The first Saturday card in the New Year at Oaklawn is a ten race program, highlighted by the Pippin Stakes for fillies and mares. The top four finishers from the Mistletoe Stakes here last month are back in action in a competitive ten horse race. First post is 12:30 (CT) with the featured race scheduled for 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!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Exotics Menu|
|2||8||6,8||9||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|6||6||5,6||2,7||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|7||3||3||10,11||DBL, PK3, PK4|
$6,250 claimers start the day, going 1 mile and 1/16. I’ll try Gold Buckle (#7) to rebound after a dull effort with starter allowance company in the mud last month. Tom Amoss has had a slow start to the meet, but he won with 19% of his starters in 2022, so I do expect business to pick up for him. He’s an Indiana bred who ran several strong races in state bred company this season at Horseshoe Indianapolis. Bejarano picking up the mount is a positive sign as he drops in class today. Make Noise (#4) was claimed for $12,500 last out, so I’m not in love with the drop in class. However, this is a high percentage barn that has done well with this move in the past. I do think he’s better at one turn, however, he’s not facing a particularly deep field. Jerry Hollendorfer sends out the ten year old gelding, Flowers For Lisa (#6) here. He’s a horse that has started 80 times in his career and has won 20% of them. None of those victories have come here, losing all five local efforts. He will be facing some softer competition as well though.
As a horseplayer, I feel there are two types of challenging races; races that challenge me in a fun way and races that challenge me in an annoying way. Unfortunately, this $10K conditioned claimer falls under the latter of the two challenges for me. I ended up on Grapnel (#8) making his first start off the claim for Ron Moquett, His two wins have been daylight scores, and other than Atras (#1), who is in poor form right now, there’s not a ton of challengers for the early lead. He was competitive on this course last season when facing maiden allowance foes. He’s lightly raced enough to be able to take a step forward still. I wager that he’ll be able to hold on late. Arthurian (#8) was claimed for $20K last out, and that claim and drop is always uncomfortable to me. However, he too, is lightly raced, and has room to move forward for a barn that has been winning with everything at this current meet. He was a winner with $16K N2L claimers at Saratoga this summer when going this distance. He met a tough field for the condition last out at Churchill, so perhaps this is the right level for him. Coal Truth (#9) was favored at this level and ran a solid third in the slop last month. Broberg claimed him that day and brings him back in the same kind of spot. He hasn’t won a race in almost two years, however that last win did come on this oval.
It’s hard to get too excited over a 4-5 morning line favorite in a maiden special weight race that is 0-8 in his career, but that is what we have with Andy Cant (#8) here. Bill Mott is looking for his first win of the meet with this Bernardini colt. He’s finished in the money in three straight starts, getting second in his last two. He was no match for the well-bred Cawkab last month at this level, but that one had an ideal trip that day. Andy Cant was shuffled back and had to move prematurely into a slower pace. He was four wide on the final turn and clearly second best in that race. He draws the wide post here though and is no lock at 4-5 on the morning line. I’ll use him, but I’ll try the second time starter, Patrolman (#3) on top. John Ortiz has done very well with second time starters, winning at a 21% over the last five years. He’s bred to get the distance, so finishing an even 6th in a debut sprint isn’t the worst outcome for his initial try. He’s drawn well and could be in line to take a decent step forward in this spot.
I think Legendary Gift (#11) is an interesting runner in this conditioned $12,500-$10,500 claiming race for fillies and mares at six furlongs. Her effort in allowance company last month was clearly a fitness race to start off the meet. I think the cutback to a sprint is interesting, because her sprint form at Prairie Meadows this summer wasn’t too shabby. I will completely toss her last and play her today at her 15-1 morning line price, thinking that she’ll be overlooked, despite the fact that she’s running for the lowest level in her career to date. Catechism (#9) was my top pick when she lost in a photo with conditioned $10K claimers last month. She caught a wet track that day and just couldn’t quite get to the leader. She was claimed by Diodoro, which should give her a definite uplift in this spot. She’s a player, but her ratio of wins to on the board finishes (3:12) is a bit concerning if we’re going to take a short price on her.
I found this $30K maiden claiming race for three year old fillies to be extremely difficult. I ended up making Unified Gurl (#5) the top pick, hoping that the drop in class will help her. She was away slow in a 5 and ½ furlong race last out, which made her job almost impossible. That group was significantly better than the field she is facing today. Jockey Mickaelle Michel has ridden a pair of winners for the Coach, D. Wayne Lukas, at this meet, and I think they can team up for another one here. Thorn Crown (#8) comes out of that same race, where she showed some early interest before backing out. The pace was solid that day, so I could see her running a better race on the drop in class today. Super Spirit (#6) and True Emotion (#10) are first time starters for two of the hottest barns on the track. Diodoro trains Super Spirit and Moquett trains True Emotion. Both trainers are capable of winning with horses at first asking, and the works for both appear to be competitive for this group. I prefer the price on True Emotion as I imagine the Diodoro tax will be in full effect right now, seeing as how he’s currently winning with 36% of his runners at the meet.
This is an interesting N2L allowance race where I’m thinking Ben Diesel (#6) has a shot to rebound, assuming he gets a fast track today. He clearly runs better on dry footing, so I’m willing to overlook his 9th place finish with N1X company last month. His effort in the Southwest Stakes last year on this course and distance, tells me that he can handle two turns and I think this is a good level of competition for him to do so. Cawkab (#5) was mentioned earlier in the card, and a win by Andy Cant in the third race would certainly flatter this well bred son of Curlin. He was an impressive maiden winner at second asking last month, getting a beautiful trip and easily beating five overmatched foes in maiden allowance company. He tries winners for the first time while staying at the same distance. The dam has dropped multiple graded stakes winners such as Girvin, Midnight Bourbon, and Pirate’s Punch. He looks to be another strong runner from a talented family for Brad Cox. Efficiency (#2) is a horse that is looking to get back on track after two races that were not nearly as good as the first two races that started his career. Jerry Hollendorfer takes over the training from Chad Brown after a pair of off the board finishes at Saratoga and Monmouth over the summer. He’s been on the shelf since being privately purchased in the fall. I’m not exactly sure what to expect from this Gun Runner gelding today, however, I do think he could be worth using on some deeper tickets. The same could be said for B Sudd (#7), who is making the first start of his career at two turns. He’s been third in his last four races, all in sprints. He looks like a horse that could handle stretching out, and having Empire Maker as the dam sire certainly doesn’t hurt. This will be the first time in his six race career where we’ll get to see a third race in his current form cycle. If he gets overlooked and his odds float over the 9-2 morning line figure, I wouldn’t mind taking a small chance on him.
The Late Pick-4 begins with a conditioned $30K claiming race going six furlongs. This is for horses that have never won three races or for horses that have not won a race since the 21-22 meet closed. This feels like a race where I’ll try to take a stand and go with Upstriker (#3) as a potential single. He looks to be locked into being the third choice in the wagering in this group while making his second start off the layoff for Ron Moquett. The public will likely focus the bulk of their attention to the pair of the outside, Iberville (#10) and Whooping Jay (#11). Both have a shot and will be used as savers for me. However, at short odds, I have concerns about both. I don’t think the distance is ideal for Iberville and Whooping Jay has been focused on the turf for over a year. Upstriker was competitive on this course last year, running behind some high quality runners in allowance races. He drops in class after going off form when leaving Arkansas at the end of the meet last year. He showed flashes of being a really good horse and I think he’s primed to run one of his better efforts in this spot today.,
The shorter priced runners are the principal players in this optional $62,500 claiming/N2X allowance race. I’ll give the edge to the recent winner of the Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes, Keystone Field (#3). He just missed at this level last month, while covering more ground than any of his competitors. He was wide all the way around the track, but still just missed. He’s been in some of the most consistent form of his career since moving into Mike Maker’s barn and focusing on main track racing. He’s an adaptable horse, which will give Isaac Castillo plenty of options while picking up the mount on him for the first time. Open Road (#5) is the morning line favorite for Brad Cox and Florent Geroux. He was last seen finishing third behind a pair of horses that finished in a dead heat at this level on the Breeders’ Cup undercard. While the overall field might not be quite as deep as that group, Keystone Field is a serious opponent for this lightly raced son of Quality Road. Gary and Mary West paid $360K for him, so there is hope that he will be able to compete in stakes level races sooner than later. A strong effort in a race like this would likely propel him on that track. Tiz Rye Time (#1) is one of the longer priced horses in this race that merits some attention. He was 10 lengths behind Keystone Field in the Claiming Crown Jewel, which was contested over a very sloppy course at Churchill. Prior to that effort he was making steady progress off the Thomas Van Berg claim, clearing the N1X condition two starts ago at Keeneland. Three back, he was only 2 and ½ lengths behind Open Road, when they faced off at Churchill. There is the potential for a faster pace with this group today, which might give him a chance to make up that ground today. 10-1 or better is decent value on this one, who I feel has the best chance of upsetting the apple cart here.
Race 9: The $150K Pippin Stakes:
The rematch is set from the Mistletoe Stakes here last month, which was won by Lovely Ride (#3), who splashed home as an easy winner in the slop. She looks to become the first two time stakes winner of the meet, and I think she has the inside track to do so. She’s been very sharp since the trainer switch to Robertino Diodoro. She’s a talented mare on both surfaces, but I think she’s starting to get very good. She’ll have an advantageous post for the race she wants to run, and I think she’s in line to pick up another nice check today. Traverse (#1) is an interesting filly that is stepping up into stakes company for the first time. Her first three races on the synthetic at Turfway were average at best. However, she’s been a different horse since moving to the main track. This is a big step up from N1X allowance company and she’ll be asked to get two turns for the first time today. However, I see her as a horse that definitely has the pedigree to handle two turns and I think she could be eligible to take another step forward today. Le Da Vida (#2) is the morning line favorite here, which I don’t love. She tried stakes company for the first time in North America and she had to navigate her first sloppy course. She was 4th that afternoon, never threatening Lovely Ride. She could have the highest ceiling in this race, but I’m not 100% sold on her. If her odds got closer to 4-1, I’d be more apt to play her more prominently.
The Saturday nightcap is an Arkansas bred maiden special weight for fillies and mares, three and up. There are a few three year old fillies taking on their elders already, including the 8-5 morning line favorite, Indian Irish (#10). There’s certainly not a standout in this field, with many first time starters entered. However, it’s going to be hard for me to accept such a short number on that filly. She paired her first two Beyer speed figures, so I concede she could be ready to take a step forward, however I don’t love the price. I’ll use here, but I’ll try to beat her with Tom Swearingen’s Miracle Shoes (#6). She makes her third start off the layoff today. She debuted against a better field back in April and finished a respectable 4th before going to the sidelines. She came back with open maiden allowance runners at Horseshoe Indianapolis, where she was overmatched when facing a next out winner. She came back to this level and caught an off track last month when she finished 5th. I look for her to be able to run a better race on dryer footing. Fly Like the Wind (#7) for Bret Calhoun is the most appealing first time starter to me in this race. She’s had a pair of five furlong drills after a sharp four furlong move at the beginning of December. She’s the first foal to race from the dam Half Way Up, who was a competitive third in her debut. Her sire, Hightail, gets 16% winners on dirt and 10% winners at first asking.
Meet Statistics: Top Pick 21/86 (24.4%), $156, $1.81 ROI