How Keeler Johnson will play the 2024 Kentucky Oaks

May 2nd, 2024

Some years, the Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs features one or two fillies who are clearly better than the rest. That’s not the case in Friday’s ultra-competitive 150th renewal of the Oaks.

The 1 1/8-mile race has drawn an incredibly deep field of three-year-old fillies. Viable win contenders abound, and splitting them isn’t easy. This is why, instead of spreading wide with a bunch of fillies, I’m going to take a stand and focus on #11 Ways and Means (5-1).

Ways and Means is a filly I’m confident will move forward in the Oaks. The Chad Brown trainee crushed her debut at Saratoga last summer and followed up with a troubled runner-up finish in the Spinaway (G1), from which she emerged with an injury.

Seven months later, Ways and Means returned to action in the March 30 Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2). Making her two-turn debut, Ways and Means ran into early trouble and got squeezed back off the pace. Then she unleashed a big middle move to engage the leaders in a duel around the far turn. She won the battle, but lost the war, as stretch-running #12 Power Squeeze (12-1) came running late to beat Ways and Means by one length.

On the bright side, Ways and Means pulled 5 3/4 lengths clear of the rest and earned a respectable 94 Brisnet Speed rating. She’s cranked out fast workouts since then, including a bullet four furlongs in :46 1/5, and it’s important to note Brown wins at a 29% rate with horses running back for the second time following a layoff. In other words, all signs suggest Ways and Means will improve meaningfully off the Gulfstream Park Oaks, opening the door for victory at Churchill Downs.

RELATED: Tipsheet: 2024 Kentucky Oaks

I’m enticed by the 5-1 morning line odds available on Ways and Means, so my primary play will be a straightforward win bet. Assuming those odds hold up, a $30 win bet will return $180.

Come race day, I may also tackle exactas and/or trifectas using some mix of #5 Thorpedo Anna (5-1), #8 Tarifa (7-2), #13 Just F Y I (9-2), #14 Leslie’s Rose (4-1), and even longshots like #3 Where’s My Ring (15-1) and #6 Lemon Muffin (30-1), but I’ll need to narrow down the number of fillies I play in order to boost the potential return on investment.

Regardless of how my exacta/trifecta strategy unfolds, I’ll definitely play a Kentucky Oaks/Kentucky Derby double using #17 Fierceness (5-2), #2 Sierra Leone (3-1), and #4 Catching Freedom (8-1) in the Derby. I’ll emphasize the presumably lower-paying doubles ending with Fierceness and Sierra Leone.

RELATED: Tipsheet: 2024 Kentucky Derby

Keeler Johnson’s Kentucky Oaks wagers

  • $30 to win on #11 Ways and Means
  • $8 Oaks/Derby Double: 11 with 2,17 ($16)
  • $4 Oaks/Derby Double: 11 with 4
    Total: $50

Good luck!