It looks like a rainy afternoon in Hot Springs, Arkansas on this first day of 2022. I’ll be handicapping this card assuming the track will be muddy at best. The first of four Derby Points races at Oaklawn, the Smarty Jones, goes today with a full field of 14 entered with the hopes of moving forward on the path to making it to the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby.
I’ll be covering this exciting meet on the ITM Blog, along with posting some updates and thoughts from time to time on Twitter @EricSolomon718. Feel free to reach out!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Exotics Menu|
|2||8||2,8,11,12||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|6||8||8||5||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|7||6||6||1,9||11||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The first race at Oaklawn in 2022 is a $40K maiden claimer for three year olds and up at six furlongs. Despite the condition, all nine runners are four or five year olds. Form is a bit all over the place in this race. I like what I’ve seen from the Arkansas bred, Forsaken (#5) in his three career dirt tries. He was a respectable 4th with state bred maiden special weight foes here last month, while facing a pretty solid field for that condition. He makes his second start off the layoff, and his second start since joining Chris Hartman’s barn. I’m expecting him to move forward in this open maiden claiming race. Salado (#4) made his first start off a long layoff last month, when racing at this level, going one mile. I think cutting back for his second start makes sense, as he didn’t run too bad when finishing 4th behind a winner that was drawing away late. Francisco Arrieta has ridden very well at this meet thus far, winning 10 races. On deeper tickets, I’ll take a look at both first time starters, Smokeymountainrain (#1) and Gunstone (#9). Both come from connections that can win first out (Calhoun and Ortiz), and both have been working well enough to think they can hang with this level. I prefer the post for Gunstone, especially on an off track, but I think both have a shot.
Newly turned Arkansas bred three year olds, try to break their maiden while running with a $40K tag here. This feels like a spread race to me, so I’ll plan to use four here and try to make it out alive. Southern Pecan (#8) debuts for Ernie Witt has some nice AM drills for a barn that knows how to get firsters ready, especially at this maiden claiming level. His work on 12/26 signaled that he’s ready to run. Max’s Heart (#2) and All in Good Time (#12) finished 6th and 7th, respectively, in a state bred maiden special weight race here last month. All in Good Time might have a better post for this start today, while adding blinkers for his second run. Expect Reylu Gutierrez to be aggressive aboard Max’s Heart from his inner draw. He hit the front early in his last start before backing out of the picture. Afleet Sky (#11) has some decent AM drills for Allen Milligan. He should also benefit from an outside draw with this group and certainly could be live. I’ll watch the tote board for more clues.
I really liked the debut from Peaceful Street (#5) in the mud here on 12/5. He went to the front and was pushed every step of the way. In the stretch, Little Frappucino, who broke slow, was coming with a full head of steam, but Peaceful Street found another gear, and pulled away late to win by 2 and ½ lengths. He was sent off as the 3-2 favorite in his debut when running for Steve Asmussen, and Robertino Diodoro took notice and claimed him that day for $30K. He brings him back in a protected $50K starter allowance today, and he should be back on a wet track when facing winners for the first time. I think he’s going to be very tough to beat in here. On deeper tickets, I’ll include Sonnyisnotsofunny (#9) making his third start of this meet. He was well beaten in the Advent Stakes on opening day after being checked early on. He dropped to allowance company on a wet track here on 12/17 and finished 4th, beaten 10 lengths that day after showing some early zip. This is a softer group today, but I’m not sure he’s going to be able to go with Peaceful Street early on. However, if that one falters, he’d be the most likely one to score.
This is a very good optional claiming/allowance race with nine runners, going 1 Mile and 1/16, all of which have entered under the allowance condition. Allege (#1) is cutting back in distance after tiring late in his last three tries. His last race was at 1 Mile and 3/16 and his previous two tries were at 1 Mile and ¼. He draws the rail and has some decent tactical speed, which should ensure a decent position in this competitive field. I think those three longer races will give him a stamina edge, making him tough to run down late. Candy Tycoon (#9) sniffed the Kentucky Derby Trail in 2020 after finishing second in the Fountain of Youth. He flopped in the Florida Derby and struggled to get back on track in his three year old season. As a four year old, he was claimed in September by Norm Casse, and has two sharp efforts for his new barn. He finished at the back of a compact field when having some trouble at Keeneland at this level, and then went to win last out in a hard fought one turn mile race at Churchill. A wet track will be an unknown factor for him and the outside draw is less than ideal with this group, but I like what I’ve seen from him lately, and I expect him to be tough here. Prodigious Boy (#3) ran his best career speed figure in the slop here back in 2020 when breaking his maiden. He’s had some trouble staying sound, as there are several stops and starts with him lately. However, he ran a strong third at this level when coming back from a layoff last month, and he might be the fastest early on here. He’s one to think about, especially if his odds float above his 6-1 morning line. Ram (#5) hasn’t won a race since May, but he’s been consistently trying hard and running quality efforts for D. Wayne Lukas. Lukas has three wins already at the meet, notching a victory yesterday with Secret Oath in the 8th race. He might be more effective at the longer one turn races as opposed to two turns, but he’s as game as they come and worth using on deeper tickets.
I’m going to take a shot with a price here, and make We Thank You (#4) at 20-1 on the morning line, my top pick in this $30K maiden claiming race for three year olds. He broke slow in his debut in the mud here last month, finishing last of seven at long odds that day. Blinkers are added for his second try today, and his last two works since his debut look faster than his works leading up to his first start. I’ve been very impressed with some of the rides from jockey Chel-c Bailey at this young meet. She was very aggressive making the front and winning with Sturgill (21-1) yesterday in the 6th race. She cleared the field and opened up on the turn, and had enough left in the tank to get home with a horse that seemed overmatched on paper. I’m thinking with the blinkers and the faster works, she’ll be trying to orchestrate a similar trip here. Pikachu (#13) is the first one to draw in off the also-eligible list here. He ran a decent 4th last month, when debuting for a $40K tag. He was on the rail that day, so moving to the outside, while also dropping slightly in class, should be beneficial. Summer in Malibu (#10) debuted at this level two starts back at Churchill, and finished 4th, beaten less than three lengths that day. He was given a shot with maiden special weight company in his local debut, when stretching out to a mile. He was up the track when he was beaten by Dash Attack, who goes in the Smarty Jones later on the card. This is the right level for him and cutting back to a sprint should also help his chances. On deeper tickets, I’ll consider the first time starter, No Huddle (#11) for Allen Milligan. He had a much quicker workout on 12/27, signaling that he might be ready for his debut. Despite the large field, this is not the strongest group for the condition. He’s listed at 20-1, which is a much longer price than the other two firsters here. The value will likely be there on this gelded son of Fast Anna.
Maybe I’m being overly aggressive, but I really like Go For Sherrie (#8) in this open $30K-$25K claiming race. He’s hit the board in eight of his last nine starts, winning four of them. His only off the board race in that span was when he stumbled badly at the break and was eventually pulled up three back at Churchill. He went on to run two very strong efforts following that race, finishing first at Hawthorne with optional claiming/allowance foes, and then finishing third here in starter allowance company. He was competitive when he was beaten by a very nice horse last out, Brice, and there’s no one in this field of that caliber. He’s listed at 10-1 on the morning line, which may be a pipe dream, especially with his strong off track form, but regardless, I think he’s the most likely winner in this spot. On deeper tickets, Long Term Thinking (#5) may rebound while getting back to a two turn race. He was overmatched last out in starter allowance company after being claimed for $50K two back. I don’t love that he’s entered here for a $30K tag, but he does have good efforts when routing on a wet track.
I thought Drena’s Star (#6) was vulnerable when he was entered with open $30K claimers yesterday, but he was scratched and ends up in this time restricted $50K-$40K claiming spot, which feels a lot more logical for him. He loves racing here and was very good in his four local starts in 2021. He was a stakes winner over the summer when beating an off the turf field in the slop at Canterbury, so getting a wet track today should be an advantage. Jockey Ricardo Santana had two wins yesterday and has been riding very well at this meet, after a tough few months on the track. Nuclear Option (#1) makes his second start off a three month layoff today. He was beaten ten lengths when facing Hollis and Nashville on 12/10, in what was a very fast race. He gets some class relief here and certainly can handle running on a wet track. He’s another one that was very competitive here last season. Ournationonparade (#9) is an intriguing longshot in this race, making his first start off the Juan Cano claim. Cano has hit with 18% of his runners in their first start with him after being claimed, but his high ROI is worth paying attention to. He was stakes placed as a three year old but has tailed off a little bit of late. He’s been working well at the Fair Grounds though, and getting Reylu Gutierrez to ride is a plus, as he seems to be upgrading every horse he’s on right now. Home Base (#11) is another one that is coming out of the Hollis/Nashville race. He was making his first start since August that day, so that was not an easy spot by any means to come back from a layoff. He’s never won on this oval, but he does run well here. He’s one worth covering on some of the deeper tickets. I don’t love him at 9-2 (ML), but would consider him if his odds float up.
Three straight full fields start the last Pick-3 of the day. One Fast Cat (#5) gets the nod from me in this allowance contest. He was excellent when dominating four overmatched opponents at Keeneland three starts back, winning the way you’d want a 1-5 horse to win. He was claimed that day, and struggled a bit with starter allowance foes at Churchill for Rick Hiles. He did take a step forward last out and has a strong local workout here on 12/27. I think he’ll run big today. Name Rejected (#11) isn’t the most consistent runner in this field, but I think he’s one that can benefit from a more aggressive ride. The switch to apprentice John Hiraldo, who is one of a handful of apprentice riders that have made a positive impression thus far at this meet, should be helpful, along with his outside draw. He’s run well on a wet track, and my hope is to see him near the front end early here, as that has been when he’s been at his best. Macron (#6) is the logical morning line favorite, making his first start since June. He’s handled a sloppy track before, breaking his maiden two starts back at Churchill on a wet day. He was a strong second in his first start against winners, but then went away for over six months. Asmussen wins at 23% off the layoff, so it won’t be a surprise if he scores here, however, at short odds, I see value in trying to beat him vertically.
Race 9: The $250K Smarty Jones Stakes
The first Derby Points race of the meet drew a full field of 14. I covered this race for ITM on the blog for the Kentucky Derby, so a horse by horse analysis can be found here.
I do see this race as wide open as the one mile distance here can be a little tricky. Trips will be key here for sure. I think the duo with the most upside moving forward are Dash Attack (#1) and Home Brew (#3), both of whom are track and distance winners. I think drawing inside will be beneficial for both in order to secure a good position going into the first turn. Ben Diesel (#14) definitely has upside, but will have to navigate post 14 here, which is no picnic. Barber Road (#10) is on a roll, but I’m not sure how high his ceiling is. He’ll definitely get an acid test today. On deeper tickets, All In Sync (#2) is bred for shorter distances, but he does draw well, and the flat mile might not be too much of an ask. Don’tcrossthedevil (#9) is another one getting a major class test, but he is undefeated in two starts, and should be able to get the mile based off his pedigree. Cairama (#11) doesn’t draw well, but of the three Asmussen starters in here, he’s the one with the best pedigree for getting two turns.
This open $6,250 claiming race is a tough puzzle to end the day. There are several hard trying horses in this race, but many seem to be headed off form. I’m going to use three of the shorter prices in here, making Andreas (#5) my top selection. He’s coming back to the dirt after a pair of decent efforts on the grass at Hawthorne. His last three dirt starts have been very good, with two of them coming in the slop. He’s one of a few that come here in good form, and his biggest rivals will have to work out trips from wider posts. V.I.P. Who (#1) is the much more desirable part of the Jerry Hollendorfer entry. He was very good in the Mid-Atlantic region, winning four of his last five starts at Monmouth and Delaware. He was claimed two back for $12,500, and won his next start when protected from being claimed in an optional claiming/starter allowance. I don’t love the fact that he’s entered here with a $6,250 tag, but he’s been very good of late, especially in two turn races. Ike (#12) was done no favors with the draw here, but he does have some good early foot, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see David Cabrera step on the gas out of the gate with him. He backed out early last time when making his first start since July. Moquett has good numbers second off the layoff though, and if speed is good in the slop today, he could be dangerous.
Favorite Bet Today: Daily Double Race 5 – $32.00 Play
There’s been some tough horses to come up with for me over the last two days of racing, so I’m going to be more cautious with the multi-race sequences on this card. I really like two horses on this card, Peaceful Street (#5, R3) and Go For Sherrie (#8, R6). There’s no multi-race sequence connecting those two, so I’ll be looking at the doubles with these horses. With Go For Sherrie listed at 10-1 on the morning line, I think there’s potential for there to be better value in the double starting in Race 5 as opposed to Race 6, because I do expect him to be bet down off that figure. I also like a longshot in the 5th, We Thank You (#4, R5), that could help to make this a strong double if he can connect in his second start.
$10 Double ($30)
Race 5: 4,10,13
Race 6: 8
$2 Double ($2)
Race 5: 11
Race 6: 8