The second card of the new year at Oaklawn is a nine race Friday program headed by three allowance races. The top two finishers of the Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley Race Course in November, Tejano Twist and Knocker Down, are both racing this afternoon in separate races at the back end of the card. First post continues to be 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!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Exotics Menu|
|2||3||3,6,8||1A||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||10||5,10||9,12||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|6||2||1,2,7||5||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The thing about the Friday opener, which is a $10K N2L claiming race for fillies and mares, is that someone has to win this thing. The coupled entry of Carpe Horseshoe (#1) and Crystal Crescent (#1A) will start off as the morning line favorites at 8-5. Neither horse has competed on traditional dirt though. McKnight typically brings some of his horses that are based at Woodbine down to Oaklawn each season. Over the last five years, he has a 15% strike rate with horses going from synthetic to dirt. However, that number has been only 10% over the last two years, with three of those winners coming here, two on the same day at last year’s meet. Both runners are reasonably consistent, but neither stand out on paper. I’ll save them for deeper tickets, and may warm up to them at odds of 4-1 or higher. I’ll make Essential Bella (#8) the top pick, in hopes of finding some value here. She made her first start in five months when racing here last month at this level. She showed some early interest before fading to 5th behind a runaway class dropping winner, Dare Me, who crushed that field by 11+ lengths. There’s no one of that caliber in this race, and I think she’ll be more fit for her second start off the bench. She was off form for most of 2022 on the main track, but I think she’s found the right level of competition on dirt. Big on Broadway (#5) is another mare that was off form for the better part of 2022. Tim Martin put this Arkansas bred filly on the shelf after three miserable efforts last season, all against fellow Arky breds. Her first race on the bench was solid though, and Martin does have respectable numbers off the layoff. I’d like a little better than 5-1, but she’s more enticing than others here. Jodean (#7) was last seen racing at the Century Mile in Canada where she was claimed by Karl Broberg. Leading rider, Cristian Torres will get the call today, so from a connections standpoint, she’s likely to take money. She’ll be worth using due to the lack of quality here, but at short odds, I’ll try to beat her.
$12,500 maiden claimers going six furlongs wrap up the early daily double. Shakedown Street (#3) gets the nod here from me. He was 4th beaten five lengths in the mud against a stronger field of $20K maiden claimers last month. While he hasn’t been close to the winner, I think he faces the softest field yet in his career. He makes his second start off the claim for Lindsay Schultz and Isaac Castillo will get the return call. Joe Petalino takes over the training of the Remington invader, Shotgun Up (#6). He’s coming off a race where he had some traffic troubles, and was shuffled toward the back of the field. His best efforts have come when he;s been closer to the front end. He should be able to secure a better spot in the early stages today since there isn’t much early speed signed on. Koselio (#8) is a deep class dropper that will likely take a bulk of the wagering dollars. Brad Cox sends out this Upstart colt, making his 4th career start. He was well-beaten last month when facing $50K-$40K maiden claimers on this oval. He’s been stop and start in his career, with decent gaps between his first three starts. If he runs like he did in his first two starts, he’ll likely win, however, there’s not much value there and there’s enough question marks with him to spread out. On deeper tickets, Drag Malibu (#1A) is an 0-14 maiden that has faltered against some weak fields. However, he does appear to be the lone speed in this spot, and many of these struggle to pass horses. That’s enough for me to consider covering with him on some deeper tickets with this group.
State bred fillies and mares sprint six furlongs in this $10K claiming contest. This is another race where the morning line favorite has some definite vulnerability. Richness (#8) makes her first start since March this afternoon. Her first four races in her career were not very strong, however she was able to break her maiden in a soft state bred maiden claiming field in her third career try. She returned off a layoff to run three significantly better races here last season. She beat open $10K N2L claimers and cleared the state bred N1X condition with relative ease. She came back to run a respectable 4th in the Downthedustyroad Breeders’ Stakes. She returns today back in for a $10K tag, which is not the most encouraging development. On paper, her works aren’t very good, but like the first few races, the competition is not the strongest. I’ll cover with her, but I’ll look to Hale’s Angel (#6) on top, making her first start off the Martin Villafranco claim. While his numbers aren’t great with runners in their first start for him, she appears to be well-spotted, coming here after a dull effort with open $7,500 claimers in Oklahoma. Her recent dirt form stacks up with this group. Truly a Rocket (#10) comes back to Oaklawn after spending the summer and fall in Louisiana. She was claimed by a smaller outfit who was winless in nine starts last year. However, her recent form is not bad and would be competitive with this field. She was a winner on this course last season when facing open claimers back in March.
Two horses figure to take the bulk of the wagering action in this $30K maiden claiming race. Funny Uncle (#6) is the one that I prefer today. He ran two solid races with $75K maiden claimers when catching fast tracks at Churchill. His efforts in the slop and turf muddy up his form a bit. He’s been gelded since his last start and will add Lasix for the first time today. Color Field (#5) is the morning line favorite. He was not nearly as sharp in the slop last out either. His effort two back in Indiana wasn’t good either, however that was at two turns. He drops in class and should get a dry course for this sprint. I’d be hesitant with him at too short of a price though since his last two efforts were so poor. Storm Approaching (#9) is a second time starter that merits a look after finishing 6th in the mud when making his debut at this level. He showed enough to think that he could take a step forward today. Of the longer prices in this race, he’d be the most appealing to me.
I think this $6,250 claiming race that ends the Early Pick-5 and starts the Late Pick-5 is extremely challenging. The shorter prices, Trumpence (#2) and Rock N June Bug (#6) were both claimed for $10K more than the current tag they’re offered for in this race. The uncertainty with what kind of effort we’ll see from them makes this race very tough for me. I decided to toss them and ended up with Drena’s Star (#10) on top here. He just missed with open $8K claimers two back and was a respectable 4th in starter allowance company in his first race at this meet. He’s a four time winner on this course, and figures to benefit from cheap speed that appears to be signed on here. Cool Runnings (#5) is an interesting price play that could be overlooked in this large field. Drena’s Star was nine lengths better than him at Churchill two back when he was claimed. He ran a little better in his first start for Thomas Vance at this level here last month. He was moving well late to be 4th that day. He is better than what he’s shown lately though and if Jon Court can get him to find his Ohio form, he could be right there today. Even Thunder (#12) is a consistent type that was a starter allowance winner at Penn National three starts ago. He makes his 5th consecutive start at a different track in a different state today, but this nine year old gelding continues to try hard every time. Pop’s Biscuit (#9) might not love the distance, but he too, has recent form that would be competitive at this level, assuming he can rebound from a dull try in his latest start.
The Late Pick-4 begins with the first of two divisions of a N1X allowance race for four year olds and up, going six furlongs. I thought both heats were rather deep for this level, but this one was more wide open than the 8th race. I ended up trying Tapit’s Spirit (#2) on top in this spot. He’s coming off a 5th place finish where he tired late in the slop here last month. He’s better on a fast track, and six furlongs is his best distance. Matt Shirer has done well with limited opportunities at this meet and he has good numbers with new acquisitions, winning 17% of the time. Congressman (#7) opened up the Kentucky Derby card with a maiden breaking win in his last start. He was racing for Todd Pletcher at the time, but has since been moved to Rodolphe Brisset’s barn. While I don’t love the trainer change, I do like to see that this is one of two horses that Florent Geroux is in town to ride this afternoon. Mumayaz (#1) is interesting to me, returning to Oaklawn in much better form than he was in last season when he was racing here. There is a decent amount of speed signed on, so I think he could sit a friendly trip, sitting in the middle of the pack and then getting off the rail for a late run. Francisco Arrieta has moved up to second in the jockey standings. He’s winning with 16% of his mounts, but 60% are hitting the board, telling me that he’s riding very well at the moment. On deeper tickets, I’ll include Steve Asmussen’s runner. Classic Moment (#5). He’s cutting back to a sprint after fading late when going the one turn mile at this level at Churchill in his most recent effort. He’s been running well, but his second career win continues to elude him. He feels like a horse that is more likely to hit the board than win, however, he’s classy enough to use on some of the horizontal tickets.
The second division of the $30K maiden claiming race is not as strong on paper as the first one. I’m going to try to beat the two short prices, Prince of Roses (#5) and Cambiaso (#8) in this race. I’m not sold on either at this distance and to taking a short price on either one when there’s not that much that separates them from some of the longer prices, feels like poor value to me. I’ll take a swing with Lima Zulu (#10) shipping in from Emerald Downs for his local debut. Michael Stidham, who doesn’t usually have much of a presence at this meet, ships him here after working out at Louisiana Downs several times since November. He didn’t show much in Washington, finishing off the board in maiden special weight races there in September. He hasn’t shown any early speed in those first races, and looking at his pedigree, I’d think that he might be better suited for longer races. However, Stidham has good numbers with new acquisitions, and leading rider, Cristian Torres taking the mount is another plus. I think this 20-1 (ML) longshot could be flying under the radar a bit. I’m willing to give another look to Six Whips (#3) in this race after a very dull effort in the slop when facing maiden allowance foes here last month. He was away slow and never seemed to look comfortable over the course that day. Look for Elvin Gonzalez to be more aggressive with him from the start today, seeing as how he was sharper on debut when he was involved in the early proceedings. Brilliant Colors (#6) was trending in the right direction prior to a dismal effort on the Tapeta when going a mile last out at Turfway. He drops in class and returns to a sprint today. Steve’s son Keith will get the riding assignment today. On deeper tickets, I’ll give a look to Santino’s Fantasy (#9). He’s moved forward in his three career starts, most recently finishing 4th at this level despite some traffic woes. While his Beyer figures are a bit light for this group, his Equibase figures are closer to some of the shorter priced runners here.
It’s hard to look past Knocker Down (#9) at short odds in the second division of the N1X allowance race. He was a private purchase after he was a strong second place finisher in the Steel Valley Sprint at Mahoning Valley Race Course in November. His last five dirt sprint races have been very sharp, all of which would likely be good enough to win with this group today. He makes his first start for Brad Cox and Florent Geroux is in to ride this horse, who may be eyeing up some of the sprint stakes races later on at this meet. Torontotoro (#3) would be where I’d land as a backup here. He was scratched from a race at this level on a muddy course earlier in the meet when he couldn’t draw in off the AE list. As a result, he ran at Mountaineer instead, dominating an allowance field there. He’s better on an off track, but can certainly handle a fast surface as well. He’s one that I’d be keen on at this level on another day when he’s not facing a potential stalwart.
The featured optional $80K claiming/conditioned allowance race is another contest today that could be setting up some runners for races in stakes company sooner than later. Assuming this ten horse contest stays in tact, it should set up beautifully for the Steel Valley Sprint winner, Tejano Twist (#7) to notch his third straight win. He let the fast pace develop in front of him last out and came rolling down the stretch to nail Knocker Down on the wire. Obviously, a strong performance from that one in the previous race would only flatter him here. He keeps getting better and seems to be right at home when going six furlongs. He’smyhoneybadger (#6) is another one that could benefit from a hot pace here. With Nobody Listens (#2), Seven Nation Army (#3), Kavod (#4), Canadian Pride (#9) and Chattalot (#10) all signed on here, there should definitely be a pace for him to close into. Six furlongs might be a tad short for him, and he hasn’t shown that he’s as good as he was when he was a stakes winner at Keeneland in October of 2021. However, he’s making his third start of his current form cycle and his first for Joe Sharp off the claim. I think he could get back on track with this group. On the deepest tickets, I’d lean to Nobody Listens to being the speed horse that is quick enough to put the others away. He has inside position on the other speedsters here, which should be beneficial. I do worry about a pace meltdown, which would almost certainly hamper his chances. However, he may just be quick enough to clear without having to duel.
Favorite Bet Today: Late Pick-4 ($16 Ticket, $0.50 Base Wager)
While I think Knocker Down (#9, R8) is a logical single in the 8th at short odds, I do think that other legs in this sequence have longshots that could certainly connect. I’m trying to beat the short prices in the 7th race, using some longer prices there. I don’t like the favorites in the 5th race either, so the Pick-5 could be desirable as well. However, I don’t really like that race much so I’m not sure how much I’d be willing to invest in that sequence, at least before seeing the scratches and how the track is playing. The Pick-4 on the other hand is a smaller investment that could be hammered a few times with the A runners.
Meet Statistics: Top Pick 19/80 (23.75%), $144.4, $1.81 ROI