Bellafina Tabbed Morning-Line Oaks Favorite


Bellafina | Benoit

A field of 14 fillies, plus two also-eligibles, was drawn Monday morning for Friday’s GI Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. The 2-1 morning-line favorite is multiple Grade I winner Bellafina (Quality Road), who will break from post four and is coming off a 5 1/4-length victory in the Apr. 6 GI Santa Anita Oaks.

“It’s a good post for her. I’m fine with it,” trainer Simon Callaghan said. “I see there’s a fair amount of speed outside us and I’m thinking the race should set up nicely. She’s very versatile and doesn’t need the lead in order to win. I think she’ll find a place where she’s comfortable.”

Second choice on the morning line at 5-1 is another daughter of Quality Road, Peter Brant’s Dunbar Road, who is the first also-eligible and would need one defection to draw into the field. Trained by Chad Brown, the filly has made just two starts and was second in the Mar. 30 GII Gulfstream Park Oaks.

“We haven’t made any plans for after this yet,” Brown said. “We’ll see how the week goes and hope she gets in.”

Fern Circle Stables and Three Chimneys Farm’s GI Darley Alcibiades S. winner Restless Rider (Distorted Humor), post 14; and Six Column Stables and Randy Bloch’s Gulfstream Park Oaks winner Champagne Anyone (Street Sense), post 10, are 6-1 co-third choices.

“That’s fine with me,” trainer Ian Wilkes said of Champagne Anyone’s post 10. “We’re going to play the break. The filly laid a little closer last time, it was a slow pace.”

“There is a lot of speed in the race, but sometimes you read all the speed and no one goes,” Wilkes continued. “So if they don’t go, we can lay closer, if they go, we can lay back.”

Wilkes said he was happy with how his charge is coming into Friday’s race.

“This filly is just getting better,” he said. “With more racing, she is getting better and better and her training coming into this race has just been spot on. She has to improve off that last race–this is a good field. If she doesn’t, she can’t win. But I think she has improved.”

Restless Rider, a narrowly beaten second in the Apr. 6 GI Central Bank Ashland S., worked four furlongs in :49.60 (23/40) at Churchill Monday.

“Winning this race would be a big deal,” the filly’s trainer Ken McPeek said. “It’s certainly a race anyone would want to win. And we have knocked, I think we’ve been second, second, third, fourth, fourth, so we have our eye on it.”

Three other Grade I winners are in the field of 14, headed by D.J. Stable and Cash is King’s Jaywalk (Cross Traffic). Last year’s champion 2-year-old filly is listed at 8-1 on the morning line and she will break from post position seven–the same post from which she won the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Churchill last November. But the gray will need to rebound from a fourth-place effort in the Mar. 2 GII Davona Dale S. and a third-place finish in the Ashland.

“The fact that she won here last year tells me she obviously has talent. We just have to see the progression as a 3-year-old,” trainer John Servis said. “All these other 3-year-olds have gotten bigger and stronger, and she really hasn’t. But that’s her makeup.”

Jack Van Berg won the GI Kentucky Derby with Alysheba in 1987 and Tom VanBerg, son of the late Hall of Fame trainer, will try to win the Oaks with 15-1 outsider Motion Emotion (Take Charge Indy). The speedy filly, who will break from post eight, set the pace before settling for second in both the Mar. 9 GIII Honeybee S. and Apr. 12 GIII Fantasy S., but Van Berg doesn’t think his charge needs to be on the lead.

“We’ve been training her for about a month and a half to relax and come from off the pace,” Van Berg said. “In both races, she just broke so sharply that she inherited the lead and then got pushed early. So she can go to the front if she needs to, but there is quite a lot of speed, so she can sit off the pace if she needs to. I’ve never wavered in my confidence in her. She does everything right. It was just unfortunate that the speed got to her a couple of times.”

Debby Oxley’s Chocolate Kisses (Candy Ride {Arg}), 20-1, breaks from post two in the Oaks. The filly overtook Motion Emotion late to win the Honeybee, but was a distant sixth in the Ashland last time out.

“I kind of messed that one up,” trainer Mark Casse said of the Ashland. “She was successful coming from way out of it, but we just felt like Keeneland was so biased to speed, I asked Tyler [Gaffalione] to keep her closer and it was a mistake. We’re not going to do that again. There looks like some serious speed [in the Oaks], but every time you say that, something happens and it is the slowest pace. We’re hoping everyone plays to their form and there is a big speed duel and we can come running.”

Casse is happy with how Chocolate Kisses is coming into the Oaks, including a four-furlong work in :48 flat (11/79) Saturday.

“This filly loves Churchill Downs and she probably trained as good as I’ve ever seen her train [Monday] morning. She is ready,” Casse said.

The Oaks field from the rail out is: Out for a Spin (Hard Spun), 15-1; Chocolate Kisses (Candy Ride {Arg}), 20-1; Lady Apple (Curlin), 20-1; Bellafina (Quality Road), 2-1; Flor de la Mar (Tiznow), 20-1; Positive Spirit (Pioneerof the Nile), 30-1; Jaywalk (Cross Traffic), 8-1; Motion Emotion (Take Charge Indy), 15-1; Liora (Candy Ride {Arg}), 20-1; Champagne Anyone (Street Sense), 6-1; Jeltrin (Tapizar), 15-1; Street Band (Istan), 15-1; Serengeti Empress (Alternation), 8-1; Restless Rider (Distorted Humor), 6-1. Also-Eligibles: Dunbar Road (Quality Road), 5-1; Point of Honor (Curlin), 30-1.

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