The graded stakes action on Kentucky Oaks Day at Churchill Downs kicks off in the fifth race, the $250,000 Eight Belles Stakes (G2) for three-year-old fillies.
The seven-furlong sprint is also the first leg of a Pick 3 that includes the $250,000 Edgewood Stakes (G3) for sophomore fillies traveling a mile on turf and the $400,000 Alysheba Stakes (G2) for older horses negotiating 1 1/16 miles on the main track.
I’m inclined to pursue this Pick 3 for a couple of reasons. For starters, I think #1 Newspaperofrecord is an absolute lock to win the Edgewood Stakes. Trained by Chad Brown, this sensational filly went unbeaten and unchallenged in three starts last year, absolutely crushing her rivals in a maiden race, the Miss Grillo Stakes (G3) and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1). Her minimum margin of victory was 6 1/2 lengths, and the way she shredded a high-class field in the Breeders’ Cup (over this turf course no less) was stunning. Newspaperofrecord has tactical speed and should relish the rain-soaked turf course at Churchill Downs today, so anything less than a resounding victory would be a surprise.
The other reason I’m interested in this Pick 3 is because I’m not convinced #1 McKinzie is unbeatable in the Alysheba Stakes. Yes, the Bob Baffert-trained 4-year-old is talented, accomplished and a deserving favorite, but he’s also lost a couple of close calls this year and has never won outside of age-restricted company.
I’ll still use him on my tickets, particularly since he’s cutting back in distance from the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap (G1) and is probably better suited to 1 1/16 miles. But I’ll back him up with #2 Tom’s d’Etat, an occasionally brilliant speed horse who could get brave up front, and #8 Seeking the Soul, a grade 1 winner with an affinity for Churchill Downs. Two starts back, Seeking the Soul finished a strong second in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) over a sloppy, sealed track at Gulfstream, so the wet track today shouldn’t bother him.
That leaves the Eight Belles Stakes, clearly the most wide-open event of the sequence. #9 Mother Mother is favored for Bob Baffert and won the Rags to Riches Stakes at Churchill last fall, but in terms of Beyer speed figures, she boasts no advantage here and could race wide from post 9. #2 Proud Emma, cutting back off an even fourth-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Gazelle Stakes (G2), could be a danger with Mike Smith in the saddle. Two starts back she rallied powerfully to win a seven-furlong allowance race over a sloppy track at Santa Anita. #3 Queen of Beas has won two straight at Gulfstream, #4 Break Even has rattled off three straight at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn, #6 Del Mar May just won off a layoff at Keeneland and held her own against strong company (Bellafina, Brill) at Del Mar last summer, and #7 Lyrical Lady was a fast allowance winner at Oaklawn in March.
Since I think Mother Mother is vulnerable at a short price, I’ll exclude her from my tickets and use the other five mentioned above to kick off the sequence.
$4 Pick 3: 2,3,4,6,7 with 1 with 1 ($20)
$2 Pick 3: 2,3,4,6,7 with 1 with 2,8 ($10)