LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The 141st Run for the Lilies, also known as the $1 million Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks, is the feature race on Friday’s card under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs. An overflow crowd of over 110,000 is expected for one of the biggest races of the year for 3-year-old fillies. The race will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network during a five and one-half hour telecast starting at 12:30 p.m. Post time for the Oaks is 5:49 p.m.
Since going to the qualifying point system format in 2013, this is the first time the Oaks will have a full field of 14 fillies heading to the gate. The morning line favorite, 12-Stellar Wind (7-2) hails from the west coast for trainer John Sadler. The daughter of Curlin out of a Malibu Moon mare won the Santa Anita Oaks convincingly by over five lengths.
Sadler’s poor record shipping outside of California is a concern and with this group of fillies that’s enough to look elsewhere.
The field is full of talented fillies and the horse that looks to be peaking at the right time is 13-Birdatthewire (6-1), who hopefully will stay at that price at post time. The daughter of 2009 Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird broke through after having traffic difficulties in her two previous Gulfstream preps to win the Gulfstream Oaks. She’ll be on top of my tickets this afternoon.
Larry Jones, who has two Oaks wins under his belt with Proud Spell (2008) and Believe You Can (2012), sends two superb fillies postward, 8-I’m a Chatterbox (4-1) and 7-Lovely Maria (5-1). I’m a Chatterbox swept all three Fair Grounds races by a combined 13 lengths and Florent Geroux will be aboard again for the Oaks.
Lovely Maria finished second behind her stable mate in the Grade 3 Rachel Alexandra and Jones then shipped her to Keeneland where she captured the Grade 1 Ashland.
“Both horses are very full of life, very eager to go about their work,” said Jones. “At least I won’t have to run back and forth between them to saddle. Of course, that means we’re first to loan in the middle, but we can live with that. Now, I just have to keep my two jockeys from interfering with each other,” exclaimed Jones on Tuesday.
Trainer Todd Pletcher sends out two fillies in the Oaks, 4-Eskenformoney (20-1) and 6-Angela Renee (15-1). To see those prices on Pletcher horses is very rare. With perennial meet leaders Javier Castellano and Hall of Famer John Velazquez in the irons, these two will be hard to ignore.
Velazquez won the Kentucky Oaks in 2004 aboard Ashado. Pletcher is seeking his fourth victory in the Oaks having won previously with Ashado, Rags to Riches (2007) and Princess of Sylmar (2013).
In addition to Velazquez, three other riders will be trying to add to their Oaks win totals. Two-time winner Gary Stevens has the mount on 11-Sarah Sis (30-1). Rafael Bejarano (Blind Luck, 2010), on 10-Oceanwave (30-1) and Mike Smith (Princess of Sylmar) will both be seeking their second Oaks wins.
1-Forever Unbridled (15-1) is the daughter of 2006 Oaks winner Lemons Forever who upset that field at 47-1. She's my long shot play and although she has finished behind I’m a Chatterbox in all three preps at the Fair Grounds, she has the bloodlines that has produced an Oaks champion. Add Hall of Famer Mike Smith to the mix and a potential bomb threat is looming.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Birdatthewire; 2 – I’m a Chatterbox; 3 – Lovely Maria; and 4 - Eskenformoney
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.