A total of 116 nominations, led by reigning champion 2-year-old filly British Idiom (Flashback), were received by the Churchill Downs racing office at the first entry stage for the $1.25-million GI Longines Kentucky Oaks, to be held Friday, May 1 beneath the Twin Spires.
Campaigned in partnership by Michael Dubb, The Elkstone Group, Madaket Stables & Bethlehem Stables, and conditioned by 2018 Oaks-winning trainer Brad Cox, British Idiom was the impressive winner of the GI Darley Alcibiades S. last October before following up with a neck defeat of Donna Veloce (Uncle Mo) in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
The Pennsylvania-bred made her 3-year-old debut in the GII Rachel Alexandra S. at the Fair Grounds Feb. 15, but ran into Finite (Munnings) and was beaten 4 3/4 lengths into third. That victory took the latter’s winning streak to five, and she can boast of a stakes win at Churchill, having bested Motu (Paynter) in the GII Golden Rod S. last November. Eight Oaks winners in the last 15 years have prepped in New Orleans. Finite sits in the number one spot in the inaugural TDN Kentucky Oaks Top 10.
Munnings is the sire of a second serious Oaks contender in the form of the Calfornia-based Venetian Harbor. Trained by Richard Baltas, the bay has won her two appearances on the dirt by a combined 20 lengths, including a 9 1/4-length romp over the Bob Baffert-trained twosome of Gingham (Quality Road) and Stellar Sound (Tapit) in the GII Las Virgenes S. over a mile. Baffert, a three-time Oaks winner, is the leading trainer by nominees with 13.
The undefeated Tonalist’s Shape (Tonalist) has yet to taste defeat in four career starts, having won the one-mile Hut Hut S. by nine lengths late last year ahead of a 3 3/4-length success in the GIII Forward Gal S. over seven furlongs Feb. 1. She is a candidate for this weekend’s GII Davona Dale S. en route to the GII Gulfstream Park Oaks.
One X-factor for the Oaks could be Japanese-based, but U.S.-bred Serein (Uncle Mo). A $500,000 Keeneland September grad, the daughter of GISW Tiz Miz Sue (Tiznow) is a two-time winner from four tries at home and was recently third to Down On Da Bayou (Super Saver) in the G3 UAE Oaks at Meydan. The latter is not among the early Oaks nominees.