Kentucky Oaks wide-open without Songbird

Songbird, the undefeated filly that has so overwhelmed her previous rivals that many clamored for her to enter the Kentucky Derby, would’ve been a huge favorite in this race but unfortunately had to defect due to a fever. That leaves a contentious field of 14 fillies (plus one also-eligible) to contest this $1 million race at one and one-eighth miles at Churchill Downs on Friday. It’ll go as race 11 on the card with an estimated post time of 5:49 p.m. EST.

#11 RACHEL’S VALENTINA was installed as the 7-2 morning-line favorite despite losing her last prep race, the Grade I Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, last month. #2 WEEP NO MORE (9-2) beat her as well as #12 CATHRYN SOPHIA (9-2) in that race with a visually-impressive late rally, albeit into a favorable pace scenario.

Of these three, WEEP NO MORE seems like the most appealing option since she projects to get another fast pace to close into. Churchill Downs regular Corey Lanerie will have the mount. RACHEL’S VALENTINA is tough to toss as she’s bred to love these kinds of distances (by Tapit out of champion filly Rachel Alexandra) and has already shown Grade I ability. John Velazquez, her regular pilot, has the mount once more on Friday. I trust him to overcome a bad post by employing RACHEL’S VALENTINA’s tactical speed. CATHRYN SOPHIA seems to be regressing as the distances get longer, so I’ll be playing against her, especially from this post.

There are also some talented fillies that did not compete in the Ashland, and they are led by #13 LAND OVER SEA (5-1). This post may be tough to overcome as she likes to rally from off the pace, but her Fair Grounds Oaks effort was very impressive as she was three-to-four wide on both turns yet managed to win by open lengths. Her speed figures are good but not great, so I’m a bit skeptical about her chances of winning but she can definitely hit the board.

#8 ROYAL OBSESSION (20-1) is a longshot worth considering; her first stakes foray was a disaster, as she was wide on both turns in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes at the Fair Grounds. She came to New York to try the Gazelle Stakes at Aqueduct last time out, and her runner-up finish in the mud was very encouraging. She’s shown enough ability on a fast track to be considered on Friday as the forecast is clear, and I think Florent Geroux was a good jockey choice by the connections as he rode her in her second career win. The morning-line odds are very appealing on this Tapit filly out of a Tiznow mare that cost over $1 million at auction.

Of the probable pacesetters, #4 GO MAGGIE GO (12-1) is the most enticing option. She’s only started twice and won both times, including a win in the Gulfstream Park Oaks in which she disputed a fast pace but held on strongly. Since she’s so lightly raced improvement is likely for her, and her breeding says she won’t mind going this far.

The play: $1 exacta box 2/8/11/13, $1 exacta 2,8,11/2,4,8,11,13, $1 exacta box 2/8/11 ($30)

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