Handicapping the American Oaks

Since its inception, The American Oaks (G1) has been one of the most interesting races in this country and has offered tremendous wagering opportunities year in and year out.  Let’s take an in-depth look at each of the 14 horses in this year’s rendition:

1. GOZZIP GIRL

 

Best Performance: Sands Point, Belmont, 5/30, 1st

What she’s done: This beautifully bred daughter of Dynaformer has really come into her own as a 3YO and it all started when she moved forward immensely in the Coconut Grove at Gulfstream in mid-February.  She followed that win up with her first graded stakes tally, the Herecomesthebride, where she was just up after rating at the back of the pack.  Her strong Ashland effort gave way to her most impressive run so far, a wire-to-wire victory in the Sands Point.  What is it that sets Gozzip Girl apart from her rivals today?  She is versatile and she can run all day.

What she lacks: Like her rivals today Gozzip Girl lacks experience at 10 furlongs but that means little given that she has handled 9 furlongs easily and is bred to handle today’s distance with ease. 

What to do with her: Key her as she is the one to beat today.  She is ultra-consistent and has not only held her form but has gotten better with time and experience.

2. MAGICAL AFFAIR

Best Performance: Edgewood, Churchill, 5/1, 2nd

What she’s done: Though she lacks a stakes win, this daughter of Giant’s Causeway has run into a heap of trouble in her last two outings.  She was off to a poor beginning in the Edgewood and still finished well on a course that played kindly to speed.  She was then the victim of a wide trip in the slow-paced Sands Point that Gozzip Girl dominated from start to finish.  Unlike some of her rivals today she will improve with the added ground they’ll traverse today.

What she lacks: A stakes win.  Horses, especially turfers, who accumulate excuses when competing at a high level often end up burning piles of money throughout their careers.  She will offer value because she hasn’t been able to break through for a stakes win but it’s still precisely what she lacks.   

What to do with her: She should be given prime consideration.  Her morning line of 6-1 might not be accurate given that Well Monied is going to get slammed at the windows and the Europeans are always unknowns because of their form.  If she leaks up to 10-1, definitely send some money her way.

3. THIRD DAWN

Best Performance: Santa Anita Oaks, Santa Anita, 3/7, 2nd

What she’s done: Her 2nd place finish in the SA Oaks to the defending 2YO champ was a strong effort but given how she and that runner were both pummeled in Kentucky a month later, the quality can be called into question.  She has proven to be a useful horse who is at her best when she can lay back and get a big pace setup.  Her running style is conducive to the weeds and the trainer-jockey combo represented here is strong.

What she lacks: Both turf form and a strong effort against stakes competition.  She has only one turf race in her past performances and it is impossible to draw any conclusions from that effort.  She will be hard-pressed to get the 10th furlong here and hasn’t really showed the powerful kick that will win this race.

What to do with her: Toss her.  A win would be a serious surprise given that she has not performed at a high level in either of her last two starts and she’s yet to prove she can run two strong races in a row.

4. APPLE CHARLOTTE

Best Performance: Swettenham Stud Fillies Trial, Newbury, 5/15, 1st

What she’s done: This daughter of Royal Applause is a listed stakes winner and is a nose away from being 4 for 4 in her career.  She has been remarkably consistent in four career starts, winning at 7, 8, and 10 furlongs and unlike any of her American counterparts, she is proven at today’s distance.  She has been in the States long enough to get a 7 furlong breeze in and will be treated with lasix for the first time. 

What she lacks: The quality of the fillies she’s faced is questionable.  The listed stake that she won and the one she lost by a nostril are not considered two of the tougher races in Europe for fillies.  She will also have to deal with the short stretch of the Hollywood turf course, which will also be very firm. 

What to do with her: Of the two fillies who are going to receive the most support in here, I’m much more inclined to take Gozzip Girl. She is not only proven in America but has fewer questions regarding quality of competition.

5. RARE RANSOM

Best Performance: Rooftop Restaurant Race, Gowran Park, 5/14, 1st

What she’s done: Her wire-to-wire win in the Gowran Park Rooftop Restaurant Race showed versatility, which she had lacked in prior starts.  She finished nicely that day after taking them along at a slow clip, so she obviously has the finishing kick to win a high level turf race. 

What she lacks: Experience at 10 furlongs.  While we’ve talked about how they all lack this for the most part, it looks like it might be a big problem for this daughter of Oasis Dream.  She is not only bred to specialize going shorter but she runs like a miler. 

What to do with her: While you have to have all the respect in the world for any horse Dermot Weld brings over from Europe, this gal seems over her head a bit.  She likes to do her running from on or very near the pace and that puts her in a tough spot in here, as this will be a faster race early than she’s ever run in before. 

6. PUTTANESCA

Best Performance: Royal Stakes, Ellerslie (NZ), 1/1, 1st

What she’s done: Ugh.  Deciphering the New Zealand form is extremely difficult and the fact that this gal hasn’t done much since returning from a freshening makes it even harder.  She has been very average in her last two starts as she closed well two back to miss by a head but was caught last time after opening up in the last furlong.  Her win in the Royal last year was strong and obviously a similar effort would make her very tough.

What she lacks: Class.  The racing in New Zealand is not considered particularly strong when stacked against European turf racing or even high level American running.  She will need to move forward and show much more stamina today than she has in a while.   

What to do with her: Throw her out.  There’s just not enough there to get excited about and the element of the unknown is going to get her more support than she deserves. 

7. ACTING LADY

Best Performance: Providencia, Santa Anita, 4/4, 1st

What she’s done: She has been a consistent performer for a top trainer and seems to fire at least a decent shot in every start.  She may not really be a proven Grade I performer but is going to be underbet considering she’s a bit more accomplished than the rest of the 20-1 shots in here.

What she lacks: Proven form against serious company.  She is a Grade II winner, which few in here can boast but it’s tough to figure out whether she can elevate her game.  It’s also a bit discouraging that Well Monied handled her rather easily in the Honeymoon.

What to do with her: She is worth a couple of bucks in the exotics at the least.  She will get the distance, has a top pilot with whom she’s had success, and comes from a strong barn.  She seems like one of the few who’ll be moving in the right direction in the stretch.

8. PRETTY UNUSUAL

Best Performance: Melair, Hollywood Park, 4/25, 1st

What she’s done: Trainer Barry Abrams has done very well over the years with the offspring of Unusual Heat but this gal looks to be over her head.  She scored nicely in the Melair, which was restricted to Cal-breds, but she got a big pace setup that day and merely capitalized on it. 

What she lacks: A turf win and more importantly a win against decent company.  She’s over her head today and an in the money finish would surprise. 

What to do with her: You can appreciate Barry Abrams always helping a racing secretary fill the entry box but it seems best to overlook this gal completely.

9. NAN

Best Performance: Santa Anita Oaks, Santa Anita, 3/7, 4th

What she’s done: Very little.  She has cracked the trifecta only once as a 3YO and that came in a 3rd place finish in the Santa Ynez going 7 furlongs on the Pro-Ride.  It’s about time that her connections decided that she’s a turf horse but her accomplishments thus far hardly inspire confidence. 

What she lacks: Any proven turf form.  A trio of in the money finishes in NY on the weeds hardly lead you to believe she can win a Grade I race at 10 furlongs. 

What to do with her: Toss her completely.

10. AFTERNOON STROLL

Best Performance: Appalachian, Keeneland, 4/16, 1st

What she’s done: A win at 50-1 in the Appalachian made it clear that she’s a turf horse and she followed up that score with a respectable 3rd place finish in the American 1000 Guineas at Arlington.  She has proven clearly in two starts that turf is her game and that’s an accomplishment given who she’s facing today. 

What she lacks: Stamina.  Her sire was a solid miler to nine furlong animal but struggled getting that 10th furlong.  She has been very game in two turf starts but looks like a horse who may have some issues with that last furlong.  Perhaps if jockey Joe Talamo can take her to the lead and keep something in reserve she could dispel that notion.

What to do with her: Let her beat you but recognize that she’s a very dangerous horse.  Her speed in a race that lacks it makes her intriguing and the fact that she quit going a mile last time will prompt many to look away from her.

11. THE BEST DAY EVER

Best Performance: Regret, Churchill Downs, 6/13, 2nd

What she’s done: After being dangled for a 50k tag, this daughter of Brahms has responded with two game efforts, including a narrow miss in the Regret last time out.  Brahms himself earned his greatest career triumph over this course as he took the Hollywood Derby. 

What she lacks: Seasoning.  The Regret field was respectable but lacked a great deal of depth.  The fact that she ran by a number of runners in there in garbage time hardly leads you to believe that she can step up her game to this level. 

What to do with her: While she doesn’t look particularly tough in here, you kind of feel like you know what you’re getting.  She’s going to lay back and make one run and that’s a style that many in here will employ and many of them also have a bit better kick.

12. LEXLENOS

Best Performance: Honeymoon, 5/31, 3rd

What she’s done: Considering she was relatively well-backed when she made her North American debut, she’s been a serious disappointment.  She may end up being better off on the synthetic surfaces as her four European efforts all came on those and her two turf races here leave something to be desired.

What she lacks: A clunk-up third in the Honeymoon doesn’t exactly make her likely to jump up today and contend for the top prize.  She lacks any seasoning and proven form. 

What to do with her: Toss her.

13. WELL MONIED

Best Performance: Honeymoon, Hollywood, 5/31, 1st

What she’s done: She’s been everyone’s darling since an impressive win in the Honeymoon when she scored rather handily against eight rivals.  She’s really come to hand since being moved to the turf and has paired up Thoro-Graph figures in each of her last three wins.

What she lacks: She hasn’t beaten a field with any serious quality as the Honeymoon was a bit of a questionable field.  Her post position will force her into a tougher trip than her connections would have liked but she is clearly an up and comer and that gives her a serious chance. 

What to do with her: Recognize she’s one of the likeliest winners but don’t take her at a short price.  She shouldn’t be favored and you should run away from her if she is.

14. MRS. KIPLING

Best Performance: Senorita, Hollywood Park, 5/3, 1st

What she’s done: A handy win in the Senorita made her an immediate American Oaks contender as she scored that afternoon with great ease.  She has run two very good races since coming to America and her trainer is one of the best at getting a horse ready for a one-race engagement.

What she lacks: She is a big question mark at 10 furlongs.  Her post almost guarantees that she’ll cover much more ground than a horse like Gozzip Girl.  Knowing that you have to hope that she’s just that much better than Gozzip Girl and that seems like a tough proposition. 

What to do with her: Like Well Monied, you should consider this gal a strong player and one of the few who can win but don’t go hog wild as she has some major hurdles to overcome. 

I’ll be playing Magical Affair with Gozzip Girl and Well Monied, hoping that a good trip finally goes her way. 

Take a look at last year’s American Oaks, won by Pure Clan:

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