The Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks presented by Fasig-Tipton on March 25 will be one of the featured races of Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby day at Fair Grounds. The $400,000 race for 3-year-old fillies serves as an important steppingstone and key prep race for the Grade 1 Longines Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on May 5.
To underscore the importance of the Fair Grounds Oaks and the role it has played in producing winners of other top stakes for 3-year-old filles, the race has produced numerous winners of the Kentucky Oaks over the past several years, including stars such as Tiffany Lass, Blushing K.D., Silverbulletday, Ashado, Summerly, Proud Spell, and Rachel Alexandra.
Trainer Steve Asmussen is co-holder of the record of most Fair Grounds Oaks training wins with four, including last year’s winner Echo Zulu. Brad Cox, meanwhile, has won two of the last three runnings of the Fair Grounds Oaks, first with Bonny South in 2020 and then with Travel Column in 2021. The last two Fair Grounds Oaks winners to come back and win the Kentucky Oaks were Believe You Can in 2012 and Untapable (for Asmussen) in 2014.
A small but select group of fillies has been entered in Saturday’s 2023 renewal of the Fair Grounds Oaks. The race will be fascinating to watch in terms of the role it will have of sending its top finishers onward to the Kentucky Oaks. With only five horses the race, however, it will be challenging for handicappers to get a grip on how to best approach the race from a wagering standpoint.
According to the morning-line odds, the five-horse race will contain three horses vying for favoritism – #3 Pretty Mischievous (8-5), #4 The Alys Look (2-1), and #5 Hoosier Philly (2-1) – and two other entrants who will be longshots – #1 Southlawn (8-1) and #2 Christian d’Oro (15-1). With so few options to choose from, you are going to have to take a strong stand on one of the horses and key your bets around only that one horse. There’s no room for boxes in your exactas and trifectas if you hope to turn a profit in this race.
The biggest storyline in the Fair Grounds Oaks revolves around #5 Hoosier Philly, a filly trained by Tom Amoss that has been highly-regarded all winter following a 2-year-old campaign where she went 3-for-3, including impressive stakes wins in the $200,000 Rags to Riches Stakes and the Grade 2 Golden Rod Stakes, both at this 1 1/16-mile distance at Churchill Downs. There was even chatter surrounding this horse speculating she might be pointed to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve instead of the Kentucky Oaks – that’s how highly thought of her juvenile victories were.
Was it the high expectations, perhaps, that made her losing effort so perplexing last time out in her 3-year-old debut in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra Stakes Presented by Fasig-Tipton here at Fair Grounds on Feb. 18 when she was beaten by 8 ½ lengths in what was basically a “no show” effort in which she never reached contention at any point in the race as the 2-5 favorite? So, the question in the Fair Grounds Oaks is: which version of Hoosier Philly will show up? Will it be the dominant winner of three starts in 2022 or the same filly who lost so disappointingly last time out on this very same track?
As lackluster as Hoosier Philly’s defeat was last time, the answer to the question in the previous paragraph for handicappers should be to give her one more chance here in the Fair Grounds Oaks. Why? Three reasons. First, if it was simply a matter of Hoosier Philly simply not liking the Fair Grounds track last time, Amoss could simply have shipped her to another track for her next race. Since he didn’t, something else must have gone wrong last time and Amoss likely believes he’s fixed it. Second, perhaps the answer to what went wrong last time was that Hoosier Philly, for one reason or another, needed the race following a layoff of nearly three months. Maybe she wasn’t ready last time and she will be ready this time. Finally, the third reason is that if either one of the first two reasons are correct, the odds in today’s race will be much more alluring than her 2-5 odds in the Rachel Alexandra. Hoosier Philly is very likely to be sent off in the 7-5 to 3-2 odds range in the Fair Grounds Oaks. As low as those odds are, they seem like strong value in comparison with last time out.
If you are going to give her a chance at redemption and give #5 Hoosier Philly another bet, you are going to need to put her with another horse (or horses) in the exotics if you hope to make any money betting this race.
Ideally, the best place to find that horse would be one of the two longshots entered in the Fair Grounds Oaks field: #1 Southlawn and #2 Christian d’Oro. While Christian d’Oro very possibly could be overmatched in this spot despite the fact that she is trained by Asmussen, Southlawn does seem to be a possible contender, at least for second, based on her last race, which was a major improvement when switched from turf to dirt for trainer Norm Casse. Southlawn’s speed figure was competitive, she handled this distance in the eight-length allowance win, and she showed continued improvement which could make her a factor here in the Fair Grounds Oaks.
The most obvious contenders in the Fair Grounds Oaks are #3 Pretty Mischievous, who was the winner of the main local prep for this race when she scored in the Rachel Alexandra; and #4 The Alys Look, who was victorious in the earlier local prep when she won the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes for trainer Brad Cox on Jan. 21 over favored Chop Chop. Of that duo, Pretty Mischievous is preferred based on her head-to-head victory over The Alys Look in the local $100,000 Untapable Stakes back on Dec. 26, and the fact that The Alys Look skipped the Rachel Alexandra while both Pretty Mischievous and Hoosier Philly took advantage of that spot and will gain from the seasoning and experience.
Pretty Mischievous winning effort in the Rachel Alexandra that raised her stakes record here at Fair Grounds to a perfect 2-for-2 should not be underestimated. On the plus side, she clearly loves this track, has won 4 of 5 lifetime starts, is progressing positively in the right direction in her outings, and has competitive speed figures. On the negative side, her odds today will pale in comparison to the 8.10-1 she offered last time, and her Rachel Alexandra win was eked-out by three-quarters of a length over fellow longshot Miracle, who was returning from a 3 ½-month layoff that day for Todd Pletcher. Tyler Gaffalione rode last time. Brian Hernandez Jr. will be aboard today.
The wagering strategy for the Fair Grounds Oaks will be as follows. Key the top selection, #5 Hoosier Philly, on top in exactas and trifectas while taking a stand in the underneath spots. The underneath horse in the exactas will be #1 Southlawn. In the trifecta, we will add in #3 Pretty Mischievous.
Depending on your budget, we’ve outlined two wagers to consider when betting the Fair Grounds Oaks:
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$4 exacta: 5 with 1 ($4)
What to say at the betting window: Fair Grounds, Race 11, $4 exacta 5 – 1
$3 trifecta: 5 with 1,3 with 1,3 ($6)
What to say at the betting window: Fair Grounds, Race 11, $3 trifecta, 5 with 1,3, with 1,3
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$10 exacta: 5 with 1 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Fair Grounds, Race 11, $10 exacta 5 – 1
$10 trifectas: 5 with 1,3 with 1,3 ($20)
What to say at the betting window: Fair Grounds, Race 11, $10 trifecta 5 with 1,3, with 1,3
Good luck and enjoy the race!
Steven M. Asmussen
King, Brad, Andrews, Randy, Coleman, G. Chris, Cone, Jim, Kirby, Suzanne and Lewis, Lee
Ben D Farm