Mike Hartnett: Kentucky Oaks brings an old-fashioned, east-west showdown

Mike Hartnett: Kentucky Oaks brings an old-fashioned, east-west showdown

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - While the Derby appears loaded with plenty of talented runners, let's not forget the fillies.

The Run for the Lillies' field isn't as deep with standouts as the Derby's is, but a pair of potential stars will go head-to-head on the First Friday in May.

Monomoy Girl, clearly the best of the East Coast 3-year-old fillies, will square off against the best from the West, Midnight Bisou. Both gals are riding high these days.

Monomoy Girl likely will be made the Oaks' morning-line favorite, albeit a slight pick over Midnight Bisou.

Having run in six career races, Monomoy Girl has visited the winner's circle in five of them. Her only defeat came by just a neck in last fall's Golden Rod at Churchill Down. But the filly does have a victory at the Downs, as she captured a stakes race there  in October. Monomoy Girl owns a bit of a home-track advantage over Midnight Bisou.

"She has two races over this track," said her trainer, Brad Cox. "She was stabled here back in the fall. That gives you confidence that she does like the track."

Cox's filly is two-for-two this year. She broke last and got off to a rough start in the Fair Grounds' Rachel Alexandra Stakes but rallied to win. Then, just this month at Keeneland, Monomoy Girl blitzed the field, and just rolled  to victory in the Ashland Stakes. She won by five and a half lengths.

"Her numbers say that she's a nice filly and she is," Cox said. "She does have to take another step forward and the way she's training at Churchill. We think she can take that step."

After two close runner-up finishes as a 2-year-old, Midnight Bisou has blossomed and is three-for-three this year. In January, the filly took the seven-furlong Santa Ynez by four and a half lengths. She followed that win by capturing the Santa Ysabel in what was Midnight Bisou's first two-turn test. On April 7, she soared to take the Santa Anita Oaks by three and half lengths. She keeps getting better and faster each time out.

Her jockey, Hall of Famer Mike Smith, has ridden some top fillies over his career, including the superstar Zenyatta. Smith said he isn't quite ready to compare Midnight to Zenyatta, but he said Midnight Bisou is a star-in-the-making.

There are a handful of other Oaks contenders. Eskimo Kisses was second in the Fair Grounds Oaks and also second in the Ashland. Coach Rocks is on the rise, having taken the Gulfstream Park Oaks in her first stakes test. Then there's Rayya, recently acquired by Bob Baffert. This filly finished second to Kentucky Derby contender Mendelssohn in the UAE Derby.

But these and the others might have to run the race of their lives to top either of the M & M ladies. Both Monomoy Girl and Midnight Bisou could both be sitting on big efforts. A thrilling stretch battle could be on the horizon in the Run for the Lillies.

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