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Garrity's Friday Churchill Downs Picks: 4 stakes races – Kentucky Oaks, Alysheba, Edgewood and Eight Belles

First post is 2:09 pm EDT.

There is a spectacular card at Churchill Downs today, headlined by a terrific renewal of the Kentucky Oaks. The weather has been a question mark all week, with forecasts calling for copious amounts of rain, but as of Friday morning, the sky was cloudy, but dry, and it looks like the good folks in Louisville just might catch a break with the weather. We have plays in four stakes today, the Oaks and three undercard races, and we have handicapped of them for fast dirt and firm turf. With that out of the way, let’s go.

Churchill Downs, Race 7, 2:09 pm ET

Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 4 & Up

Eight older horses line up for the Alysheba. We see no reason to look past favored 5-Olympiad, who comes into this off two excellent stakes wins in New Orleans, and whose recent morning workouts suggest will be in razor-sharp form this afternoon. This is a good horse who seems to be peaking right now; look for him to press the pace early, and to draw away late. We will bet him to win at 9/5. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 7, $40 to win on 5-Olympiad.

Churchill Downs, Race 8, 3:03 pm ET

Grade 2 Edgewood Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Turf, 3-Year-Old Fillies

The Edgewood drew a field of ten fillies. We like one who is lightly raced: it’s 3-McKulick, who ran just twice as a juvenile, winning a maiden races at Saratoga in August and finishing third in the Miss Grillo Stakes at Belmont in October, and who consequently comes into this race off a pretty lengthy layoff. We are unconcerned with the time away, as she has a terrific turf pedigree, and seems to be destined for stardom. She simply looks better than the rest, and we will bet her to win at 7/2. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 8, $40 to win on 3-McKulick.

Churchill Downs, Race 9, 4:04 pm ET

Grade 2 Eight Belles Stakes, 7 furlongs, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies

Ten fillies line up for the Eight Belles. The makeup of the group, especially the presence of the blazingly fast 2-Pretty Birdie, makes a fast pace likely, and that has us looking for a runner who can rate behind the speed early, and close strongly late.

We think that will be 9-Awake at Midnyte. She comes off defeats in two longer races, the Rachel Alexandra at the Fair Grounds and the Ashland at Keeneland, and we think that cutback in distance is key, as she looks to us like she will be best as a closing sprinter, which is how this race sets up. She has a terrific pedigree, by Nyquist out of a Union Rags mare, and we think she is very live here, partly because the race shape should favor her running style, and partly because her last two races did not allow her to show her true ability. At 15-1, that makes her a terrific play; we will bet her to win. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 9, $40 to win on 9-Awake at Midnyte.

Churchill Downs, Race 11, 5:51 pm ET

Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, 1 ⅛ miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies

A cracking good group of fourteen 3-year-old fillies lines up for the Kentucky Oaks. An indication of that quality is that the top three choices on the morning line, 4-Nest, 7-Echo Zulu, and 10-Kathleen O, who are 5/2, 4-1, and 5/2 respectively, have thirteen total career starts, and have won twelve of them. In another year, any one of these fillies would be a prohibitive favorite, but this year’s crop of 3-year-old females is deep and talented.

While these three have all been impressive, they share another thing in common: They’ve had perfect trips in their prep races. Perfect trips are hard to get in a field this big, however, and it is an open question whether any one of them can overcome the adversity they are likely to face this afternoon. And that makes the pick another runner, one who is a mortal lock to get a better trip than she did last time: 1-Secret Oath. She looked like a world-beater winning stakes races at Oaklawn Park in the winter; she was so good, in fact, that trainer D. Wayne Lukas ran her against the boys in the Arkansas Derby, where she had an absolutely nightmarish run, having to run wide throughout because of traffic trouble. We think she acquitted herself quite nicely to finish third that day – it would have been understandable, given the adversity she faced, if she’d thrown in the towel – and we expect her to revert to form today, to show the ability that made her the Arkansas Derby favorite. At 6-1, she offers terrific betting value, especially since her rail post virtually guarantees her a more ground-saving trip than she got last time. We think Secret Oath is the bet of the day, and we will consequently play her to win, and do so enthusiastically. The bet: Churchill Downs, Race 11, $75 to win on 1-Secret Oath.

That’s all for today. Until tomorrow -- Derby Day! – enjoy the races, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.

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