The Kentucky Oaks and the Derby Should Be Equally Important to Handicappers

How are the Lewis and Clark Expedition connected to the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks you might ask? Read on.

Because the Kentucky Oaks at 9f is run for fillies the day before the Derby, we are left with the sense that it is somehow not as important a race … that it doesn’t deserve as much fanfare or attention as the run by the colts the next day. That it’s just another betting race. I would suggest, as thoroughbred handicappers, we might be wise to take more than a passing interest in not only the results of this important contest, but in the future of the winner (or even the top three finishers), once they’re sent to the breeding shed.

A conscientious handicapper who places value on bloodlines seeks as much information on the broodmare as on the sire. As we have all learned, horses, male and female have tendencies that are passed on to their offspring and, if noted and remembered, can pay dividends when we’re handicapping even years later. I know, I have been a dedicated bloodline handicapper for almost 50 years who has done well following these simple rules.

  1. Always research the broodmare of 2 yr. old first time starters. You may find that the dam was a win-early runner and learn where they won and what they sold for at auction if they are not homebred.
  2. Did the mare run a race? If not, when comparing mares, take the runner whose mare was proven on the racetrack rather than one who never saw the winner’s circle or made any money.
  3. Look at the success rate of her foals. In many cases, the dam can be as important in this regard as is the sire.
  4. In the case of a homebred, does the breeder own the sire or the broodmare or both? Darley, as just one example, rarely buys horses at auction given the strength of the breeding operation. It’s harder to assess the race worthiness of a maiden starter that has no auction value established.

This year’s Oaks may draw a full field as there are enough earnings-qualified horses to enter the maximum 14 horse field (up to 18 may be entered, but the final four shall be “also eligible”). Because many horseplayers focus so closely on the Derby prep races, many of us sort of lose sight of who’s up and who’s down for the Oaks.

Between now and Friday, May 5th, we’ll all get our fill of the recaps of the fillies as they train up to the Oaks. All of us should pay close attention to the prep races and sort out our picks using the same parameters we use in decoding the Derby. By reading up on the breeding operations of the Oaks runners, we might get that one small bit of information that can make the difference between cashing and tearing up a ticket.

Oh, by the way, both the Kentucky Derby and Oaks were races founded by Colonel Merriweather Lewis Clark Jr. in May 1875, the grandson of the famed explorer William Clark and son of Abigail Prather Churchill. He also founded the Clark and the Falls City Handicaps, both still contested annually at Churchill Downs. Just thought you’d like to know.

Guest Post by Nate Michaels

Nate Michaels is a retired teacher and life-long horse racing fan He spends much of his time researching and playing the races. As a classically trained chef he enjoys pulling together different ingredients into nourishing and satisfying meals.