By Steve Sherack
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In a division still crying out for a clear-cut leader, a full field of sophomore fillies will take centerstage in a deep renewal of Friday's GI Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Brad Cox will have three chances, including the top two choices on the morning-line, to collect a third Oaks trophy following wins with Monomoy Girl in 2018 and Shedaresthedevil in 2020.
After sweeping the Oaklawn Park series for 3-year-old fillies, Godolphin homebred and 5-2 Oaks morning-line favorite Wet Paint (Blame) shoots for a fourth straight victory following a visually impressive come-from- behind win in the GIII Fantasy S. Apr. 1.
“She can make you a little nervous with her running style, but overall she's just been really consistent,” Cox said. “She'll love the mile and an eighth here. If she puts in her run, she's going to be tough. She just brings it every time.”
Front-running Bourbonette Oaks heroine Botanical (Medaglia d'Oro) could vie for favoritism with her stablemate despite never racing on dirt before. Cox will also saddle GII Fair Grounds Oaks third-place finisher The Alys Look (Connect).
“The Alys Looks is flying under the radar, but I love the way she's developing,” Cox said. “Botanical needs to step up on the dirt, but I like what I am seeing. Physically, she looks great. She's doing really well.”
Last year's champion 2-year-old filly Wonder Wheel (Into Mischief) looks for her first victory since capturing the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Keeneland. She was a disappointing sixth behind Defining Purpose (Cross Traffic) in the GI Ashland S. at Keeneland Apr. 7.
Southlawn (Pioneerof the Nile) has taken a major step forward for trainer Norm Casse in two attempts since turning three, led by a 3 1/4-length victory over Pretty Mischievous (Into Mischief) in the GII Fair Grounds Oaks Mar. 25.
Affirmative Lady (Arrogate), hung out wide in post 13, also enters in top form following a breakthrough win in the GII Gulfstream Park Oaks Apr. 1. She's gone two-for-two since adding blinkers for Graham Motion.
The gone-too-soon Arrogate, responsible for last year's Oaks winner Secret Oath, will also be represented by GISW and GII Santa Anita Oaks runner-up And Tell Me Nolies (Arrogate).
With a delightful forecast calling for cloudy skies and a high of 75 degrees, the stacked 13-race Kentucky Oaks program also includes: a deep field of 10 in the GI La Troienne S., featuring last year's GI Kentucky Oaks heroine Secret Oath (Arrogate); a fantastic renewal of the GII Alysheba S., led by GI Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike (Keen Ice) and GI Pegasus World Cup Invitational S. winner Art Collector (Bernardini); unbeaten 'TDN Rising Star' Munnys Gold (Munnings)'s graded stakes debut in the GII Eight Belles S.; and the grassy GII Edgewood S. and GIII Modesty S. Last year's GI Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner Caravel (Mizzen Mast) will also line up on the undercard in the Unbridled Sidney S.