Handicapping the Fair Grounds Oaks and Derby Prep Race
The Grade II $400,000 TwinSpires.com Fair Grounds Oaks has been the most influential prep for the Grade I $1,000,000 Kentucky Oaks for more than a decade. On Saturday, March 26, eight fillies will take their shot in the 1 1/16 mile race with a pair of Grade I California Fillies leading the way.
Kentucky-bred Stageplay has been established as the morning-line favorite at 5-2, but she must contend with familiar New Orleans-based foes as well as a few new faces from California, including Grade I winner Street Fancy and multiple Grade I-placed Land Over Sea.
LAND OVER SEA has finished behind champion Songbird in five straight races, but she avoids her in this prep race and the late-closing sort should appreciate the famously long stretch of the New Orleans oval. Hall of Fame Jockey John Velazquez will ride Land Over Sea for trainer Doug O’Neil and break from the outside post No. 8.
STAGEPLAY owns the co-highest Beyer Speed Figure of 88 with Land Over Sea, a number she earned on debut when taking 6½-furlong Keeneland maiden special weight last fall. The good-looking gray daughter of Curlin will take another crack at the 1 1/16 mile distance after failing to win two previous times including fifth in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes over this track February 20 as the 3-5 favorite. Jockey Florent Geroux rides her for the third consecutive time.
STREET FANCY won the Grade I $300,000 Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos two back no December 12. She was eased last time out finishing six lengths behind Songbird and will try to catch Land Over Sea as well with her late-running style.
Also, the improving chestnut ADORE, daughter of Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown, ships in for the 2014 Fair Grounds Oaks-winning owner Winchell Thoroughbreds and trainer Steve Asmussen. Adore is 2-for-2 this year but faces a form issue for third-time 3 year olds as they are 1-for-20 in graded stakes the last five years in their third start off the bench.
Local stakes winner VENUS VALENTINE shocked the masses when she ran down Midnight On Ononee in the Rachel Alexander Stakes winning the Grade II race as a 74-1 shot on February 20. She’ll need a fast pace with her late-running style to pull off another big upset.
Cottonwood Stables’ MIDNIGHT ON OCONEE has done nothing but run well against some of the best stakes fillies of her generation, yet has not gone off below 9-2 in any of her stakes tries. Second in both the Silverbulletday and Rachel Alexandra, she stalked up close in a fast pace in the latter in defeat. Trained by Larry Jones, who has won three of the last eight Fair Grounds Oaks, the consistent charge must be respected when she breaks from post No. 2 under James Graham with distance the biggest concern.
DREAM DANCE was disqualified from third last out in the Grade II $200,000 Golden Rod Stakes. The bay filly has been consistent against tough company and breaks from post No. 7 under regular rider Brian Hernandez, Jr.
NORTHWEST TALE rounds out the field and she was beaten fifth in the Silverbulletday and must prove a propensity for route racing in order to compete at this level.
Six of the last 11 winners of the 1 1/16-mile Fair Grounds Oaks have gone on to win its Kentucky equivalent, including Ashado, Summerly, Proud Spell, Rachel Alexandra, Believe You Can and Untapable. In 2015, I’m a Chatterbox used the race as part of a powerhouse season that made her an Eclipse Award finalist for top 3-year-old filly.
The Fair Grounds Oaks awards 100 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner with the top-4 finishers receiving points (100-40-20-10) in the Road to the Kentucky Oaks.