The spotlight has not shined brightly on the road to the 2016 Longines Kentucky Oaks, but the anticipation for this yearâ€™s big race for 3-year-old fillies on Kentucky Derby eve figures to heat-up significantly as the big race draws near.
Anticipation for the Kentucky Oaks grows each year, but thereâ€™s added spark this year that can be summed up in a single word: Songbird.
Thatâ€™s the name of the unbeaten filly who is the strong early favorite for the Oaks and the headliner among 112 3-year-old fillies nominated to the so-called â€œDerby for Filliesâ€ announced on Monday. The 1 1/8-mile race is set for Friday, May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Thereâ€™s ample talent on the list of Oaks nominees, but Songbird has been such a dominant force sweeping her five career races that a significant number of observers who would love to see the daughter of Medaglia dâ€™Oro take a step toward a bid for a run against the boys in the 142nd Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands on Saturday, May 7.
But Fox Hill Farm owner Rick Porter has strongly indicated the latter will not occur and Songbird is being pointed toward a battle with fillies in the Oaks.
Songbird wrapped up a perfect season and honors as champion 2-year-old filly with a dominant 5 3/4-length victory in the 14 Hands Winery Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile on October 31 at Keeneland. Trainer Jerry Hollendorferâ€™s star returned from a winter break on February 6 with a 6 1/2-length romp in the Grade II Las Virgenes at Santa Anita.
It was an easy afternoon for Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who guided Songbird around the Santa Anita course on a loose hold and did not ask the filly for a serious run. She galloped to a 10-length margin in mid-stretch and cruised to the finish line.
There are plenty of talented young stars on the roster of Kentucky Oaks nominees, but should Songbird display significant growth and maturity over the next two months, it figures to be a difficult task for any of those rivals to beat her on Oaks Day.
After the Las Virgenes win, Smith indicated the latter scenario is likely.
â€œSometimes they donâ€™t mature or grow any more at 3,â€ Smith said. â€œShe seems to have improved. She seemed up to her game even more, especially mentally. She was very happy today and took it all in stride.â€
The dominance of Songbird is unlikely to chase any rivals from the Kentucky Oaks trail, and there are some talented young fillies out there eligible to display the same type of physical and mental improvement that the champion is aiming for.
Major players in that group include the unbeaten Cathryn Sophia, winner of the Grade II Davona Dale last week at Gulfstream Park; Carina Mia, the winner of Churchill Downsâ€™ Grade II Golden Rod who has yet to make her 2016 debut for Hall of Fame Trainer Bill Mott; Rachelâ€™s Valentina, a daughter of 2009 Kentucky Oaks winner and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra who is also prepping for her 2016 debut; Gomo, the winner of Keenelandâ€™s Darley Alcibiades for the team that is pointing reigning 2-year-old champion and Breedersâ€™ Cup Juvenile winner Nyquist to the Kentucky Derby; and the Steve Asmussen-trained Stageplay, who could have been a victim of track bias in a disappointing run in the recent Rachel Alexandra at Oaklawn Park.
There will be other contenders that pop in the just over 60 days remaining until Kentucky Oaks Day, and weâ€™ll be discussing new names of budding stars as the race draws near. But as long as Songbird is healthy, happy and showing signs of improvement, the Fox Hill star looms as the clear filly to beat.
A personal Kentucky Oaks Top 10 at KentuckyDerby.com looks like this:
2. Carina Mia
3. Cathryn Sophia
4. Lewis Bay
5. Rachelâ€™s Valentina
7. Dothraki Queen
8. Midnight on Oconee
10. Marque Miss
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Derby trail witnessed another strong performance by Shadwell Stableâ€™s unbeaten Mohaymen, who rolled to an easy win in Gulfstream Parkâ€™s Grade II Fountain of Youth. It was the fifth win by Lexington-born trainer Kiaran McLaughlinâ€™s son of Tapit, who turned back rising star Zulu to win by 2 1/4-lengths.
Mohaymen could now be headed toward a pre-Kentucky Derby East-West showdown with unbeaten 2-year-old champion Nyquist in the Grade I Florida Derby on April 2 at Gulfstream. The latter is expected to ship to Florida to chase a $1 million bonus available to a graduate of a Fasig-Tipton sale that wins the Florida Derby. The bonus would come on top of the $600,000 first-place prize in the $1 million race. VT
Hereâ€™s the Asher Kentucky Derby Top 10 with just over 60 days remaining until the Run for the Roses:
2. Mor Spirit
4. Brodyâ€™s Cause
5. Gun Runner
8. Smokey Image
9. Mo Tom