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In this April 6, 2019, image provided by Benoit Photo, Bellafina, with Flavien Prat aboard, wins the Grade I, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks. She’s the 2-1 favorite for the 145th Kentucky Oaks but Chris Garrity is betting against her. (Benoit Photo via AP)
In this April 6, 2019, image provided by Benoit Photo, Bellafina, with Flavien Prat aboard, wins the Grade I, $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks. She’s the 2-1 favorite for the 145th Kentucky Oaks but Chris Garrity is betting against her. (Benoit Photo via AP)|Associated Press
Thoroughbreds

Kentucky Oaks Friday: Garrity handicaps today’s Churchill Downs stakes races, one of the best racing days of the year

Post time is an early 10:30 am EDT. His picks start with the 5th race.

Chris Garrity

It's the first of two big days at Churchill Downs today. It's the Kentucky Oaks this afternoon, and the Kentucky Derby tomorrow. Like a 7-year old on Christmas Eve, we can finally say: it is here!

And make no mistake: while everyone knows that the Derby is the main event, Kentucky Oaks day is a spectacular race in its own right. And its undercard is a spectacular slate of races as well. In a way, it's sad, because a day of racing this good should never be overshadowed by anything, and the positioning of the Oaks card the day before the Derby guarantees that it will always be somewhat of an afterthought. But we'll not dwell on the negative now; we will revel in one of the great days of racing in the entire year.

And what a day it is: a 13-race card, six stakes, all of them graded, on grass and dirt, from the 5 1/2 furlongs of the Twin Spires Turf Sprint to the 9 furlongs of the Kentucky Oaks. If the card doesn't have it all, it comes pretty close. First post is an early 10:30 am, so be ready early.

We'll take a moment to talk about weather and track condition. The weather forecast in Louisville today is iffy, and while this time of year the dirt at Churchill has an almost amazing ability to dry out -- yesterday was a good example; after some morning rain, the main track started out sloppy, and ended up fast by the end of the day -- the catch is that in early May in Kentucky, a lot of rain can fall in a very short period of time, changing the nature of the track, and how it plays, very quickly and very dramatically. It's going to be a day where we need to pay close, real-time attention to how both surface are playing, and to be especially attuned to potential track biases. Keep that in mind as you go to the windows today. We will note that we are, for the moment, handicapping these races for fast and firm. We will update this post this afternoon if conditions warrant.

Also, because of the number of races, we are going to cut some of the stuff we usually put in here. We're not going to give you post times, we will omit the conditions of the races, and we won't give you race numbers, other than in the bets themselves. This information is everywhere today, readily accessible to all, and we're going to do our best to analyze these races as succinctly as we can. Let's go.

The Eight Belles has speed duel written all over it: 1-Take Charge Angel is fast, 4-Break Even is faster, and 7-Lyrical Lady has the most early speed of all of them. We expect all of them to be up front, setting early fractions that are much, much too fast, and that, combined with the 7-furlong distance, which is usually the hardest distance for a horses to carry speed from start to finish, to set the race up for a horse making a late move.

We think that will be 3-Queen of Bass. She won a maiden race in her second career start, an allowance in her third start, and now joins stakes company in start number four. She's shown good tractability in these races, sitting just off the pacesetters and making a move on the turn. We think that this style suits the likely shape of this race to a tee, and we also like that her speed figures are about as good as those earned by any of the other runners here. We like Queen of Bass, and we like her a lot. We will bet her to win at 4-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 5, $35 to win on 3-Queen of Bass.

The Edgewood is the day's first turf race, and we are expecting the turf, both in this one and the rest of the day's turf races, to be firm. A field of 7 drew in here, and we are guessing that the relatively short field is a result of trainers avoiding what will probably be the shortest favorite of the weekend in here. That would be 1-Newspaper of Record, a Chad Brown trainee who is undefeated and unchallenged in three career starts, all on turf, winning all of them by over six lengths. She won last year's Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf in a romp, and she may go off even shorter than her 3/5 morning line price.

The past performances show that she seems to tower over the rest of this field. Not only does she appear to have the most ability, but she seems to have a pace advantage here: she likes running on or near the lead, and there is a lack of early speed among the other runners. There is one thing that could be concerning: she has never won a race on firm turf, but it just looks like she's the best horse in here. We can't take 1/5, and we can't find another horse we think has a shot at beating her, so we will pass on the race.

The Alysheba drew a field of 10, and the two headliners here are 1-McKinzie, the 8/5 favorite, who was last seen finishing second in the Santa Anita Handicap; and 8-Seeking the Soul, the 5/2 second choice, whose last race was in the Dubai World Cup.

Both these horses have merits, but we don't particularly like either of them, and we are turning to a long shot here, 9-Multiplier. This 5-year-old gray horse has been running recently on grass, including in some top-flight races like the Shadwell Turf Mile and the Manhattan, both Grade 1 affairs. Multiplier did not embarrass himself on the sod, but neither did he distinguish himself, and a look at his prior form, and his pedigree, says to us that he is best when he's running around two turns on dirt. But the biggest positive change we see is the trainer: over the winter, Multiplier was moved from Peter Miller to Bill Mott; we see this as a positive move. He has been training steadily and well at Belmont Park, we think he is sitting on a big effort, and most important, his past form suggests he has about as much ability as the top contenders in here. And he's 20-1, which makes a win bet a no-brainer. We will bet on him to win the race. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 7, $25 to win on 9-Multiplier.

The La Troienne drew a good and deep field of 10. There are some pretty evenly matched runners in here, but we like 9-Secret Spice. This Richie Baltas-trainee has always had ability, but her race record suggests she has had problems staying healthy. But she appears to be sound now, and when she's sound, she's very, very good. Moreover, we think her stalking style fits in a race that has some early speed in it. We think she gets a perfect stalking trip, and makes a big move turning for home to win the race. We will bet her to win at 5/2. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 8, $25 to win on 9-Secret Spice.

The 5 1/2 furlong turf sprint is, well, a sprint on turf. There are 10 runners, and another heavy favorite: 6-World of Trouble is even money on the morning line. The Jason Servis trainee looks like a freak: he is freakishly talented, freakishly fast, and freakishly versatile, able to win on dirt and turf. But we think he is better on turf: he's only run on grass twice, but both races have been sensational: he won an overnight turf stakes at Belmont last fall at 6 furlongs, and he finished second in last year's Breeders Cup Turf Sprint, earning an otherworldly 118 Beyer Speed Figure. He comes into the race in good form, with three straight wins behind him; we think the rest of the field is running for second money. We are picking him to win, but due to the short odds, we will pass on making a win bet on him.

Now onto the headliner, the 145th running of the Kentucky Oaks. A full field of 14 is entered, with two also-eligibles, which should guarantee a full starting gate. This is a very good betting race, with no clear standout. The 2-1 morning line favorite is 4-Bellafina, but we are not sold on her: she has been beating up on short fields in Southern California, and not running particularly fast doing so. We think she is a play-against.

We are going with 7-Jaywalk. Last year's juvenile filly champion has had a dismal campaign so far in 2018; she has beaten twice, at very short prices, in stakes races at Gulfstream at Keeneland. But we are going to go deep into the vault, and will pick her for the Skip Away factor: the dirt at Churchill Downs can be idiosyncratic, and there are horses who just do not like it: the all-time great Skip Away, who won just about everywhere, failed to cash a check, as trainer Sonny Hine put it, only twice in his life, and both of those races were at Churchill Downs.

But while some horses do not relish the Churchill dirt, there are conversely horses who do like it, and we think that Jaywalking is one of them. Her win in last year's Breeders Cup shows that. We think that her affinity for the surface, plus the fact that her last two races, even though they were not winning efforts, should have sharpened her fitness, make her an appealing pick, and we are getting a pretty hefty 8-1 price on a filly as accomplished as this.

Moreover, she is trained by John Servis, who knows how to win these races: he has won both the Oaks, with Cathryn Sophia, and the Derby, with Smarty Jones. We suspect that the target for Jaywalking all along has been the Oaks, not her earlier races this year, and that she will be razor-sharp today. We will bet her to win at 8-1. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 11, $50 win on 7-Jaywalk.

We will be back tomorrow for the Derby card. Enjoy this day -- it's one of the best of the year. And as always, good luck at the windows.