Are We Ready for a Classic in the Kentucky Oaks?

by Art Parker

There are two glorious weekends for all of us horseplayers. The last always comes in late October or early November – The Breeders’ Cup. The first of these weekends focuses on the first Saturday in May, which features the Kentucky Derby. This year the Derby was delayed until the first weekend of September. Now all eyes are finally on the Derby.

Churchill winner's circleHowever, the Derby may not be the best race of the weekend because among the many fantastic graded stakes is the Kentucky Oaks. I can’t help but think the 2020 Oaks will be the best race we will witness in a long time. It may remind us of great battles of the past we will never forget – Alydar and Affirmed or Easy Goer and Sunday Silence.

The Oaks will feature Bob Baffert’s Gamine and Kenny McPeek’s Swiss Skydiver. Gamine has two meanings: As an adjective, it means attractively boyish; as a noun, it means a girl with a mischievous, boyish charm. Take your pick – both meanings fit the speedball named Gamine.

Gamine is far less experienced than Swiss Skydiver, even though she has handled all situations as if she has been around a race track forever.

Swiss Skydiver has run five times since late March and won four of those. The only time she ran second was against the boys in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, and it was a good second. When it comes to her gender, she has destroyed the hopes of young girls she has faced – just like Gamine.

Gamine sent notice that she was for real when set a stakes record in the one turn Acorn Stakes at Belmont of 1:32 2/5 on June 20, less than a couple of hours before Tiz the Law won the Belmont Stakes. Quite a performance when one considers that Johnny Velazquez kept Gamine away from the rail despite having the lead. She won by more than 18 lengths and did it with incredible ease. If you want to consider how good she is, look at the times of her race and that of Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes. Although Gamine only went a mile while Tiz the Law went nine furlongs, the time differentials are eye-catching.

Gamine: 22 2/5, 45 1/5, 1:09 2/5, 1:32 2/5.

Tiz the Law: 23, 46, 1:09 4/5, 1:34 2/5 and nine furlongs in 1:46 2/5.

True, not completely comparing apples to apples, but it gets your attention.

Gamine followed that up in the Test Stakes, one of the top sprints for females in the nation contested at seven furlongs. She faced a great deal of pressure in the first half-mile, but she casually went about her business with strong split times and coasted home easily by seven lengths in 1:20 4/5. Once again, Velazquez kept her away from the rail while leading the entire trip.

Swiss Skydiver has run a great deal and experience is on her side. She has also been around two turns on five occasions, which is more two-turn races than Gamine has run collectively. As far as qualifying Oaks points, Swiss Skydiver has accumulated about three times the points as the second place filly, Speech, who was soundly defeated by Swiss Skydiver in the Santa Anita Oaks. The filly that is third in the points standing is Bonny South, who managed a decent second in the all-important Alabama Stakes at 1 ¼ miles August 15. Please remember that the only reason one can call the Alabama runner up’s effort decent is because the winner was being geared down with a hard hold the last furlong.

In my mind, the win by Swiss Skydiver in the Fantasy Stakes at Oaklawn on May 1 portrays her the best. In a field of 14 fillies, she showed she has excellent tactical early speed, and we all know that is one of the best ways to avoid trouble in a race. Swiss Skydiver, dismissed in the wagering at about 15-1, stayed along the rail chasing the big favorite, Venetian Harbor, and gradually advanced before challenging the favorite for the majority of the stretch. But when it came time to determine the better filly, Swiss Skydiver slapped her opponent and won like a champ. It is important to note that Gamine toyed with Venetian Harbor in the Grade One Test before winning with ease.

My imagination tells me that Gamine will lead early, and Swiss Skydiver will track her. Assuming both have a clear trip, I imagine the battle in the stretch on Oaks Day will be one to remember. Both Gamine and Swiss Skydiver are great fillies. I, for one, look forward to seeing this heavyweight bout. After all the analysis and after watching tapes of races, only one question remains for the Kentucky Oaks.

Who will run third?

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Derby 144 Analysis with Wagering Strategies & Spot Plays by Rich Nilsen

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