Kentucky Oaks Draw: Baffert’s Gamine Even-Money Favorite
By Lynne Snierson
The brilliantly fast Gamine, a dual Grade 1 winner owned by Michael Lund Petersen and trained by three-time Oaks-winning trainer Bob Baffert, has been installed as the even-money favorite for Friday’s $1.25 million Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
The 3-year-old daughter of Into Mischief drew post position 5 for the 1 1/8-mile race with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez aboard.
Immediately to her inside is Speech, installed as the 5-1 program choice, with 8-5 second choice Swiss Skydiver on the rail.
The other six sophomores in the field, Bayerness, Donna Veloce, Dream Marie, Hopeful Growth, Shedaresthedevil, and Tempers Rising, were each assigned odds of 15-1 and higher.
Gamine’s previous two races have been dazzling – she won the Acorn (G1) by an astonishing 18 ¾ lengths at Belmont on June 20. She has finished first in all four of her races, but was disqualified in an allowance optional claimer on May 2 at Oaklawn Park after she had tested positive for a performance-enhancing medication.
“She’s getting stronger and stronger, she’s more mature now,” Baffert said of his filly after a recent workout at Del Mar. “These races have really helped her. She’s just more professional. She’s coming in really strong, I’m really happy with her.”
Trainer Kenny McPeek said he was not concerned about the inside post for Swiss Skydiver, whose only loss in her last five consecutive graded stakes races was a runner-up finish to Art Collector, the likely second choice in the early wagering for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby (G1), in the Blue Grass (G2) two starts back.
“I like the inside. I think that’s the shortest trip, obviously,” said McPeek, who trains Swiss Skydiver for Peter Callahan. “We’ll probably let her run to the first turn. I don’t see us taking back. She won with forty-six-and-change (for the first half-mile) at Santa Anita (in winning the Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks), she ran on the front end at Keeneland (in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes) and ran a really good race, except for Art Collector, so we’ll see how it unfolds.”
Swiss Skydiver has four wins, a second and a third from seven starts this season and her win in the 1 1/8 miles Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga in her last race with Tyler Gaffalione as her pilot was dominating. Gaffalione has the return call.
“She only ran a mile-and-an-eighth that day and almost jogged home the last eighth, so I’m not worried about it,” McPeek said. “We’ll leave it up to Tyler, mostly. He spotted forty-eight last time in the Alabama and that was a great ride he put on there and he stalked outside. It’s out of our control as far as where we draw. She’s a very good filly and she’s in good form so we’ll see how it unfolds. I would say letting her run to the first turn and an inside trip is a good thing.”
Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Madaket Stables’ Speech comes into the Oaks after making a statement in the Ashland Stakes (G1) in her last race. She was second to Swiss Skydiver two starts ago in the Santa Anita Oaks and was a neck behind Gamine in an allowance race at Oaklawn Park three races ago before the latter was disqualified for a prohibited medication overage.
Trainer Michael McCarthy has named Hall of Famer Javier Castellano to ride Speech and hopes come Friday she will turn the tables on those two rivals when she takes to the Churchill Downs racing strip for the first time.
“We’ve got speed inside of us and speed outside of us so, hopefully, we can get a nice, clean break and tuck in right behind it. She’s obviously run well at several different tracks with several different surfaces and she’s run her race over all of them so not I’m concerned about Churchill Downs,” said McCarthy, who competes in the Oaks for the first time although he’s been here three times before with winners Princess of Sylmar, Ashado and Rags to Riches as Todd Pletcher’s assistant.
“In the Kentucky Oaks everybody is probably going to be on their A game. We’ll go in with a game plan and go for there. I have a lot of faith in this filly,” said McCarthy.
As for the expected scenario of Gamine and Swiss Skydiver setting the early pace and battling it out from there, McPeek said with tongue in cheek, “I want her in front at the end.”
|Updated Aug 31, 2020 11:00 EST.|
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