The showdown in the $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) has been billed as a showdown between Gamine and Swiss Skydiver, but perhaps Speech will be doing some of the talking on Friday afternoon at Churchill Downs.
A field of nine will line up in the Kentucky Oaks, one of six stakes on the 13-race card under the Twin Spires that gets underway at 11:00am ET.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert sends out the even money favorite Gamine, who won the Grade 1 Acorn and Test by a combined 25 ¾ lengths in her last two outings.
Her only blemish in her career came at Oaklawn Park where she beat $100,000 optional claimers in her first start against winners but was later disqualified for having excessive amounts of the legal medication lidocaine in her system.
The filly drew the five post and will have Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the irons again. The trainer will leave it up to the jockey for race strategy.
“You know I leave that up to Johnny. It depends on how she breaks. But she’s really quick. She’s really quick away from there. She’s just fast, she’s really fast,” Baffert said.
Swiss Skydiver is coming off a victory in the Alabama (G1) at Saratoga on Aug. 15, her fourth win in seven starts this year. Her connections were toying with running her against the boys in the Kentucky Derby, but settled on the Oaks.
She took on the boys in the Blue Grass (G2) at Keeneland in July and ran a good second to Art Collector.
Getting overlooked in the Oaks discussion is the talented Speech from the Michael McCarthy barn. The filly is coming off a three-length win in the Ashland (G1) at Keeneland in her last outing. Javier Castellano has the return call and will break from the four post and is 5-1 on the morning line.
Speech Wins Ashland
“We have speed just outside of us and on the inside, obviously, so I guess we know what our plan is now,” McCarthy said. “I’ve been here with Todd (Pletcher) with horses like Ashado and Rags to Riches, but to be here with a horse of my own is special.”
The Kentucky Oaks will be broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network as part of a three-hour telecast that gets underway at 3:00 ET. Get a $200 sign up bonus and bet the Oaks at TwinSpires.
Let’s head out to Churchill Downs for Friday’s featured race of the day:
Churchill Downs Race 12 The Kentucky Oaks G1 (5:45 ET)
4 Speech 5-1
1 Swiss Skydiver 8-5
5 Gamine 1-1
3 Donna Veloce 15-1
The McCarthy trainee is going to offer the best value among the three main contenders in here and she has a shot of pulling off the mild upset. She is coming off a career top effort winning the Ashland (G1) last out at Keeneland going 1 1/16 miles. She prompted the early pace and drew clear in the stretch with a good looking effort. The runner up Venetian Harbor came back to run second in the Test (G1) at Saratoga and the fourth-place finisher Bonny South was second in the Alabama (G1) in her next start. The filly was four lengths behind Swiss Skydiver two back in the Santa Anita Oaks and beaten a neck by Gamine three back at Oaklawn Park although she was placed first when Gamine tested positive for a drug positive. The McCarthy trainee is going to get a good tracking trip behind what could be a lively pace and she looks as if she is going to handle her first trip at nine furlongs. She put in a good breeze over the main track here on Aug. 28.
This filly prompted the early pace and drew clear heading for home to a sharp win the Alabama (G1) at Saratoga last out, her fourth win in her last five starts. The loss came against the boys two back in the Toyota Blue Grass (G2) where she was a good second behind Art Collector, who would have been the second or third choice in the Derby but a minor foot issue knocked him out of the race. She took the field gate to wire three back to win the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) over our top pick. She owns solid early and mid pace numbers draws the rail. There is a ton of speed in here and she has the look of a filly that can sit and pounce.
The morning line favorite has looked like a freak in her last two starts, winning the Acorn (G1) going a one turn mile by 18 3/4 lengths and then winning the Test (G1) at seven furlongs by seven lengths. The question now is can she handle nine furlongs and some pace pressure if it comes. Last out in the Test she did take advantage of a racing strip that was kind to inside speed and horses on or near the lead fared well on the day she won the Acorn. Baffert is 25% winners moving runners from sprint to route. Baffert has won the Oaks three times, the most recent with Abel Tasman in 2017.