By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Kentucky’s loss is Arkansas’s gain this weekend as Oaklawn Park stages its owns Derby-Oaks weekend, beginning on the first Friday in May with a Classic-style showdown between the two highest-profile three-year-old fillies in the land.
Venetian Harbor, ante-post favourite for the Kentucky Oaks, takes on Breeders’ Cup winner British Idiom in a maximum 14-runner field for the Fantasy Stakes (11.09 BST) – 24 hours before Oaklawn stages two divisions of the Arkansas Derby on Saturday’s card.
Worth $400,000, the Fantasy Stakes is nominally a G3 contest but a lack of opportunities elsewhere has amplified competition across-the-board at Oaklawn this spring.
“It’s a G1-calibre race in my eyes,” said trainer Brad Cox, who runs both British Idiom and local stakes winner Shedaresthedevil. “It’s obviously a very good group of fillies.”
Eclipse Award-winning filly British Idiom (Javier Castellano) was unbeaten in three starts last season, culminating in victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. She was, though, beaten nearly five lengths on her seasonal debut at Fair Grounds.
“I think she’s going to get a good set-up,” said Cox. “I guess you want to call it second race off the layoff but it’s kind of another layoff. It’s kind of weird, but I do think she’s going to move forward. I really, really do; she’ll probably need to.
“I think this is the deepest field she’s faced, from top to bottom. She’s going to have to bring her ‘A’ race to get it done, but she’s acting like that she’s going to do that.”
Front-runner Venetian Harbor (Richard Baltas/Flavien Prat) is generally available on the 4-1 mark with British bookmakers for the Kentucky Oaks after a stunning 9¼-length victory in G2 company at Santa Anita.
She breaks from gate two. “She’s been here for a while and has had two good works over the track,” said Baltas. “All is good, so obviously the pressure’s on. We’re the favourite. Not much to say. Break and get a good position in the first turn.”
The big two are joined by a plethora of Graded-stakes winners, among them British Idiom’s Cox-trained stablemate Shedaresthedevil, who won the local G3 prep, plus G2 winners Lake Avenue, Swiss Skydiver and Lazy Daisy.
Kentucky Oaks betting
William Hill: 4 Venetian Harbor, 6 Finite, 7 British Idiom, Gamine, 10 Donna Veloce, Tonalist’s Shape, 12 bar.