There’s a ten race program highlighted by the $150K Fifth Season Stakes, going off as Race 9 The ten year old gelding, Rated R Superstar, won this race last year and is back to defend his title. He first raced here in 2016 and he won his first race on this oval in January of 2018. He won the Essex Stakes in 2019, but went on a bit of a losing streak after that. He was claimed here for $50K in January of 2021, which seemed to re-energize him. He narrowly lost the Essex Stakes that year at long odds. Since the claim, he has won five stakes races for his new connections, including the Grade 3 Essex Stakes again last year. He is one of the coolest horses in training and he’s looking for a trip for the Winner’s Circle at Oaklawn for the 5th time in six years. He’ll have to beat a talented California invader, Ginobili, and eight others to do just that. First post is 12:30 (CT) with the featured race scheduled to go off at 4:22 (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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The afternoon will get started with $30K maiden claimers going six furlongs. It’s apparent that Guided Arrow (#4) wants to compete on the main track. His two efforts on dirt are far superior to the turf and synthetic tries in his five race history. He was claimed after just missing at this level at Churchill two starts ago. He showed some speed last out at Turfway before faltering badly on the Tapeta surface there. He returns to the right class level and cuts back to a one turn race, which should be closer to what he wants to do. He looks like the one to beat. Kentucky Bourbon (#1) is a little bit interesting in this spot, dropping into maiden claiming company for the first time. He’s been moved to the Danny Pish barn after some encouraging efforts in Oklahoma and Texas. I like his one turn races better than the ones at two turns. I think he’s a live longshot in this race where some of the other shorter prices are a bit suspect.
Conditioned $10,00-$7,500 filly and mare claimers are going one mile here. You don’t often find horses with a 34% career winning percentage in races like this, but that is what we have with First Empress (#2). She comes off an effort with starter allowance company at Remington where she finished a dull third in a four horse field. She was pretty consistent in 2022 though, winning 6 of 16 starts and hitting the board in 7 more of those starts. She had most of her success when she was trained by Broberg, who reclaimed her in September after losing her the month before. Her poor effort might create a little value in this race. Kim Puhl has connected with a few longshots so far at this meet and she sends out the seven year old mare, Close to Me (#5), coming off a three month break. She was not her best self at Thistledown in her four races there, but she was competitive on this oval last season. Perhaps she’s losing a step, but at 15-1 or better, she might be worth including as a saver on some deeper multi-race wagers and using underneath in the vertical exotics.
$30K-$25K N2L claimers are sprinting six furlongs here. Papa Rocket (#4) was a $300K purchase that hasn’t lived up to the hype. However, he has faced some very salty fields when running in maiden special weight company. He dropped in for a $30K tag two back and was a winner at Churchill at this distance. He jumped back into allowance company, facing a strong field at Keeneland on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. This seems like a more appropriate class level for him today. Hanks (#8) was third at this level in a full field last month. He defected from a race for $20K N2L claimers on yesterday’s card in favor of this spot, which isn’t that much deeper. He’s making his second start off an eight month layoff, so he should be more fit for this race. Touch Code (#2) missed the break at this level and never was involved last time out. He has some bigger efforts in the not-so distant past, running a strong race at Churchill three back to break his maiden with $50K maiden claimers. I’m willing to toss his last two as he caught a sloppy course when trying two turns two starts ago. I do feel he could be overlooked, starting off at 15-1 on the morning line. Sisaway Now (#3) is another decent priced runner that could be worth including on some tickets in this race. He broke his maiden with maiden special weight company on this course in his career debut back in March. He was more competitive in his two starts at Canterbury than he was in his two starts at Keeneland. This barn can get them ready to fire fresh, and the return to Arkansas might be what the doctor ordered.
Three year olds that could have their eyes on some of the Derby Points races at this meet go one mile in this optional $80K claiming/N1X allowance race. Two horses are going to take the bulk of the attention at the windows. Brad Cox will send out Verifying (#5) for the first time since his 6th place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. That was the strongest race of the two year old season, and he finished in the middle of the pack. National Treasure, who finished third, came back to run a game third in the Sham last weekend at Santa Anita. Verifying was second in the Grade 1 Champagne in his second career start and he was good enough to break his maiden at Saratoga this summer. The Cox barn is absolutely loaded with three year olds at the moment, so it’s not surprising to see him show up in an allowance spot for this one to start his 2023 campaign. That being said, I do wonder if he’s maybe showing a little less progress in the morning than some of his other runners. Two Eagles River (#2) just missed in the Renaissance Stakes two weeks ago when sprinting six furlongs. He comes back and stretches out to two turns for the first time. He’s sired by Preakness winner, Cloud Computing, so I think the distance should be within the realm of his capabilities. The barn is on fire, winning three more races yesterday. However, I am a little concerned about the quick turnaround for him. Booth of these runners are strong, and I’ll use both, but I’ll make Gunflash (#4) my top pick to spring the upset in this race. He’s run twice in his career, both times at Remington, He was a winner on debut in November. He came back to run 4th in the Remington Springboard Mile last month. His dam has produced several useful horses, including stakes winner Flash of Mischief (who has already won a sprint stakes race at this meet). She also foaled a pair of useful runners that were stakes placed as three year olds (Royal Mesa and War Campaign). Cristian Torres rides this son of Gun Runner for Karl Broberg, who appears to be eligible to take a nice step forward today.
Fillies and mares go six furlongs in this maiden special weight race. There was a lot of early speed signed on in the 12/11 race at this condition in the slop here. Stellar Lily (#6) was the fastest early that day and sent strong fractions before fading late. She was beaten by Klassy Bridgette, who was a dominating winner in allowance company on yesterday’s card. I see there being considerably less speed in this race, and I don’t see the added half furlong getting in her way. Tales of Homes (#7) is the logical alternative to me. She’s finished second in both of her career starts with maiden allowance types. She comes back to a sprint for her third outing, which seems like it is what she’s going to want to do. I expect a better effort from her today. The morning line favorite is Vow (#4) for Steve Asmussen and MyRacehorse. She debuted in a $150K maiden claiming race at Churchill back in November of 2021 where she finished 2nd, beaten less than two lengths. She was on the sidelines until November of 2022, where she finished second with $75K maiden claimers. No one took the bait, and she remains with her current owners, who move her to a protected spot for the first time. She’s run well in those two starts and she certainly could win this race here, however, at short odds, she feels more vulnerable than the top two.
I found the opening leg to the Late Pick-5, which is a $30K-$25K claiming contest, to be very challenging. The race starts with the morning line favorite, Ash Flat (#2), who comes in having won five of his last six starts. Chris Hartman, who is red hot right now at this meet, is his trainer. He was a winner in a $104K allowance race last out, so the drop back to $30K claimers is a bit unsettling. He’s been too good not to use him, but I’m going to spread in this race. Gozilla (#6) is interesting to me, making his first start of the Norman McKnight claim. He’s been based at Woodbine, running all of his 2022 races on Tapeta both there and at Turfway. This is a horse that was third in the Hopeful in 2019 and a respectable 4th behind Tiz the Law back in 2019 when he was running on traditional dirt. I think he can handle the surface switch today. Steve Asmussen claimed Slam Dunk Sermon (#7) for $20K last month, and I think he can get this son of Rousing Sermon to run another strong race today. Prior to shipping here, he was based in Southern California, where he was popular at the claim box. He handled the mud nicely in his first try on an off track last time out, however, I think he’s just as good on dry footing. Shadow Matter (#5) is one more that I’d consider playing on some deeper tickets. He’s been claimed out of his last three starts, and he comes back with a $30K tag after a competitive 5th place finish with $32K claimers at Churchill. Joe Sharp has given him a little time to adjust. He’s worked well in the AM and could certainly pull an upset here at 10-1 (ML) or better.
This is a brutally tough $30K maiden claiming race for Arkansas bred three year old fillies. The six horses that have started a race (two of which are on the AE list), have all run only once and all were beaten by double digit lengths. Of those runners, the only one I’m interested in is Sassy Lass (#9). She had some trouble in her only start when facing state bred maiden allowance types. She ended up being relegated to the back of the pack, but she was passing some horses late. I’ll use her on the A line, but my top pick is going to be the first time starter. Quarantined (#2). Allen Milligan won with a pair of debut runners in state bred maiden claiming races here last January, and they followed a similar work pattern to what we’re seeing with this son of Palace. The dam has foaled five horses and four were very competitive on debut, with one winning. She ran four times, winning once and hitting the board in the other three. She has passed on her speed to most of her offspring, so I’d expect to see her involved early in this race. Al Cates and Kelsi Harr won the nightcap together with a Street Strategy gelding. Today, they unveil Street Painter (#8). His horses typically need a race or two before they’re at their best, however, the dam won her first career start, and she is the first foal of hers to run. Betty Jo (#12) is also worth using in her first try for Ron Moquett. She’s a filly sired by the late 2014 Arkansas Derby winner, Danza. The only foal to run from her dam was competitive in her debut and won in her second career start.
Fillies and mares sprint six furlongs in this optional claiming/conditioned allowance race. Both Tizplenty (#3) and Hazy Command (#4) are cross-entered in the Nelson J. Menard Stakes at the Fair Grounds today. That race is a turf sprint and both fillies are on the AE list. They were on the turf yesterday there and the forecast is nice today in New Orleans. Tizplenty is the first to draw in if there is a scratch but Hazy Command would need a lot of help to run there. I’ll handicap this race with the expectation that both fillies will opt to race here. Regardless, I think they’re going to have their hands full while facing Lovemesomeme (#1) in this race. She’s been competitive while facing significantly better opposition, finishing two lengths behind Bell’s the One in the Lady Tak Stakes three back. She was narrowly defeated in her last two starts at seven furlongs at Churchill. She ships here and cuts back to six furlongs, which I think is a better distance for her. She could be competitive in the sprint stakes races for fillies and mares later on in the meet. If Tizplenty does run here, that could add to the early pace pressure in this race. There isn’t necessarily an abundance of early speed signed on, which definitely tilts the advantage to the favorite. However, if a few of the runners on the outside get aggressive, that could set the table for Portilla (#2) to run them down late. She was a fast closing second in the Pan Zareta Stakes last month at the Fair Grounds. She’s in good form right now, winning a N2X allowance race two starts ago, despite still being eligible for the N1X condition.
Race 9: The $150K Fifth Season Stakes:
I’m not buying Ginobili (#8) as the heavy favorite in this stakes race. He’s unproven at two turns and he wants to be out front. There are three other horses, two of which are absolutely need the lead types, drawn inside of him. That should ensure a strong early pace, which is has been the recipe for success for the talented ten year old gelding, Rated R Superstar (#6). He won this race last year and he’s won his last two stakes races on the main track at Remington. He always shows up when racing on this oval, and he consistently wins when he’s in a race where the early pace is too hot. Soy Tapatio (#1) might be the main danger, especially if he is able to get first run into the short stretch of this one mile contest. He was a two times stakes winner this summer and fall in Canada, winning at Assiniboia and the Century Mile. He struggled two back when going 10 furlongs, but he rebounded nicely with a strong win in the Zia Park Championship Stakes in his last start at the end of November. Diodoro has given him a little time to get acclimated to the local surface, and he appears to be ready to fire in his Hot Springs debut. On deeper tickets, I’ll use Runnin’ Ray (#2) who has speed from his inside position. He typically likes to be on the front end, but he conceded the lead last out when breaking from an outside post in a speedy heavy allowance race at Churchill. He closed well to finish 5th, but less than a length behind the winner in a wild finish that day. He’s had success on this oval and I like that he is adaptable to whatever the pace scenario may be.
The day ends with a maiden special weight contest for three year olds going 1 mile and 1/16. I’m excited to see the second career start from Shopper’s Revenge (#3). He’s the second foal to run from the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff Champion, Stopchargingmaria. Her first foal, Stillchargingmaria is a two-time winner at two turns on the turf. That one is sired by Pioneerof the Nile, so it’s not a shock seeing her run better on grass. This three year old colt is sired by Tapit, so I’m thinking that he’ll be even better at two turns. He was second in his debut behind Determinedly, who is a nice Mark Casse colt who was third as the beaten favorite in the Gun Runner Stakes last month. I think that one will be better suited to one turn races though. This colt has drawn well for his second start, and I think he’ll take a decent step forward in his two turn debut. On deeper tickets and underneath, I think both Citizen (#8) and Bougie Joe (#9) are some “buy low” horses that could move forward today. Citizen cost $375K at the OBS Sales in 2022, which is notable because the other horses from this dam to race haven’t been great. He took money in his debut, but had a tough start from the rail, which led to him not getting the best trip. He makes his second start today and I think has the ability to make up the 7 and ½ lengths on the favorite in this race. Bougie Joe ran in a weaker maiden special weight race in the slop last out. He was forwardly placed, but he took a lot of mud to the face while racing inside of horses. He wilted to 5th that afternoon when making his second career start and his first for Steve Hobby. His debut on dry footing wasn’t bad when he was narrowly defeated at Remington. Both figure to be overlooked in this spot, but I think both have a shot, especially if the top choice struggles. Rocket and Roll (#6) is the morning line favorite for Brad Cox, coming off a 2nd palace finish at this level in his last start, which was his first race at two turns. Frank Fletcher and Spendthrift paid $675K for this son of Bolt d’Oro, so obviously the expectations are high. He looks to be the controlling speed, but there’s other runners in here that should keep him honest. The dam’s other runners to race have been more successful at one turn and I’m wondering if that will be the same story for him. I’ll use him as a saver, but I think he’s vulnerable in this spot.
Favorite Wager Today: Early Pick-5 ($36 Ticket, $0.50 Base Wager)
I like this wager today because I think we can get out of the first two legs, going fairly skinny, while not using the morning line favorite in either spot. I do like First Empress (#2, R2) enough to use her as a single in the cheapest race in the sequence. I like some prices in the third race and I believe that Gunflash (#4, R4) has a legitimate chance to beat the heavy favorites in his race, which is the strongest race in the early sequence.
Meet Statistics: Top Pick 25/112 (22.3%), $186.20, $1.66 ROI