Another week of racing gets underway with a nine race card at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Like last year, the jockey leaderboard is very contentious. Cristian Torres got off to a quick start and holds a narrow, one race advantage over both Francisco Arrieta and Rafael Bejarano. Robertino Diodoro has trained 16 winners with 53 starters so far at this meet, giving him a six race lead over Chris Hartman in second. First post for this Friday the 13th card is at 12:30 (CT).
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!
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Three year old fillies go 1 mile and 1/16 in a $30K maiden claiming contest that will start the day. Perfectly Golden (#8) appears to be well-spotted to give Bret Calhoun his first win of the meet. She was 5th going a mile in the mud in maiden special weight company when making her second career start and her first over the local oval. This barn does very well with runners dropping into maiden claiming company, and she’ll get a rider upgrade to Nik Juarez. I don’t like some of the shorter prices in this race, so I think we’re going to get a square price on this 9-2 (ML) shot. Jane Bond (#7) was second in her debut, despite some traffic woes, while running in a slow race at this level. I do expect her to improve at two turns, and I respect the fact that she hung around after a less than ideal trip. Canary Nation (#1) will be absolutely overlooked while running for a lower profile stable. However, she’s drawn the rail for her local debut and I don’t think much of some of the other runners here. I’d be more inclined to use her underneath, but at long odds, she isn’t the craziest price stab.
This $10K starter allowance features the top four finishers from a race at this condition last month. I didn’t love the ride the Flatout Winner (#4) got that day when he finished third. Last year’s leading rider, David Cabrera, takes over. His previous two efforts at Hawthorne were very sharp and if he can get back to one of those races, I think he’ll find himself in the Winner’s Circle. Leader of Men (#1) looks to be the controlling speed in this race, which has been a valuable asset at this meet so far. He was caught and passed late that day and he was caught two back at Keeneland when settling soft fractions. He might be more effective rating just off the pace, but I think he’s committed to go to the front with his post. Regardless, I expect him to be involved at the end. Fredonian (#5) was a wide 4th that day, but he’s a consistent runner that rarely puts forth a poor effort. Cristian Torres keeps the mount for a horse that might need a little luck to win, but feels likely to finish in the money. Tiger Moon (#7) is the morning line favorite after beating $50K starter allowance foes. This is a deeper group, despite the fact that this is only a $10K starter allowance. His last two races on this course at two turns have been very sharp.
I think Big Bad Diva (#4) is going to be the one to beat in this $40K-$35K claiming race for fillies and mares. She’s coming off a dull effort on synthetic at Turfway when facing stronger opposition last month. Her dirt form has been strong of late, with several strong efforts when facing similar competition. She ran well when beating $40K claimers in a one turn mile at Churchill two starts back. Her two turn form is even better than what she showed that day. Enchanted Nile (#2) is intriguing in this race, in part because jockey Ramsey Zimmerman is making his second start of the year aboard her. He was last seen riding in 2017, so after five years away, it’s nice to see him back in the irons. He has a shot with this six year old mare, who was a decent 4th in her first start off the Chris Hartman claim. This barn has been red hot at the start of this meet, winning at a 42% clip and hitting the board 71% of the time with their first 24 starters. Asmussen sends out the morning line favorite, Good Penny (#1) for the first time after he claimed her for $30K at the beginning of the meet. She’s won her last two starts when going two turns. However, at short odds, I’m not sure her ceiling is much higher than what we’ve seen from her.
The second through fifth place finishers of a $20K maiden claiming race for fillies and mares last month are all back in this race at the same condition. The morning line favorite is Doozy Bats (#3), who was a heavy favorite that was eased in that race. Her claim was voided that day and now she’s back, less than a month later at the same level. Her two works since were on the slow side, so I’m not confident that we’re going to see the version of her that hit the board at Churchill and Belmont earlier in her career. I’ll use her as a backup on deeper plays, but I’m not getting the best vibes from her right now. While I like two of the horses that beat her that day, my top pick is the second time starter, American Band (#7). She debuted with maiden special weight types at Churchill, where she was soundly defeated by a next out winner. While I don’t love that she drops this deep for her second career start, it’s probably the right level of competition for her. Blinkers go on today, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Cabrera rides her aggressively from the gate. The X Factor (#4) and Rowdy Daisy (#9) finished second and fourth, respectively, in the aforementioned maiden claiming race here last month. While that wasn’t a very competitive five horse group, this bunch isn’t that much deeper. The X Factor ran well while making her second career start on dirt. Her synthetic form at Presque Isle wasn’t very good, but if she can run back to her last race, she’ll be tough to beat here. Rowdy Daisy was making her first start in almost a full year. She clipped heels and fell in her debut back in December of 2021 and didn’t make it back to the track until December 2022. She led most of the way before tiring late. I expect her to be a bit more fit for this one today.
A group of ten maiden claimers go 1 mile and 1/16 in the all-important 5th race on the card. I think there’s a reasonable chance that Majestic Flag (#3) completes the double for Gary and Mary West, John Ortiz, and David Cabrera (the same connections as American Band in the previous race). He just missed at Churchill at this level two starts back. He encountered some traffic when finishing 5th with $50K maiden claimers here last month. He’s getting class relief and should be able to sit a nice trip just off the inside speed. Blow Torch (#1) should contend for the early lead from his rail post. Karl Broberg claimed him for $30K at Ellis back in August when he last started for D. Wayne Lukas. He’s been on the sidelines since, but is eligible to run with the waiver in this race. Broberg has good numbers first off the claim and with horses off this kind of layoff. He’s hit with 25% of the horses that he’s claimed and brought back off this kind of layoff over the last five years. Pizza Charlie (#8) ran a big race at this level off the layoff last season, finishing third while yielding the lead in the final strides in March. Like last year, he comes to Oaklawn off a layoff after some less than spectacular races on synthetic at Presque Isle. He’s 0-15 in his career, so my expectations are tempered, however at 15-1 (ML), I see him as much better value than either Cyclone (#6) or Lil Bro Coop (#7), who are the favorite and second choice on the morning line in this race. Mourvedre (#2) is worth considering, shipping in from California for Diodoro. This barn continues to roll at this meeting, winning with 16 of his first 53 starters. At short odds, I will show a little restraint seeing that Torres is riding elsewhere and Mojica is getting the assignment. He’s been only 1-15 while riding for Diodoro at this meet. He has good speed though and is comparable on speed figures with the better ones in this race.
The Late Pick-4 starts off with a $20-$16K N2L claiming race for four year olds and up, going six furlongs. This race feels like it runs through the favorite, Victory March (#10). He dropped in for a tag for the first time last month when breaking his maiden with $30K maiden claimers in New Orleans. While I don’t love taking a short price on a horse facing winners for the first time, he was very competitive when facing maiden allowance types here and at Churchill. The forecasted dry conditions should be favorable for him. The other one I’ll use in this race is Hanks (#9), making his second start off the layoff. He finished an even third when making his first start since April last month. He improved off a similar pattern in his second race off the bench last year, and I think the drop in class should work out well for him.
Both Plausible Denile (#3) and Life On the Nile (#5) are well bred, gelded sons of Pioneerof the Nile, both looking to break their maidens after multiple tries. Plausible Denile makes his third start off the layoff, but he’s struggled to string together good races. Life On the Nile makes his first start since April and his first since being gelded. I think he’s better suited for two turn races, so this feels like a race to get him back into shape. I’ll play against both at short odds in this race. I’ll try the first time starter, Shuffle Dance (#6) on top. He has a few nice five furlong drills since coming down here from Louisiana Downs for Steve Asmussen. Nyquist hits with 19% of his first time starters on dirt, and Asmussen has won with 13% of his first time starters that are older than two over the past year. The dam was a debut winner and three of her six foals to race won at first asking. Two others ran strong races in their debuts, including a runner that was 4th in a stakes race on debut after breaking in the air at the start. I like that Santana takes the mount on this three year old, who I believe has a good chance of beating his elders today. Town Branch (#1) is the most desirable of the runners with multiple races under their belts. His best efforts have been at this six furlong trip, and he’s been knocking on the door in his last two tries. On deeper tickets, Magnificus (#2) may be worth a look. He might need this race and he might be better going a little farther. However, he had some issues at the gate last year, and still ran credible races in the spring. His last two races were disasters, including one on the turf. Moquett gave him time off and he brings him back as a gelding. Perhaps he has matured with the additional time off. He’s shown that the ability is there if he can get his head right. Royal King (#9) may also be worth a look, making his first start since finishing 5th in his debut last January. He was in a very fast heat for this condition that day. He showed some early interest before fading late. This barn is good at getting them ready to fire fresh.
Three year old fillies sprint six furlongs in the feature today, which is an optional $80K claiming/N1X allowance test. Chris Hartman has a pair of aces in this one, sending out both Klassy Bridgette (#2) and Condensation (#8). I’ll give a slight edge to Condensation, coming off a solid second place effort in a small stakes race at the Fair Grounds. That was her first loss in her career after winning her first three starts. She was claimed for $50K three starts back and was a game winner in starter allowance company in her first try for her new connections. Even though she was second best last out, I thought her effort was very gutsy. She went for the lead, but was outsprinted by a classier filly, and found herself on the rail, behind horses for the first time in her career. She got off the rail and was making solid progress, while in between horses, splitting her rivals to get up for second. Hartman brings her back two and half weeks later in this spot, which carries a similar purse to the stakes race she was in. I see her as the one beat. Her main rival is her stablemate, who is coming off a gutsy effort herself. Klassy Bridgette broke her maiden against a large field in the mud, going 5 and ½ furlongs here last month. She weaved her way through traffic after missing the break. She finds another field that has several that appear to be interested in going for the early lead. She is a proven closer than can handle adversity.
The nightcap is a maiden special weight for Arkansas breds, many of which are coming out of a contentious heat at this condition on 12/16. Street Commander (#3) came out of that race, and he turned in a strong performance, losing a photo that day while coming with a five wide drive. That makes two solid efforts in a row after a slow start to his career. I’d look for him to run well once again here. Classy Socks (#6) was making his first start on the main track that day after a solid debut on the turf with open company at Remington. He tired a bit in the later stages of that one, but ran well enough to make me believe that he has a forward move in him today. Storm Strategy (#9) was 6th in that race while making his debut. He was near the back of the pack early and passed some tired runners late. He has about eight lengths to make up on the top pick, but he ran well enough to believe that he could make some strides in his second career start. I don’t know how many Arkansas bred runners Brad Cox has in his barn, but he’ll send out Third Watch (#4) for his career debut this afternoon. Cox has trained two of the dam’s foals to make it to the track, and both of them narrowly missed in their debuts, running in comparable races to this.
Favorite Wager Today: Late Pick-4 ($32 Ticket, $0.50 Base Wager)
I think there’s a few vulnerable favorites in this sequence, especially in the 7th and 9th races. I’ve spread in both of those spots, hoping to catch a price. I do think the Asmussen first time starter, Shuffle Dance (#6) has a lot of positive signs for his debut, and could certainly be overlooked in this race.
Meet Statistics: Top Pick 24/104 (24%), $179.00, $1.72 ROI
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