The Bomb-Sniffing Handicapper: Oaks Day
I'll admit, I have a pretty good gig. I only work a few days a year.
I'm called into duty on the big racing days to make sure we don't ignore the longshots who might otherwise slip through the cracks.
When the fields are large, and the competition fierce, there's so much attention paid to the favorites with their high-profile connections, it's easy to forget about the runners flying under the radar – the ones 8-1 or higher that give us familiar pangs of regret when the “official” sign goes up.
So, I've been tuning up my bomb-sniffing equipment in the hopes we might find at least one or two that could blow up the tote board over the next couple of days.
Since we're talking longshots, maybe not take out a second mortgage to play them, but here's what I've sniffed out for the Oaks Day card at Churchill Downs.
Edgewood Stakes, Race 7, 1 1/16 miles, Turf
Private Ensign (8-1): I like horses with speed and good grass pedigrees trying the turf for the first time. By A.P. Indy, she has a right to like the turf, since he wins with about 16% of his turf starters and 12% of his first-timers on the lawn. If you toss her last when Emollient ran off at Keeneland and she never got involved, you're left with good form to start her career. She finished 1 1/2 lengths behind Dreaming of Julia before she freaked in the Gulfstream Park Oaks, and before that, Private Ensign had a pair of fairly easy wins and a second. Dale Romans isn't having his best year ever so far, but he's known to do well with fillies on the turf.
Adriani (15-1): She's definitely shown improvement in her last pair since switching to the barn of David Fawkes. The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro has been right on the heels of solid paces, and she's missed by a nose and a neck in two 12-horse fields. She's drawn outside here but should be able to cross and find a tracking trip. Maybe she's figuring things out after a 1-for-8 start, and a leap forward could start the Pick 5 with a bomb.
Grade 3 Eight Belles, Race 8, 7 Furlongs
Blueeyesintherein (8-1): This Magna Graduate filly was 2-for-2 in her juvenile season – both at Churchill Downs – but was gone for 10 months before reappearing at Oaklawn April 12. Apparently, she didn't forget how to win, as she rolled home by 3 3/4 lengths. So she comes in undefeated, and trainer Garry Simms has excellent percentages in all of the appropriate categories. She'll definitely be on the Bomb Sniffer's Pick 4 ticket.
Dancinginthecircle (8-1): Trainer Larry Jones doesn't have a filly to defend his title in the Oaks this year, but he's got one in here with his Oaks-winning jockey Rosie Napravnik aboard. The last race was nothing to write home about, as Dancinginthecircle was crushed by undefeated 2013 Oaks contender Unlimited Budget. But her race prior at this distance would certainly be competitive in this event, and she seems to like Churchill, based on her two races here and in recent mornings. Napravnik, riding her for the first time, could make a difference for a trainer who knows a thing or two about fillies.
Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes, Race 9, 1 1/16 Miles
Laugh Track (20-1): Don't laugh too hard. He's stepping up into graded stakes company for the first time and faces a tough field, but the 4-year-old has moved nicely through his progressions and after a half-dozen races on the Polytrack and turf, this Distorted Humor colt could very well relish the dirt in his first try. Making his 2nd start off a six-month layoff for trainer Mark Casse, he looked the part in his debut this year at Keeneland and is training well for this.
Grade 2 American Turf, Race 10, 1 1/16 Miles
Fire Guard (8-1): In his six starts, this guy's performance can be summed up this way: Good-bad-good-bad-good-bad. Well, this should be a good one then. He loses hot rider Rosario, but he gets Junior Alvarado, who's only firing at 37% for trainer Bill Mott this year.
Joelito (12-1): By his name, I suppose it's appropriate Joel Rosario landed here. The John Sadler trainee ships in from California after breaking his maiden first time on turf in his fourth career start. Clearly, he could improve off that performance with a rider whose strike rate in the early going at Churchill is approaching 50%. Yes, 50.
Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, Race 11, 1 1/8 Miles
Pure Fun (30-1): She finished 7th in her last, but that was against the boys, and she didn't run that bad. Same story the race before, when she ran third in the Bourbonette. Now, she returns to the Churchill dirt, where she romped by 9 1/4 last November. She also gets Lasix first time, and in a race with boatloads of speed, new jockey Julien Leparoux could be licking his chops when he starts his signature come-from-behind bid on a Ken McPeek-trained filly that shouldn't be 30-1, even in this tough bunch.
Rose to Gold (15-1): Calvin Borel stays aboard after two runaway wins on this Friends Lake filly at Oaklawn for trainer Sal Santoro. Okay, so he's up against a Pletcher quartet, a Mott, a Baffert, and a Mandella, but Santoro's filly is no slouch. She's looked phenomenal on the track in the mornings, and if she finds a good place to settle in this speedy bunch, she could start the Oaks-Derby double with a bang.