The 6th week of racing at Oaklawn starts today with some familiar names making their respective returns to the races. Joel Rosario, who has been sidelined for a while, is named to ride five runners today, all for Steve Asmussen. He was on an absolute tear this fall, and it will be interesting to see if he can jump right back in without having to shake off any rust. Multiple graded stakes winner, C Z Rocket is also scheduled to make his first start of the year today, with the hope of being able to repeat in the Count Fleet Stakes, the signature race for sprinters at the end of the Oaklawn meet. He’ll make his first start for trainer, Rene Amescua, who had a three win day here last week.
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!
EDIT: 1:30 PM: Big scratch in Race 5 for me of the #6 Pissaro’s Mandate. I updated the grid and added thoughts on a longshot in the Race 5 to consider.
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$30K maiden claimers kick off the week of racing at Oaklawn Park. Holiday Ticket (#5) took a decent step forward in his first race at two turns, which was also his first local start. He drops another level, from maiden $40K to maiden $30K where he will get some class relief. He was forwardly placed last time, with a slowish pace scenario. He was a little leg weary in the stretch, which wasn’t necessarily a surprise. I expect him to be more fit for this start today. Chisholm Trail (#9) debuted with maiden special weight rivals in the mud on January 2nd. He was wide and never a factor in that race, which was won by a nice Brad Cox horse, Fan Club, who had more racing experience. The drop to maiden claiming makes sense and, and it’s been a move that served trainer John Ortiz well in 2021, winning with six of twelve runners making that drop for the first time. Lasix is also added, which is another positive angle for the barn. Saqeel (#4) will likely take a good amount of money at the windows as he does have the best Beyer figures in the field. He’s third off the layoff today and dropping to the lowest level of competition yet. However, his plodding style has not played well in two turn races at this meet, and he feels more like an underneath horse to me. I’ll cover him on some deeper tickets, as he definitely has been facing the best horses, but I prefer the two above on top here.
This $6,250 claimer brings up an interesting handicapping conversation that I am going to take a deeper dive into in 2022. What do you do with a horse like Summer Storm (#7) in this spot? She was claimed for $25K back in November at Churchill by Robertino Diodoro, who wins a ton of claiming races each year across the country. Prior to any fees coming out, a win and claim nets the connections about a loss of $4K (and we know the actual number is higher) for a horse that hasn’t run a race for the new trainer. When I’m mapping out tracks/races to target, I’ll usually avoid a race like this with a horse like this entered. If I’m playing a single specific track, I’ll typically cover with a horse like this in a multi-race sequence, but I don’t think I’ve ever singled a horse in this scenario. At the current meet, going into today, there have been ten horses that have been entered for a lower claiming tag in their first start after being claimed. Two of those ten horses have come back to win in their next start. Five of those ten horses were trained by Diodoro. One of those five horses found the Winner’s Circle, which was Alex’s Strike on 1/7/22. That one was making a modest drop, where he was claimed for $20K and entered for a $16K tag. There were four other horses that were making more notable drops, and two of them finished second, while the other two were off the board. All four of those horses were entered in races with a $20K tag immediately after being claimed for $30K. Summer Storm in this race represents the steepest drop off from the claim to the next start, which doesn’t bode well for me. I’ll use her on the C Line here, but I’m not rushing to the windows to hammer these multi-race sequences with her being a part of them.
From a consistency standpoint, you have to respect what Credit Enhancement (#4), has done, winning three of her last seven and hitting the board two other times in that span. She was claimed for $5K at Remington when winning in her last and now moves to a tougher circuit while also climbing the class ladder. She ran some credible races on this course last season when facing tougher rivals. I think she’ll handle the better company today. Lil’ Miss Hot Mess (#6) is the other one I’ll consider in this spot. She was claimed for $10K two starts back. She tried open $10K starter allowance rivals last out and didn’t run a step. She has rebounded off some clunkers in the past, so I can see her running a better race today on the drop in class.
Arkansas bred maiden claiming fillies and mares go six furlongs here, while racing with a $20K tag. This race feels like a spot where coverage would be a good idea. Hamazing Lace (#6) makes the most sense to me as she drops in from open maiden special weight company at Evangeline and Delta. She’s been on the shelf since September, and now makes her first start for Al Cates. She seems like a horse that has improved since running here last season. Flirtatious Smile (#3) made up some ground late when making her first start in nine months last time out. She faced state bred $30K maiden claimers that day and finds a softer group here in a race where her fitness should be improved. On A Shoestring (#10) is also making her second start off the layoff today. She ran a credible second against a similar field here on 12/17. That race came back fairly slow on a muddy course that day. I’m expecting her to be able to move forward off that effort here. Shining Terri (#4) took some money in her debut when running with $40K maiden claimers. She broke slow, rushed up a bit, before coming up empty. She gets Lasix while dropping in class for her second career start, so I’d be willing to give her another shot.
Multi-conditioned $10K claimers go here. This race is open to either horses that have never won three times or horses that haven’t won a race in a year. This feels like another spread race to me, but I’m going to try to beat the morning line favorite, Sidetown (#4). He’s unraced since clearing the N2L condition at this $10K tag last out at Churchill in September. He’s had some trouble staying sound, and he’s moving up in class while facing some horses that are getting class relief. This is scheduled to be Joel Rosario’s first mount of the meet, which should bring some added money into the win pool on him. I’ll try to beat him using Firery Tale (#2) on top, taking a significant drop in class, while looking to get his first win since September 2020. He ran a respectable 4th with open $20K claimers here on 12/10. Blinkers go on and leading rider, Francisco Arrieta, retains the mount. True Saint (#6) was claimed at this level when finishing third on 12/5. He was claimed by Aidan Green, who does a nice job with his horses that run first off the claim. He was very sharp this summer at Prairie Meadows and he’ll be tough if can get back to those races. Horse Greedy (#12) is a nine year old gelding that has spent most of his career in Southern California. In his heyday, he was graded stakes placed in sprint races out there. This nine year old gelding hasn;t been that kind of horse for a while, and his last over the local course was not good. However, Diodoro takes over, and this is his third start off the layoff. This is the kind of horse that will typically improve for this barn. Replete (#11) was second in that same race and was also claimed from that spot. Joe Sharp takes over the training of this six year old gelded son of He’s Had Enough. He hasn’t found himself in the Winner’s Circle since November of 2019, so that’s certainly a concern. However, he rarely runs a poor race, and this seems like the appropriate level of competition for him. On deeper tickets, Blueridge Traveler (#1) is an interesting name to keep an eye on. He’s another horse that was a solid stakes performer back in 2018 and 2019. He also doesn’t have the same punch that he used to, but he did run a race that would likely be good enough to win with these back in May on this track. The cutback to a sprint strikes me as a little odd, as he’s never run this short in his career. In fact, the only time he ever went two turns was in a seven furlong race at Ellis Park back in 2019, when making his first start off a 16 month layoff. His effort that day wasn’t bad though. I would still like him more at two turns, however, if he gets overlooked in the wagering, and his odds float well over his 10-1 morning line, I’d be inclined to take a chance on him sprinting for the first time in a long time.
I think Pissarro’s Mandate (#6) makes a lot of sense in this $10K maiden claiming race that ends the Early Pick-5 and starts the Late Pick-5. He made his first start off the layoff and his first start at two turns on a muddy track with $20K maiden claimers 12 days ago. The winner of that race, dominated, pulling away to win by over seven lengths. He finished 4th, fading late after being a part of the early pace from his inside draw. He’s bred to get two turns and I’m expecting him to stay on much better this afternoon while making his second start off the layoff. Rousing Siren (#8) is coming out of the same race, which was nothing short of a disaster for him. He was five wide going into the first turn. At the start of the backstretch, Cabrera was able to guide him over to the rail. He was making some headway, before checking badly, relegating him to the back of the field. He starts in the same stall today, so he’ll need to be able to find a spot early on to be at his best. However, he’s caught a wet surface in his last two starts, and his fast track form is much better than what he’s shown on off tracks. I don’t love him as the favorite, while dropping again in class, however, I do think he is logical. Mo Heat (#3) is definitely a question mark for me. He was foaled by the filly champion sprinter, Xtra Heat, but he has always been better at two turns. He was competitive in maiden claiming races earlier this year on the NYRA circuit. However, he was claimed twice, and hasn’t shown the same ability since his most recent claim. He gets back to routing after trying a six furlong sprint at this level last time out. He has a good post for the race he wants to run.
Edit: With the scratch of Pissaro’s Mandate (#6), I’d consider upgrading Mountain Time (#4) making his first start at two turns. He’s had three races and he’s yet to break well in any of them, so that is definitely something to consider. However, he does have some tactical speed that could play well at the mile distance if he can break a little better this afternoon. 12-1 is the morning line figure, and I’d like to get at least that, if not better simply because of the gate issues. I do think the rider upgrade to Arrieta is also worth noting.
This is an interesting optional claiming/allowance race for three year olds at one mile. I’m interested to see a few horses, but the one that is the most curious to me is Fort Defiance (#8) for Ken McPeek. He finished near the back of the field in a pair of competitive maiden special weight races when sprinting on the dirt in Kentucky. He stayed in Kentucky and ran at Turfway over the synthetic, when going two turns for the first time in December. He won that race handily, at long odds, going off at 29-1. David Cohen gets the mount for his local debut as he gets back to the main track, while staying at two turns. He’s bred by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Fort Larned, so there’s reason to believe he can have success on the main track. I’d be willing to play him anywhere near his 12-1 morning line in this race. Chasing Time (#4) is another intriguing horse in this race to me. He’s run four quality races, earning four mid-70’s Beyer figures. His best race came at 7 Furlongs two starts back when breaking his maiden at Churchill. He shipped here and cut back to six furlongs when racing at this level. From a timing perspective, the race at this level in December going one mile came up a little too fast, so Asmussen entered him in the six furlong sprint on 12/17. He was favored that day, and finished second behind a runaway winner. I do think he’ll be better at two turns, and this seems to be a natural progression for this son of Not This Time. On deeper tickets, I’ll play both the other McPeek and the other Asmussen horse. Mc Peek also sends out Elusive Target (#7) who was given a few months off after a tough effort at this level at Keeneland back in October. He was very wide throughout that day, and flattened out in the end. His maiden breaking score at Ellis and distant second place finish in stakes company at Prairie Meadows hinted that this Gun Runner colt has some ability, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him run an improved race here. Wicked Genius (#5) returns after a second place finish behind Home Brew at this level back on 12/4. Home Brew came back to run a poor race in the Smarty Jones in his next start, and that field was not very deep for this level. I do think this is a tougher group, and I’m not certain this one will be running back to his big effort to break his maiden two starts ago. 5-2 (ML) feels very light on this horse in this race, but he’d be a little more enticing if his odds float up.
More three year olds go in the start of the late Pick-3, this one for maiden special weight fillies at one mile. Rene Amescua looks to build off early 2022 success with the former Peter Miller horses, and he sends out a nice looking Classic Empire filly, Awesome Taylor (#4) here. She ran a solid race in her debut with $50K maiden claimers at Santa Anita going six furlongs. She faced winners when racing in optional claiming/starter allowance company next out at Del Mar, which I thought was a clever move by Miller, as she was protected from being claimed, without having to face some of the well-bred fillies that were showing up in the maiden special weight races at that meet. She just missed after a bit of a tardy break last out, and now moves to the maiden allowance level for the first time when facing a field that doesn’t appear to be as tough as some of the fields that have been assembled at this meet thus far. I think she has a big chance in this spot. Princess Pauline (#3) was foaled by the 2015 Black Eyed Susan winner, Keen Pauline (a win which was a personal loss that I’m still bitter about!). Her dam took a few starts before we saw her best effort, and this filly has been improving over her three starts. She was a distant second to first time starter, Park on the Nile, who was much the best in an otherwise slow race on the second Stars of Tomorrow card at Churchill last out. Rosario rode her that day and is back aboard this afternoon where she has drawn well and gets Lasix for the first time. Both Ice Orchid (#10) and Star Table (#11) were not as fortunate with their post position draw, but both still have a reasonable shot with this group. Ice Orchid finished 3rd in a very fast maiden special weight race here at six furlongs last month. She stretches out today for the first time, which, based on pedigree, shouldn’t be an issue. Star Table was considerably better in her second career start after a sluggish debut. She too is another one that has a pedigree that suggests she’ll appreciate routing on the main track.
On paper, the featured allowance this afternoon sets up beautifully for Cazadero (#7) if he’s good enough. There’s really not a lot of other front end speed signed on here and he gets an outside draw with an aggressive rider (Rosario) for his first start since clearing the N3L allowance condition in June at Churchill. After a strong two year old campaign, I expected more from him last season, but he was dull in his first start off the layoff in the Gazebo here last spring. He improved as the season went on though and more recently, he has some steady drills over the track. I do think we’ll see a better version of him than what we saw from him here last season. C Z Rocket (#1) kicks off his eight year old season in hopes of repeating in the Count Fleet Stakes toward the end of this meet. However, he starts in a race that is devoid of a lot of early speed. He has shown some tactical early foot earlier on in his career, but not as much lately. He was 0-4 on this track prior to winning both of his local starts here last season. He scratched out of a tougher race at a similar condition last month when the track came up muddy. The forecast is dry this afternoon though, so it should be all systems go. On deeper tickets, I’m not sure if Lykans (#3) is fast enough to beat this group, however, I do think he will improve in this start and I like him more as an underneath horse here. He is coming out of a very productive allowance race here last month when Hollis set the track record for 5 and ½ furlongs when defeating the speedy Nashville. Mr. Jagermeister came out of that race to win very impressively last weekend at Tampa, earning a 100 Beyer. The 4th and 6th place finishers of that same allowance race came back to finish second and first, respectively, in a strong, high priced, claiming race here on 1/1. He’s second off the layoff and had some solid races on this course last season. I think he’ll sit a decent trip here, sitting around midpack. Four of his six rivals are making their first start off significant layoffs, so if they’re not quite at their best, he may be able to step up at long odds here.
The nightcap is a money allowance for fillies and mares at 1 Mile and 1/16. I do think this race has a wide open feel to it. I think there’s a few horses that could offer a little more value than some others. Princess Lea (#7) makes a lot of sense to me getting back to a two turn race. It took her a while to break her maiden, finally finishing first in her 11trh career start. She was progressively improving, but really started to show more once she started racing at two turns, She was 4th beaten five lengths when going a one turn mile in her most recent start with N1X allowance types at Churchill. The fractions were pretty swift that day, and she was sitting right off that pace. She faded in the final furlong that day, but I think the pace scenario of this race will be more advantageous to her running style. Glamour Girl (#1) is another one that could have a forward move in her. She drew a wide post when facing a similar field here last month. She was relegated to the back of the field behind a decent pace. She was closing well to get up to be third, beaten less than a length. She tends to run some of her better career races on this oval, and she gets significant post relief today while drawing the rail. I think she’ll sit a better trip, closer to the front end than her last start. She’s second off the layoff and Geroux retains the mount. Trumpet Lilly (#11) is the second choice on the morning line, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her go off as the post time favorite after two monster performances in a row. She’s started 11 times, and six of those starts have come on wet tracks. She’s likely to get a fast track this afternoon. Her last race at Keeneland on a fast track was a disaster, but she was a winner here on dry going last season. Ship It (#5) is another one that is worth playing, as she continues to improve in her seven career starts. She was a close second in the same race the Glamour Girl is coming out of. I think this field is a little deeper though, and 9-2 feels like odds that are a little short for me. If she gets overlooked in the wagering, I could consider upgrading her. Front Street (#2) is another one that took a long time to graduate from the maiden ranks. She finally broke through in her 12th career start when dripping in for a tag for the first time. Asmussen claimed her that day, and she has run two sharp races since. She set an easy pace but was caught late at this distance two starts back at Churchill. I’m not totally convinced that two turns will be her best trip, and the price will likely be a little shorter than it should be, especially, if Rosario wins with a few of his first four mounts. I’ll cover with her in the multi-race wagers, but I’ll try to beat her vertically.
Favorite Bet Today: Late Pick-5 ($60 Ticket, $0.50 Base Wager)
I do like this wager today, because I think building a ticket around Cazadero (#7) in the feature today makes some sense. I think C Z Rocket will take a good amount of money in that race, so if we can get the lone speed horse home in that sprint, that could open some things up in some of the other races that feel wide open.
Race 5: 3,6,8
Race 6: 4,8
Race 7: 3,4,10,11
Race 8: 7
Race 9: 1,2,5,7,11