Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Oaks Super Six: February 24, 2017

Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Oaks Super Six: February 24, 2017

Unique Bella romping to victory in the Santa Ynez Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita – © Benoit Photo

Champagne Room winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) - Benoit Photo
Champagne Room (pink silks) and Valadorna (yellow silks) are two prominent contenders for the Kentucky Oaks. (Benoit Photo)

With just over two months remaining until the $1,000,000 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) at Churchill Downs, and with the annual Kentucky Oaks Future Wager Pool now open for wagering, now is the perfect time to launch the first edition of my Kentucky Oaks “Super Six!”

As the Road to the Kentucky Oaks continues, I will issue occasional updates to my rankings of the top contenders while sharing thoughts on their performances in major prep races. For Brisnet past performances of the fillies that comprise the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager pool, please visit the Brisnet website. Enjoy!

1. Unique Bella

At this point, Unique Bella is my top choice by a wide margin–it really isn’t even close. The daughter of leading sire Tapit and Breeders’ Cup winner Unrivaled Belle has been sensational winning her last three starts by a combined 26 1/4 lengths, and she has been remotely challenged in any of them while winning in a manner reminiscent of her older stablemate Songbird. In the one-mile Las Virgenes Stakes (gr. II) on February 5th, Unique Bella effortlessly pulled away from Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) winner Champagne Room to win by 8 3/4 lengths in the time of 1:35.66 seconds, which translated to a BRIS speed figure of 106. That makes her the only filly in the Kentucky Oaks Future Wager Pool to have earned a triple-digit BRIS figure, and if she stays healthy, it’s hard to envision her getting beat in the Kentucky Oaks.

2. Valadorna

The 2016 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) runner-up returned to action on January 27th with a well-measured win in a one-mile and seventy-yard allowance race at Fair Grounds. She earned only a 90 BRIS speed figure, but her performance was much more impressive than the final time and speed figure imply. Settling far off the pace in a five-horse field, Valadorna really had no business catching the front-running pacesetter What What What, who had carved out slow fractions of :48.51 and 1:13.85 while leading her closest pursuers by three lengths. Yet when the field turned for home, Valadorna shifted to the outside and casually ran down What What What under a confident ride by Julien Leparoux. I have the feeling that we haven’t seen Valadorna’s best yet, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she runs in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr. III) on February 25th at Fair Grounds.

3. Elate

Although she could only finish second in the February 11th Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs, I was impressed with Elate’s performance given that she was coming off a layoff and known to be less than 100% cranked for the race. Under the circumstances, finishing clearly second-best after a wide trip was a solid performance, and I expect to see significant improvement from this Bill Mott-trained daughter of Medaglia d’Oro. Don’t forget, she broke her maiden first-time out at Aqueduct last November by a dozen lengths (earning a 90 BRIS speed figure), and since Mott generally isn’t known for winning with debut runners on dirt, this performance alone suggests that Elate could be something special.

4. Farrell

With three wins from five starts, including two stakes races, Farrell is one of the more accomplished fillies targeting the Kentucky Oaks. She ended 2016 with an impressive six-length romp in the Golden Rod Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, and proved she can handle a wet track when she won the Silverbulletday Stakes at Fair Grounds by 2 3/4 lengths after tracking the early pace. Trained by Wayne Catalano, Farrell will get another big test on February 25th when she competes against Valadorna in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (gr. III) at Fair Grounds.

5. Champagne Room

While she was no match for Unique Bella in the Las Virgenes Stakes, you have to give Champagne Room credit for her third-place finish–she might have been second if she hadn’t tried hard to challenge Unique Bella on the far turn. She still received a BRIS speed figure of 94, superior to the career-best figures earned by Valadorna, Elate, and Farrell. A two-time graded stakes winner in 2016, culminating with a 33-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), Champagne Room may give turf a try in the March 11th China Doll Stakes at Santa Anita, which could serve as a prep race for the April 8th Ashland Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.

6. Jenda’s Agenda

Trainer Larry Jones has won the Kentucky Oaks three times with Proud Spell (2008), Believe You Can (2012), and Lovely Maria (2015), and he could have another major contender with the unbeaten Jenda’s Agenda. After opening her career with a front-running 6 1/4-length romp in a six-furlong maiden race at Fair Grounds (earning a BRIS speed figure of 94), Jenda’s Agenda stretched out to a mile and seventy yards and won a February 19th allowance race at Fair Grounds by a length, once again leading all the way. Jenda’s Agenda certainly has the pedigree to be a major success around two turns, for her sire–Proud Citizen–previously achieved fame as the sire of Believe You Can, and her dam is Just Jenda, a three-time graded stakes winner around two turns that won the Monmouth Oaks (gr. III) in 2009.

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Follow J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman"):

J. Keeler Johnson is a writer, blogger, videographer, and all-around horse racing enthusiast who was drawn to the sport by Curlin's quest to become North America's richest racehorse. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He lives in Wisconsin and also writes for the blog Unlocking Winners.

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