Day 2 of racing at Oaklawn is a ten race card starting at 12:30 (CT), which is supported by two stakes races. Race 7 is the Ring The Bell Stakes going six furlongs for three year olds and up. This is the first race in a series of stakes races that leads up to the Count Fleet Stakes at the end of the meet. Race 9 is the Mistletoe Stakes for fillies and mares going one mile. This race will kick off a series of races that will lead up to the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Stakes in April. The weather was a factor yesterday with the course being labeled “muddy” throughout the card. More rain is in the forecast today, so I expect another off track to add to the handicapping puzzles throughout the afternoon.
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||10||3,10,11||12||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|6||14||4,14||1||9||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|7||1||1||6||5,7||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The opener is a tricky, conditioned $10K claimer for three year olds and up that have never won three times or haven’t won since 5/8/22. I’m not really liking the shorter prices here. I ended up making Dr. Forman (#4) my top pick, hoping that a return to form is possible while returning to Oaklawn in his first race off the Bentley Combs claim. He was a three time winner at last year’s meet, winning on opening weekend. Combs has not had a great 2022, but he has hit with 14% of his runners first off the claim in the last two years. He figures to sit a nice trip near the front end and he typically runs a decent race when he’s at the right level. Crimson Zip (#1) is cross-entered in a race at Delta this evening, where he’s based. He’s part of an entry there for Karl Broberg, with the same rider named on both horses. He’ll be making his first start since February, and he is eligible for the waiver by running here. He went to the sidelines, while winning four of his last five races, including his first two off the Broberg claim. I do like seeing him protected in this spot if Broberg opts to run him at Oaklawn. He has good speed from the rail, which was a good asset in sprints at the start of the meet last year. If he runs here, I see him as a big player. If he opts out, I’d upgrade both Coal Truth (#5) and Breaking News (#8). Coal Truth is typically a better horse for underneath in the vertical exotics, winning only one time in the last two years. However, he is more consistent than many of these with his speed figures. Breaking News was claimed for $50K in February and ran some strong races here last season. He went off form at the end of the summer, running a pair of duds at Horseshoe Indiana and Churchill. I don’t love seeing him plummet to this level off the two month break. If Crimson Zip does defect, he could default to the lone speed threat here, which would make him more appealing.
The big favorite in this state bred maiden special weight sprint for two year olds is Watch This Birdie (#3), shipping in from Colonial Downs. She was sharp in her debut on the grass back in July, and has been on the sidelines since. Correas had her working well at Keeneland in preparation for her next try. While her turf effort was solid, the dirt is a question mark. The dam has produced runners that have had success on the main track, and the $160K price tag is encouraging. While I think she has a big shot while facing the boys here, I do want some coverage. I’ll try Great Barrier (#10) as the top pick, hoping to get a solid price on this Keeneland shipper. John Ortiz had an excellent meet here last season and I like that he debuted him at Keeneland, even though he was a longshot. This is a move I like playing early at this meet in state bred races. Ortiz has good numbers with second time starters and he’ll be getting class relief for start number two, Wicked Prince (#11) is the first time starter that is most appealing to me in this spot. He’s been working well over the local oval for Lynn Chleborad. The dam has produced some useful Iowa breds, but with the money offered in Arkansas, breeder H. Allen Poindexter moved this mare South. He’ll be the first Arkansas bred to run from this dam. On deeper tickets, I’ll use Choctaw Zip (#12) in his second career try. He showed a little interest before fading in his debut with open maiden allowance company at Louisiana Downs. The winner that day dominated the field, winning by almost 12 lengths. Ernie Witt, who won some races with Arkansas breds last season, takes over the training.
$10K starter allowance runners go six furlongs here. I’m going to try to beat the morning line favorite, Otis Otis Otis (#4). He’s coming off a big effort at Delaware last month. He’s got high Beyer figures, but he’s struggled to pair them in back to back races. He’s at his best when on the front end and I think Love My Jimmy (#6) is faster from the gate. I see that Southern California shipper is single-worthy in this spot. Diodoro reached in and claimed him for $8K at Del Mar last month, with the intention of bringing him here. He’s done very well on a fast dirt track, winning four of nine times and then finishing second another three times. I think he has the pedigree to handle an off track if the potential rain in the forecast materializes. My back up in here would be Hot Pastrami (#5). If speed horses are struggling to hold on early in the meet, I’d upgrade him as the most capable runner coming from off the pace here. He’ll make his local debut for Tom Amoss today. He’s another one that has form that is much better on the main track as opposed to turf or synthetic.
We have another overflow race for Arkansas breds, this one being a N1X allowance race for three year olds and up, going six furlongs. In my eyes, the horse to beat here is Smokin Boots (#13), who happens to be stuck on the AE list. He’s cross-entered in an open starter allowance race tomorrow where the purse is $74K less than the purse of this race. I’m assuming he’ll choose this spot if the opportunity presents itself. He’s a three year old that has been improving as the year has gone on. He won two races in a row in Colorado and Iowa before finishing 4th in optional claiming/starter allowance company at Remington. He makes his fourth consecutive start in his fourth different state, returning here to face fellow Arky breds. He was competitive at this level in the spring, but he’s a better horse now than he was then. He’ll benefit from facing several there might need a race or two before they’re at their best. If he doesn’t get to go, I’ll go with Big Success (#2) in this race. He might be better at two turns, but his sprint efforts last season were good enough to make me think he can contend here. Toss his last race in July when he wanted nothing to do with the turf at Louisiana Downs. He’s one that does his best running in the later stages of the race. Mo Choctaw (#12) ran a monster race in his debut last season, crushing a field of state bred maiden claimers by over 11 lengths. He was dull in his next two starts though, finishing 7th both times at this level. He’s been on the sidelines since March and now runs for Lynn Chleborad, who has respectable numbers off the layoff. Buddy Reaux (#5) is a horse that I was chasing here at long odds last season in state bred races. He’s a three year old that showed vast improvement when shifting to the turf this summer at Louisiana Downs. He ran well twice on the main track there in off the turf races. He’s at his best on the main track when he’s forwardly placed. He found himself too far back early when facing open N3X claimers last month at Remington. I’m not sure which version of him will show up here, but David Cabrera taking the mount is encouraging.
Two year olds sprint 5 and ½ furlongs in this maiden special weight which wraps up the Early Pick-5. J J’s Joker (#9) debuted at Churchill in the slop on the first Stars of Tomorrow card at the end of October. He broke poorly that day, but made some headway to finish 4th. Chris Hartman had a very productive meet here last season and he opted to bring this one here instead of running him back in Louisville at the end of the meet. While Hartman wins at 22%, his numbers with second time starters have been poor of late, only winning with one of his last 30. However, I do see him as a horse that can improve, and I liked the way he recovered after taking a lot of mud to the face. Lark’s Mischief (#8) is the morning line favorite and the likely post time favorite after a strong effort on debut at Churchill last month. He debuted going 6 and ½ furlongs there, tiring in the final ⅛ of a mile. Isaac Castillo and Steve Asmussen teamed up for a stellar final month of the meet here last season, winning at a 30% clip together. If that trend continues early on at this meet, I think he’ll be riding first call for him throughout this season. Runningforcash (#12) is another second time starter that is coming here from Kentucky. This son of Klimt debuted at long odds at Keeneland, but ran a credible 4th place after showing some early interest. Jockey Kylee Jordan, who won twice on yesterday’s card with two big longshots, will get the return call for Doug Anderson today. He’ll have to compete early with the Asmussen horse, but he’s at 12-1 on the morning line whereas the favorite is starting at 5-2. While his odds might drop, I do think the odds disparity between him and the favorite will be too large, suggesting he’ll offer decent value. Spurrier (#10) is a first time starter that is a little interesting to me. He’s sired by a relatively unknown freshman sire, Tunwoo. Tunwoo was a Bob Baffert horse that raced once and was retired due to an injury. He’s sired a few winners, both in Florida, with a very limited sample of runners so far. While the works aren’t jumping off the page and the dam was nothing more than a cheap claimer, I’m intrigued that he sold for $80K (20X the stud fee) at the OBS Sale earlier this year. I do think he had to have shown some ability there to fetch that price tag. Moquett trains and Bejarano, who had three wins on Opening Day, gets the assignment. At long odds, I could take a small chance on this one, while also playing him in some of the vertical exotics.
The Late Pick-5 starts with a N1X allowance race for three year olds and upward, going six furlongs on the main track. This race oversubscribed and has been split into two divisions, with the latter heat going as the Saturday nightcap. Torontotoro (#14) will need some help to get into the body of the field, but if he makes it in, I suspect he’ll be dangerous. He’s a perfect 3-3 on off tracks, including a splashing victory in the slop at Mountaineer two starts ago. He was soundly defeated in the Bet on Sunshine Stakes last month at Churchill where he was in over his head. This is a more reasonable spot for a runner that has cleared the N4X level in his career, but remains eligible for this race since none of those allowance scores netted him more than $23K each time. Bejarano is named on both him and Tapit’s Spirit (#4) would be default to my top pick if Torontotoro is excluded. He was claimed for $40K at Horseshoe Indiana last month at the end of the meet there. Randy Matthews scooped him up with the intent of bringing him South for the winter. His dirt form is strong, with his only poor effort coming at two turns early in his career. His lone effort in the slop was a commanding victory last year. If his Indiana form can carry to Arkansas, he’ll be tough to deal with here. Skelly (#1) is the morning line favorite for Steve Asmussen. He has three career starts, running well each time. He faded late when going five furlongs in his first try against winners last month at Churchill. The course seemed to be a little tiring yesterday, especially as the day went on. I do worry, especially at short odds, if he’ll be able to last throughout the length of the stretch today. He’s clearly talented and worth including, but I’ll opt to do so with caution. If Torontotoro doesn’t get to run, I’d be looking to add a horse that can come from off the pace to my tickets. Don’t Forget (#9) would be the horse I’d upgrade here in that scenario. There’s a decent amount of early speed signed on here, so a closer should have a decent pace to close into late. He clearly likes the track, hitting the board in five starts here last season. While he isn’t in the best current form, trainer Aaron Shorter continues to run him in protected races after claiming him for $20K at the beginning of the year. I’m assuming that he’s doing everything the right way in the morning and could turn things around while returning here. He might not be as effective on an off track, but wet conditions aren’t going to be a deal-breaker.
Race 7: The $150K Ring The Bell Stakes:
The first stakes contest of the afternoon is a seven horse sprint for three year olds and upward going six furlongs. The three longshots in this race are tough for me to make a case for. Of the four shorter prices, I landed on Flash of Mischief (#1) thinking that there’s going to be a decent battle on the front end for the early lead, which could set up his late charging kick. Karl Broberg has him sprinting for the third consecutive race after giving him a steady diet of two turn races. He was no slouch in some of those spots, winning races like the St. Louis Derby and the Delta Mile last season. Broberg cut him back to this distance two starts back and this son of Into Mischief rewarded him handsomely with a dominating 6+ length win in the David Vance Stakes. That effort was good effort to earn him a place in the starting gate in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last month where he finished a wide 9th. This is a level that is more appropriate for him and with both One For Richie (#5) and Chattalot (#7) signed on to compete, he should have some speedy targets to run down in front of him. Kavod (#6) is the morning line favorite as a three year old taking on older foes here. He won the Advent Stakes on opening weekend last year and would go on to run in all of the local Derby preps, finishing fourth in three of them and fifth in the Arkansas Derby. He struggled in the Pat Day Mile on Derby Day and was given a little time off. He returned to run three solid efforts, all at this six furlong trip. He was a close up 4th last out in the Bet on Sunshine Stakes at Churchill. He figures to be right behind the pacesetters early on. He likes the course and continues to grind out solid efforts. He was one of the best bargains in the three year old class, selling for a mere $3,500 at the Keeneland September Sale in 2020. He was claimed for $50K as a two year old in November, and has gone on to earn over $300K for his new connections. I will back up with both One for Richie and Chattalot here. If early speed is good on the card, I’d definitely upgrade them, and if one of the two defects, I’d plan to use the one that remains more prominently. The problem with them both running is that they both have one way to go, and that’s to the front end. There is the risk of them both dueling each other into submission, especially with nice horses like Flash of Mischief and Kavod waiting in the wings.
The last Pick-3 of the afternoon kicks off with a maiden special weight contest for two year olds going 1 mile and 1/16. Joe Sharp had a winner on opening day and he brings two runners here. The longer price of the two, Itwasthisbig (#9), is more intriguing to me in this spot. He makes his second career start after debuting in a roughly run restricted maiden special weight race at Churchill last month. He’s sired by Exaggerator, who relished an off going, and he’s passed that trait on to many of his offspring. Blinkers go on and Lasix is added for his second career try. Rungius (#8) had a pair of nice efforts at Ellis and Churchill before turning in a clunker in his most recent try. He’s moving on to a two turn race after going the one turn mile in his last two starts. He’s been chasing strong early fractions in his last two tries, so perhaps the run into the first turn can help moderate the tempo. Brad Cox has good numbers with second time starters, however, his debut runners that have some ability typically show more than we saw from Empire’s Best (#10) on debut at Keeneland. He finished near the back of the pack that day, almost 20 lengths behind the winner. I do see him as a horse that could improve at two turns though, and being sired by Empire Maker, I’d think an off track could upgrade his chances. He’s another one that could benefit from the addition of Lasix. Parkway (#12) got the worst of the post draw, but his effort going two turns in the slop wasn’t bad last out. He makes his third start today, and having the experience at the distance is a definite plus in my eyes.
Race 9: The $150K Mistletoe Stakes:
I think this stakes race for fillies and mares runs through the four year old filly, Coach (#1). She likes the local course and has the versatility to win this race in a variety of different ways. She’s drawn the rail in a race where there is very little early pace signed on, so I’d expect Joe Talamo to have her on the front end. There is a chance for some rain throughout the afternoon, and she’s one that is proven to handle a wet track, especially on the local oval. She was a two time winner here last meet, with both of those races coming on off tracks. Toss her last effort, which was a dull 4th place finish in the Grade 3 Chilukki Stakes at Churchill. That race was run over a one turn mile, which is simply not her game. I’m expecting a rebound from her today, and while I’d love for her to be the second choice in the wagering as she is on the morning line, I’d expect her to go into the starting gate as the favorite. I’d be comfortable using her as a single. I’ll back up with the morning line favorite, Le Da Vida (#6) for Ignacio Correas. She’s been very good in her two North American starts, winning both in Kentucky by open lengths. She was Group 1 placed in Chile prior to coming here and she’s done nothing wrong so far. She was definitely aided by an aggressive pace in her last start and she’s going to have to show that she can still score when the race flow isn’t ideal for her style.
The second division of the N1X allowance race feels much more interesting than the first division. Ben Diesel (#12) is the morning line favorite, but I’m not sold on him cutting back to six furlongs, despite the improved efforts in longer one turn races this fall. I’m going to try to beat him in this spot, spreading out somewhat. B Sudd (#5) could be primed to run a career top race in his second start off the layoff. He’s had to stop and start a few times in his five race career up to this point. He should be ensured a quick pace in front of him, setting up a fairly sweet trip for him. He’s been gelded since his last start, which could also be a positive sign for him moving forward. Broken Rib (#4) is another Exaggerator horse on the card that certainly would have no problem getting an off track. His lone start in the mud was a handy score at Horseshoe Indiana back in April. He’s been competitive in his one turn races, and I think this distance suits him better than the seven furlongs he ran last time out. American Xperiment (#7) was hammered down to 1-2 when he made his first start over this course last year in a strong race at this condition. He fought gamely throughout the stretch, but finished second that day. He struggled in his next two starts in stakes company, one at two turns at Sunland and the other at seven furlongs at Keeneland. Asmussen gave him some time off and brings him back to Oaklawn to start his winter campaign. He ran well off the bench here before and looks like a horse that should be covered on most tickets here. If the Arkansas bred, Mrs. Beans (#14) draws into the body of the field, he should be considered in this spot. He ran very well at Remington when facing open company in his last few tries. He was a two time winner at the meet here last season, including a victory in the mud back in February. He’s in good recent form, clearing the N2X condition at Remington last out.
Favorite Bet Today: Late Pick-5 ($48 Ticket, $0.50 Base Wager)
I’m all about Coach (#1, R9) in the Mistletoe Stakes today, as I think the ingredients are there for her to have a strong rebound race after a dull effort at Churchill. She loves the track and handles an off track with ease. She’s moving back to two turns in a race where she may wind up being the controlling speed. The morning line favorite, Le Da Vida (#6, R9) is talented, but unproven at this level. I’ll back up with her, but the majority of my tickets will be anchored to Coach. I’m using a pair of runners off the AE list on the main ticket, going with Torontotoro (#14, R6) in the first leg, and Mrs. Beans (#14, R10) in the nightcap. If neither make it in, I might look for coverage elsewhere, but I do think both have a good chance in their respective races today.