key Shagaf and use Nyquist as a backup and assume he finishes in the top two or well out of the money, then include closer types to round out the top four.
- 1 -- Nyquist (13), Shagaf (16)
- 2 -- Gun Runner (5), Nyquist (13), Shagaf (16)
- 3 -- Creator (3), Gun Runner (5), Exaggerator (11), Shagaf (16)
- 4 -- Suddenbreakingnews (2), Creator (3), Mo Tom (4), Gun Runner (5), Exaggerator (11), Shagaf (16)