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Bernier's Best

Handicapping the 2022 Kentucky Oaks

by Matt Bernier
Updated On: May 3, 2022, 5:51 pm ET

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Many people are focusing their attention on Saturday’s 148th Kentucky Derby, but there is another headline event taking place on Friday at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Oaks will be contested Friday afternoon, highlighting the best three-year-old fillies in the country. Below you will find two items to help you handicap this year’s race – a fair odds line, indicating what I believe would be an acceptable price to bet a horse to win at, and my top four selections in the race.


1 – SECRET OATH – 10/1
2 – NOSTALGIC – 12/1
4 – NEST – 4/1
5 – GODDESS OF FIRE – 13/1
6 – YUUGIRI – 25/1
7 – ECHO ZULU – 8/1
9 – DESERT DAWN – 12/1
10 – KATHLEEN O. – 5/1
12 – CANDY RAID – 99/1
13 – SHAHAMA – 50/1
14 – TURNERLOOSE – 50/1


The price may not be particularly appetizing, but NEST (4) has always hinted at being an extremely talented filly, and her victory in last month’s Ashland at Keeneland felt like her coming out party. Trained by Todd Pletcher, the daughter of Curlin exploded to an eight-plus-length victory at Keeneland, earning a career best Beyer Speed Figure of 92 in the process. Nest has a running style that is conducive to success in a race like the Oaks, likely tucking in just behind the speed horses and taking her shot as the field rounds the far turn. Distance will not be an issue for this filly, as she is bred to run all day. Look for jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. to angle to the clear as the field hits the top of the lane and use this runner’s stamina to his advantage.



KATHLEEN O. (10) became a phenomenon in South Florida this winter for trainer Shug McGaughey, displaying a wicked turn-move in all her races before decimating her competition down the lane. The three-year-old daughter of Upstart is not the best gate horse, likely positioning her toward the rear of the field during the early portions of the run. Assuming the pace materializes the way it looks it may, the lack of early foot may be a blessing for Kathleen O., as she will just be warming up as the other ladies begin to tire.



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If you are someone looking to take a live longshot in this race, you could do worse than DESERT DAWN (9). Based in Southern California, this daughter of Cupid has always given off the impression that distance would be her friend, and that is exactly what played out in last month’s Santa Anita Oaks. Trained by Phil D’Amato, Desert Dawn relaxed comfortably off a speed duel before commencing her bid. After poking a head in front, this filly appeared to shift into neutral and idle, allowing her competitor to rally inside and regain the lead. The moment she was passed, however, Desert Dawn surged and took the lead back, prevailing by a neck when all was said and done. That effort suggests two things; Desert Dawn may be a bit green in that she will pull herself up when she believes her job is done, but, more importantly, that there is still a forward move in her to come. At what is likely to be every bit of 15/1 or 20/1, Desert Dawn is one to consider underneath in exotic wagers, at the very least.



The Champion Two-Year-Old Filly and 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner ECHO ZULU (7) must be respected in this spot, if for no other reason than she has never been beaten in five lifetime starts. The concern for this Steve Asmussen trainee relates to her seasonal debut at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. In March’s Fair Grounds Oaks, Echo Zulu returned as a winner – but it was the least impressive she has ever been visually, and the clock / speed figures would back that statement up. If she runs back to her two-year-old form on Friday, she has as good a chance as any to win this year’s Kentucky Oaks. If she repeats her Fair Grounds effort, she will be running for a minor award, at best.



1 – 4) Nest
2 – 10) Kathleen O.
3 – 9) Desert Dawn
4 – 7) Echo Zulu


Matt Bernier

Matt Bernier is a betting analyst for NBC Sports and host of "The Matt Bernier Show" podcast. His work has been showcased in the Daily Racing Form, on ESPN, as well as on TVG. Matt can be followed on Twitter @bernier_matt.