By Nicholas Godfrey
Four months later than usual, the Kentucky Oaks (10.45pm BST) arrives behind closed doors at Churchill Downs on Friday with the showdown everyone’s been waiting for between odds-on favourite Gamine and Swiss Skydiver.
In four career starts, Gamine (Bob Baffert/John Velazquez) has looked every inch a superstar in making a commonplace of wide-margin victories – including a pair of G1s on her two most recent outings by a combined 25¾ lengths. The question is whether this habitual front-runner can stretch her speed out to 1m1f.
As fellow G1 winner Swiss Skydiver (Kenny McPeek/Tyler Gaffalione) also likes to race prominently, things might pan out in favour of third favourite Speech (Michael McCarthy/Javier Castellano), a G1 winner who has already been beaten by both principals.
Another to note is stalker Donna Veloce (Simon Callaghan/ Ricardo Santana), back after six months on the shelf. She beat Speech easily back in March.
Sponsored by Longines, the $1.25 million contest is the feature event of a star-studded 13-race card in which former champion filly Monomoy Girl takes on recent top-level scorers Vexatious and last year’s winner She’s A Julie in the G1 La Troienne (9.50pm BST).
Royal Ascot runner-up Sharing returns to US action in the G2 Edgewood (8.40pm BST) and four-time G1 winner McKinzie defends his title in the Alysheba (9.15pm BST).
Shall we talk about it?
Donna Veloce: “She had a minor issue and it was decided to take some time off and get ready for a fall campaign and the Breeders’ Cup and have a good filly next year as a four-year-old. She went to Florida and utilized a water treadmill and when she came back, she was two to three weeks ahead in her schedule before starting back jogging and galloping.” (Carlos Santamaria, assistant to trainer Simon Callaghan)
Gamine: “She’s getting stronger and stronger, she’s more mature now. These races have really helped her; she’s just more professional. She’s coming in really strong, I’m really happy with her.
“The two turns, that’s the whole thing with her, but we know she’s fast and she’s done it before so it’s not like it’s new. We’re just blessed we have a filly like this. We gave a lot of money for her and it’s worked out. A lot of times you do that and they don’t work out. We’re just enjoying her. She’s just fast; she’s really fast.” Bob Baffert (trainer)
Hopeful Growth: “She has me excited. She’s coming around at the right time. Obviously, she’s a filly that has benefited from the new date because she wouldn’t have made the race in May.” Anthony Margotta (trainer)
Swiss Skydiver: “Our filly is doing super. Her form is pretty well proven, so we’ve done our job. I think the question mark with Gamine is that she hasn’t done two turns on a regular basis. When she did, she had to fight for it. We ran on the same racetrack that weekend at Oaklawn and I don’t think there’s a lot separating them. That’s what makes me confident. Bob’s filly is going to have to do something she hasn’t experienced and it’s something we’ve done over and over all year.
“My filly is just so hickory. All week she’s done nothing but dive into the feed tub. The biggest problem we have is keeping her settled when we don’t feed her right away. That’s a real rarity. Most fillies aren’t this sturdy. She loves what she does and eating is her number one thing to do. It makes a trainer’s job really easy.” Kenny McPeek (trainer)
Speech: “We have speed just outside of us and on the inside, obviously, so I guess we know what our plan is now. I’ve been here with Todd (Pletcher) with horses like Ashado and Rags To Riches, but to be here with a horse of my own is special.” Michael McCarthy (trainer)
Tempers Rising: “We are ready and will come running late – she wants this distance and will be trying late, that’s what we can ask for.”
Dallas Stewart (trainer)
• For more Kentucky Oaks info, visit the Kentucky Derby website