Another new week of racing begins at Oaklawn with a nine race card, highlighted by three strong allowance races. Three year old sprinters go in Race 6, and three year old fillies go two turns in Race 8. Sandwiched in between is a N2L allowance race for older horses. First post for the Friday program is 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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$20K claimers going one mile start the racing week in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I’m not loving the shorter prices in this race, so I’ll try a price to start off the week and use Dial in for Lute (#7) on top. He was in tight and faded to finish 7th against a sharp group of N1X allowance runners two weeks ago. He drops in class to a level where he was competitive in Oklahoma a few starts back. The two turn mile fits him well. Mo’s Mojo (#3) could be a candidate that could get Randy Morse off the duck for the meet. He;s not the most consistent runner, so getting him around the 8-1 morning line price will be important to me. However, he’s got some races that would be very competitive with this group, including his win at Keeneland three starts back. While he doesn’t do two turns too often, he’s been good in the races where he has. I’ll cover with both Lord Dragon (#5) and Thundershook (#8) here. Lord Dragon was claimed for $40K by Diodoro three starts ago. His last two starts against better opponents weren’t very good, so while I don’t love the drop, it feels necessary. Mojica also gets the call, and the runners he’s been on for Diodoro don’t seem like they’re his best. Jonas Gibson brings Thundershook here after being claimed from Jamie Ness. I am always a little cautious when wagering on the horses that were claimed off Ness in their first starts for their new connections, so he’s a tough sell for me as the 2-1 morning line favorite. However, he knows how to win races, winning 12 of 43 career starts, so I’ll make sure to cover with him.
The shorter prices appear to have an edge in this $10K starter allowance contest. Li’l Grazen (#3) ships to Arkansas in search of her 5th consecutive win. She won her last two starts in California, and then after the Diodoro claim, she was a winner at Keeneland and Remington with similar company. She’s got the hot connections and looks to be better than most of these. Tap N Sway (#2) will be her primary obstacle. She was living at this condition at Horseshoe Indianapolis, winning her most recent start. Matt Shirer claimed her out of that spot and pairs her with Rafael Bejarano, who is one win behind Cristian Torres in the rider standings.
Maiden three year old fillies compete with a $50K-$45K tag here. Emerald Downs invader, I’m Beth Dutton (#1) makes her second career start and her first since June for Michael Puhich. She had an eventful trip in that race, breaking out, nearly causing her rival to fall a few steps into the race. She showed some early interest, but was forced to steady when the race winner came over from her outside post. She was clearly third that day, well in front of the rest of the field. Her speed figure is a little lighter than some of the others, but that can be expected for a two year old in June. I’m not crazy about the rail, but I do believe she has a legitimate shot. Midsummer Soiree (#3) just missed in a restricted maiden allowance at Churchill in her most recent effort. She made progress from her debut and certainly seemed to appreciate the dryer footing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her get on the grass once she leaves here, but I think she’s perfectly capable of beating these on the dirt. Naughty Madam (#4) is another one that could have a date with a turf course this spring, however she too could be a player in this race while making her first career start. She’s the first foal to race from the mare Rosie O’Prado, who won her career debut, albeit on the turf. She’s sired by Practical Joke, who sired some live runners later on in the card, so debuting in a dirt sprint may work out. I’ll use the morning line favorite, Stay Fabulous (#6) as a saver on deeper tickets. She was 10th in a loaded maiden allowance race on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at Keeneland. Klassy Bridgette, who was second that day, has gone on to win her next two starts after that race. The drop in class is warranted, after not really running well in her first two tries. I prefer others, but I respect the connections enough to avoid completely tossing her.
There’s a full field of twelve in this state bred N1X allowance race at 1 mile and 1/16. This should be the first time in his career that Afleet Sky (#9) competes on a fast track. He returned from a nine month layoff last month with a respectable 4th place finish at this level in the slop. He’ll be trying two turns for the first time this afternoon, which is a bit of a question mark. However, if his odds float over the 12-1 morning line figure, I’d be willing to take that gamble. Bellamys Roan (#6) is coming off a dull effort with a much stronger open allowance field two weeks ago. He missed the break that afternoon in a race where was outclassed before they went into the gate. He has some solid efforts at this condition though, and we should see a more competitive version of himself here. Topf Road Rules (#5) returns for the first time since May when he finished second in a sprint at this level. His two turn races were solid last season, so he certainly fits with these. I am wondering if he might need this race before we see his best though. However, he might be good enough at less than 100% to beat this group. Mahomey (#1) is well posted for his two turn debut. He was a decent third at this level in a sprint last month, in the same race the Afleet Sky is coming out of. He has more of a sprint oriented pedigree, but I wou;dn’t be shocked to see him carry his speed if the pace scenario is kind.
Here’s another full field, this one for conditioned $12,500-$10,000 claimers. I think the shorter priced horses in this race are suspect, and while many of them could win, I’ll try some prices here. Drill’s Li’l Man (#5) has some tactical early speed and should be better in his second start off the layoff. He’s fared well in claiming races elsewhere and this feels like a significant class drop from his last try in starter allowance company. Michael Hewitt has a coupled entry with Cabot (#1) and First Line (#1A), the latter of which is on the AE list. Since there’s only one AE, Hewitt could choose which runner he’d prefer to enter the race if he wished. I prefer Cabot, thinking that First LIne might need this race off the layoff. Cabot might be better sprinting on the turf, but he’s won at this track and distance in the past. He had a successful Remnigton meet and appears to fit well with this group today. Generator (#2) ran well as a price last out when facing conditioned $7,500 claimers in a two turn race here last month. He’s never won a race here, but he has finished in the money three of six career tries. This distance might be too short for him, but I could see benefitting from a strong early pace. Carl G (#4) is also worth considering here. He was a winner with open $7,500 claimers last out at Remington. His inconsistency concerns me a little bit, but his last two races were good enough to compete with this group.
I’ve always loved the Stars of Tomorrow that Churchill puts on at the end of November, because year in and year out, that card always seems to showcase several meaningful two year olds that go on to have strong careers. While I think the stakes races on that card weren’t as strong as usual this year, there was a strong allowance sprint early in the card that has proven to be a very productive race already. Joking Way (#8) faded to 4th in that race, finishing behind Victory Formation, Two Eagles River, and Lugan Knight. Victory Formation has gone on to be an impressive winner in the Smarty Jones Stakes here a few weeks ago. Two Eagles River lost in a photo in the Renaissance Stakes here on New Years Eve and Lugan Knight recently won the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. While he couldn’t go with those horses on that day, he didn’t run poorly. He should be able to dictate the terms from his outside post here. He’s coming out of the strongest race by far, and he seems to be better than this group. Wild Mule (#2) is the second choice and the logical backup for me. His race at Delaware was solid two back, but I had hoped to see a better effort from him in the Advent Stakes on Opening Day. Bejarano taking the mount is a plus and if the favorite misfires, he’d likely be the one to get the job done. Arkansas bred Choctaw Zip (#6) might be an interesting horse to use underneath at a decent price. He closed well to beat state bred maidens in December. He came back in the Renaissance Stakes on New Year’s Eve where he was an overmatched 5th. He is a horse that could be closing late into what should be an honest tempo.
Asmussen has another sharp Practical Joke sprinter with Skelly (#3) in this N2L allowance race. His last race in allowance company was a total disaster. He broke slow, and then was steadied while trying to re-establish position from his rail draw. He then surged up, but had to tap on the brakes once again before fading badly. His race was over after the first furlong though, and he’s been gelded since that race. He looks to be the best of the speed horses and the one runner that is truly suited to this six furlong distance. I think he’ll rebound easily against this field, which lacks some of the depth that his last race had. Osbourne (#2) is the morning line favorite, who often gets close, but hasn’t been able to secure that second win yet. He likes to come from off the pace, but my main concern is that this distance will be too short for him. He best chance may be Deus Ex Machina (#7) running off with Skelly early on in this one.
Three year old fillies get their turn in this optional $80K claiming/N1X allowance race at 1 mile and 1/16. I like Boss Lady Bailey (#2) in this spot to rebound off a dull effort in the slop when going a one turn mile at Churchill last time out. She was 7.5 lengths better than Jet Setting (#6) in the Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill last year. She finished midpack when drawing the unfortunate 14 post in the Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland in October, a race which produced the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. John Ortiz adds Lasix for the first time and sets her up with leading rider, Cristian Torres after those two less than stellar efforts. Unifying (#9) wants to be forwardly placed, so she’ll need to break well from the nine hole in her second career start at two turns. However, she ran three strong races to start her career, breaking her maiden two back in a restricted maiden allowance at Churchill. She went on to run second in the Years End Stakes here on New Year’s Eve. Riley Mott is looking for his first local win, but six of eleven starters have finished in the money. Dear Lady (#7) tries a route for the first time after an impressive maiden score here on the all-two year old program last month. McPeek has good numbers going from sprints to routes and certainly has a knack for getting horses that appear to have a one turn pedigree to get the added distance (Swiss Skydiver comes to mind). While the morning line price of 9-5 feels too short for me, I think she ran well enough to make sure she’s covered on the multi-race wagers. Demi (#5) is another one that I’d consider using on deeper tickets. She broke her maiden in a slower maiden special weight sprint at Remington in November. She came back last month to run a strong second at long odds in the Trapeze Stakes there going one mile. This field might be a little tougher, but she showed that she’s capable of closing well.
$20K maiden claimers wrap up the Friday program. I landed on Eternally Grateful (#11) on top in this race, He ran twice in Kentucky at this level in the fall for Larry Jones, improving a bit in his second start. He was still kind of aggressive and green in his 4th place finish at Keeneland last out. As a result, Jones gave him a few months off and he was gelded during that time. Lasix will also be added for his third career start where he draws a modest field. 12-1 on the morning line feels high, but it represents great value if we’d somehow get that price. El Mongo (#6) was sharp in his debut at Prairie Meadows in September, just missing when going 4 and ½ furlongs in a maiden special weight contest there. He was claimed last out for $30K when catching a sloppy course for his local debut. He broke badly at the start, severely hampering the chances of three runners, including Santino’s Fantasy (#3), who ended up finishing ahead of him that day. I think he’ll benefit from a fast track today as he seemed to really struggle to take hold of the course last time out. Yacht Rock (#5) faded to third in that same race last out, when he was sent off as the 5-2 second choice. He’ll be heavily backed today as he was claimed by Brad Cox out of that race. I think the value won’t be there, but I’ll cover with him in this race where the opposition feels fairly soft.
Favorite Wager Today: Late Pick-5 ($24 Ticket, $0.50 Base Wager)
While I might be a little more aggressive in the Late Pick-4, I am fascinated with a smaller ticket in this wager. I really don’t like the 5th race, so I’ll play this sequence with some caution. However the four runners I’ll use from that race are all 10-1 or higher on the morning line, seeing as how I don’t trust any of the shorter prices in that race. Assuming the track is playing fair, I’ll single both of Asmussen’s Practical Joke horses, Joking Way (#8, R6) and Skelly (#3, R7). I think both are gate to wire candidates in their respective heats.
Meet Statistics: Top Pick 28/129 (21.7%), $212.80 $1.65 ROI
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