Thursday, May 4, 2017

Farrell to Win the 2017 Kentucky Oaks

In thoroughbred racing, an "off" track is the monkey wrench in the works. 

Bettors may whine.

Horses' connections will cry "bad luck" when their horses don't fire or say their equine sportscars don't like getting mud kicked in their face.

"Professional" handicappers and experts in the Twitterverse will lament anything but perfect weather and a dry race track, but this weekend's forecast for Churchill Downs is miserable, with rain projected through at least Friday and tapering off -- hopefully -- by the time 20 runners go to post around 6 p.m. on Saturday for the Kentucky Derby.

A wet if not sloppy track plays into my handicapping of both the Friday and Saturday cards, but my selection of Farrell to win Friday's $1 million Kentucky Oaks -- also going to post a little after 6 p.m. ET -- speaks more of her versatility and, in my view, favorable post position outside of the race favorite, 5-to-2 Paradise Woods.  

Farrell enters her fourth race of 2017 as the co-third choice for bettors at a 5-to-1 morning line, though that could go down for a few reasons, namely that she's got four stakes wins (including back-to-back Grade 2's), is undefeated to start her 3-year-old campaign, and has two wins at Churchill Downs, both on off tracks (one listed as "muddy sealed" and the other "wet fast"). 

Naysayers will point to the level of competition that she has put away thus far, including four Kentucky Oaks runners installed at odds of 20- or 30-to-1. Yet, after watching replays on all 14 of Friday's entrants, to me she seemed to gallop with ease and showed good enough gate speed to get in a stalking position behind apparent front-runners to her inside, namely #3 Mopotism (20-to-1) and #4 Paradise Woods. Stamina isn't a concern either.

The Fair Grounds Oaks race on April 1 -- one notch below the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks -- shows Farrell (#6) settling in the "three-path" just outside the two leaders until the home stretch, where she kicks into a higher gear without much prompting from jockey Channing Hill and separates -- almost appearing bored and inexplicably switching leads late in the stretch. 

The gallop-out (the part where the horses continue running after the wire) also shows a keen spirit from the gal and tells me that she can get the one-and-one-eighth of a mile distance on Friday.

As for race shape, I see Farrell sitting third or fourth into the backstretch and the field running sensible fractions. If the leaders run 23 seconds and change for the first quarter mile and between 47-48 seconds for the first half-mile as I expect, then it'll make it more difficult for horses well off the pace to make up ground in the stretch drive, giving those toward the front of the pack an edge.

That's been the case in four of the last five Kentucky Oaks, with long-shot Princess of Sylmar shocking the field at almost 40-to-1 in 2013 the outlier in a race run at a faster pace that was conducive to closers. Otherwise, we've seen horses sitting just off the top pair winning this race from a little wider on the Churchill Downs oval.

That's my angle here, and so I'm picking Farrell to win. 

In keeping with tradition, I'm allocating a $50 budget to the Kentucky Oaks and will primarily bet the exacta and trifecta, keying Farrell with Paradise Woods and #12 Daddys Lil Darling, an outsider at 20-to-1 who's a late runner but has a win in the mud at Churchill (last September) and seems like she's got lots of untapped potential. At 20-to-1, she's certainly worth using underneath.

Others in the field that I respect and will use are #10 Miss Sky Warrior (9-to-2, one of the pacesetters in all likelihood), #11 Tequilita (20-to-1) and #14 Salty (6-to-1). The latter stylishly won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks on April 1 but gets the outermost draw outside of faster starters; getting a "good trip" may prove difficult, and so I see third place as Salty's ceiling.

Good luck to everyone wagering Friday's Oaks card, and stay tuned for my Derby thoughts.

NJ Horseplayer's Kentucky Oaks Wagers: $50 Total
$10 exacta 7-12 (Farrell over Daddys Lil Darling) = $10
$4 exacta 7-4 (Farrell over Paradise Woods) = $4
$4 exacta 12-7 (Daddys Lil Darling over Farrell) = $4
$4 exacta 4-7 (Paradise Woods over Farrell) = $4
$1 exacta key box 7 with 1, 10, 11, 14, 15 = $10
$1 trifecta key box 7 with 4, 12, 14 (Farrell with Paradise Woods, Daddys Lil Darling, Salty) = $18

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