LOUISVILLE — Separating the top contenders for Friday's $1 million Kentucky Oaks is a particularly trying task this season. Hence, Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia had his work cut out for him in making the morning line when post positions for the 141st edition of the 11⁄8-mile Oaks were drawn Tuesday.
Five Grade I winners are in the overflow field of 15 entered, with Santa Anita Oaks winner Stellar Wind the tepid 7-2 pick out of post No. 13.
With a maximum of 14 3-year-old fillies allowed to run in the Oaks, Grade I winner Peace and War was entered as an also-eligible.
Stellar Wind has won three of four lifetime starts and enters off a 51/4-length triumph in the Santa Anita Oaks on April 4. The daughter of Curlin may be fortunate to keep her favoritism come post time.
Trainer Larry Jones has a dangerous 1-2 punch in Lovely Maria, winner of the Grade I Ashland at Keeneland, and multiple graded stakes winner I'm a Chatterbox. The duo drew alongside each other with Lovely Maria in post No. 7 and I'm a Chatterbox in the No. 8 slot with the latter instilled as the 4-1 co-second choice.
"That's good, and (fellow second choice) Condo Commando is inside us (in post No. 5) and will likely be the speed," Jones said. "It looks good for us. They're both coming in the right way and doing everything good."
Likely pacesetter Condo Commando, winner of the Grade I Spinaway last August, has won her last three starts by a combined 183/4 lengths with her most recent win being a 21/2-length victory in the Grade II Gazelle on April 4.
"I really don't worry about the post," trainer Rudy Rodriguez said. "She's pretty much a speed horse, so we've only got one way of going. But I like the five-hole, that's for sure. It's one of my favorites."
It is scary to think that the Dortmund who reigned over the prep races at Santa Anita Park this winter wasn't even his best self. After watching the undefeated Grade I winner gallop over the Churchill Downs surface on Tuesday, trainer Bob Baffert confirmed that the son of Big Brown is actually a happier horse beneath the Twin Spires.
"He goes over this track so much better than he does at Santa Anita, which is crazy," Baffert said. "Santa Anita is a little bit harder, but I can tell from his movement that he is a little more fluid over this track. I was really happy with what I saw of him today. He looks good."
Dortmund's champion stablemate American Pharoah also went to the track Monday for the first time since his monster 5-furlong move Sunday. The son of Pioneerof the Nile was clearly interested in doing more than jogging during his time on the track.
"He was a little fresh," Baffert said. "He had a walk day, and anytime they walk one day they are a little fresh. He looks great. He looks fantastic. He looks really healthy. Their coats look great. It's a matter of we need some racing luck."
International Star back at Churchill
Ken and Sarah Ramsey's International Star made a positive impression on his first morning gallop over the Churchill Downs surface this week. The Louisiana Derby winner galloped 11/4 miles with regular exercise rider Joel Barrientos aboard after the renovation break.
"He settled in nice," trainer Mike Maker said. "He was very into the bit this morning, very aggressive. I'm very pleased."