There’s a strong 10 race card on a cool December afternoon at Oaklawn today. There’s a pair of stakes races with the return of the runner-up in the Arkansas Derby, Barber Road, in the 8th race. Filly and mare sprinters dash 5 and ½ furlongs in the Poinsettia Stakes, which goes off as the 7th race of the afternoon. Older runners go 1 mile and ⅛ in the Tinsel Stakes, which is Race 9 today. That race will kick off a series of local races which will culminate in the million dollar Oaklawn Handicap toward the end of the meet. First post on this Saturday afternoon 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 maiden claiming fillies start the afternoon today. There’s a heavy favorite in here, with Doozy Bats (#1) shipping in from Keeneland for a new trainer, Nevada Litfin. She’s been close in all three starts on the main track, hitting the board each time, while running in different maiden claiming races for Wesley Ward. Litfin reached in and claimed this filly for Flurry Racing Stables for the $20K tag that she’s being offered for today. She makes sense here, but at such short odds, I’ve got to try to look for a little value. I made Rowdy Daisy (#7) my top pick in this race. She makes her second career start after a disastrous debut last year with $50K maiden claimers. She broke very sharp while in between horses early that day. She was involved in a scramble for the early lead and she stayed on gamely before clipping heels and losing the rider at the top of the stretch. I acknowledge that the new HISA rules regarding the procedures for bringing horses back off 365 day layoffs may have forced trainer Kenny Smith to race here a little earlier than he might have wanted to (She’s been off 363 days), However, I saw enough from her in that race to believe that she’d be the most likely horse to beat the favorite if she’s in the same kind of condition as she was on debut.
There’s a full field of 12 scheduled to go six furlongs in this $30K-$25K N2L claiming race. This is a spread race for me where I’m going to try to beat the favorite, St. Andrews (#10) on the claim and drop for Diodoro. Cristian Torres has been riding Diodoro’s live runners at this meet, piloting all four of his winners at the meet so far. While Orlando Mojica has good numbers when riding for Diodoro, him getting the call here tells me this one might be vulnerable. I’ll try longshot D T’s Dream (#7) on top, shipping in from Delta for Greg Tracy. Tracy is a high percentage trainer, winning with 22% of his starters on the year. He’s had to start and stop on this one, perhaps explaining the drop in for a tag for the first time today. While he’s in for a tag, the purse structure is very similar to the allowance races that he’s been competing in at Delta. He was a little flat while breaking from the rail in a five furlong sprint with an aggressive pace battle last time out, I think the one turn six furlong trip will be to his liking today and at 20-1 on the morning line, I think he’ll offer solid value here. Penetrator (#9) ships in from Delaware for Jerry Hollendorfer after seven consecutive losses at the N1X condition. He finished in the money in three of those races, showing that he’s competitive, but probably not good enough to win at that level at this meet. He won his only start where he was offered for a tag, breaking his maiden at this distance here in February, crushing a field of $50K maiden claimers. Angel Rodriguez, who had a strong campaign at Monmouth over the summer, got his first local win yesterday and he gets the assignment today. Rum ‘n Tonic (#12) is an interesting player from the outside post. His only win came on the turf, but that was in a maiden special weight contest at Kentucky Downs. He was last of 11 two back in a loaded N1X allowance race, sprinting on the turf at Keeneland. He was overmatched with $50K N2L claimers getting back on the dirt at Churchill last out. While he might be that rare horse that runs their best races in middle distance sprint on turf, the reality is that there’s very few options for him to run in those races this time of year. Moysey takes over the training from Maker, for his local debut. Right now, I think they’re looking for a level where he can be competitive on dirt and he does stack up in this race with his dirt figures. Dark Timber (#2) has been up and down with his form while facing more talented rivals in Kentucky and New York. He hasn’t won a race since March of 2021, so I’ll proceed with some caution. However, he may be the best early foot in this large field and with his back class, he might be able to run away and hide, if the right version of him shows up. I’d like to get better than 4-1, which is a possibility in this wide open race, but any lower than that, I’d have to try my luck elsewhere.
We saw some odd starter allowance conditions last week, however this $10K is a bit more traditional, restricted to horses that have started for $10K tag or less at least one time in 2022. Flatout Winner (#5) comes in from Hawthorne for Nevada Litfin after a pair of dominating victories at a similar condition there. He’s a six year old gelding who was a winner here last season when he wasn’t in his best consistent form. After running in some saltier races earlier in the year, I think Litfin has found the right condition for him, and I think the timing of this race works out well, seeing as how his race for a $10K that qualifies him for this condition came back in January. I see Leader of Men (#4) as the best alternative to the top pick in this race. He’s a consistent runner that has been solid since Moquett claimed him for $10K in April. His two lesser efforts came in races at nine and fourteen furlongs. His races at this 1 mile and 1/16 distance have been much sharper. He’s making the third start of this current form cycle for connections that are red hot to start off this meet.
Hall of Fame trainer, Nick Zito, has not won a race with 71 starters in 2022, however, he might have his best chance of finding the Winner’s Circle in that span with Atlantic Dancer (#2) in this maiden special weight race. He debuted last September at Belmont in maiden special weight race where he was beaten by three horses who would go on to be stakes placed runners. He tried two turns in his next start at Keeneland where he ran into Smile Happy. Something clearly went amiss that day as he went to the sidelines for about 11 months. He returned at Aqueduct this fall, where he ran a credible third at long odds. I really liked his effort at 6 and ½ furlongs in October against a better field at Keeneland. While I think he might want to go a tad further than six furlongs, I think he’s sitting on another strong effort. After seven career starts, Chris Hartman may have discovered that this six furlong trip is the sweet spot for Town Branch (#5), who is the morning line favorite here. He sat off of a quick pace last month at Churchill, and came up just short at this level. He’ll need to prove that he can back up the big speed figure that he earned last out, and do so while maybe not getting the same pace scenario. Just like last season, the runners that Hartman has brought here so far, have been well-meant. Sinner’s Sin (#4) makes his first start since the end of May for Ron Moquett. The barn continues to fire on all cylinders early on at this meet, and I do think this runner a lone speed candidate in this sprint that isn’t necessarily loaded with runners that want to take the early initiative. My gut tells me that he’ll be better in his next start, but between the hot human connections and the chance to sit a great trip, I do feel the need to cover with him here.
The Early Pick-5 will wrap with a full field of conditioned $10K claimers going 1 mile and 1/16. I think this is a spot to take swing against the two shorter prices. Wartime Hero (#3) makes his first start since May and was claimed for $30K just two starts ago. Seeing him entered for $10K here raises some red flags for me. Primer Dimer (#12) is in better form for Diodoro, but he’s going to have to overcome post 12 in this race, and at 7-2, I don’t see him as that much better than some of his rivals. I made Cash Rocket (#1) my top pick here. He continues to drop in class after showing some promise in 2021. He was a strong third here with a very good maiden allowance field in March of that year. He’s had a few physical ailments that have limited his action since then. While his only two wins have come on the turf in Maryland, his dirt form isn’t bad, and there’s simply not a ton of turf options for him at the moment. The same could be said for both Driven One (#2) and Optimus Kat (#4). Driven One is a gradually improving three year old shipping in from Indiana for Ingrid Mason. His effort in an off the turf allowance race there two back was solid, and a repeat of that kind of race would make him a contender with this group. D. Wayne Lukas got his first win of the meet yesterday, and he comes back today with Optimus Kat. This one is another runner that has many turf races, but his two wins came on the dirt, including a maiden breaking score on this oval in February of 2021. He typically runs a respectable race on this course. He’s another one that makes sense at this level.
The Late Pick-5 gets started with an optional $100K claiming/N2L allowance race for two year olds going one mile. I do give preference to the shorter prices in this race. Protege (#6) will be the first of three horses running back this afternoon from a very contentious allowance race at Keeneland on the Breeders’ Cup Friday undercard. Giant Mischief and Arabian Lion dueled throughout the length of the stretch that afternoon, with Giant Mischief scoring a narrow victory. That one runs later on tonight in the Remington Springboard Mile and Arabian Lion runs in the Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity later on in the afternoon. Moquett and Bejarano have been very sharp to start the meet, winning with four mounts so far. Protege gets Lasix for his third career start and his first try around two turns. He came up empty in that loaded race, but this race is not nearly as contentious. I think he’ll get the job done today. Hit Show (#8) was foaled by the 2017 Black Eyed Susan winner, Actress. Her first first foal was a winner in his first second career start, This filly won on debut and finished 4th in her second career start, while trying two turns for the first time. I think longer races will be where she’ll excel, and while she’ll have to navigate a trip from the widest draw in the race, I think she makes a lot of sense here, On deeper tickets, I‘ll give a look to both Day Trade (#1) and Written Dance (#7). I slightly prefer Written Dance, who took a decent step forward after being claimed by Diodoro out in California. He was a gate to wire winner with maiden allowance foes at Remington. I think he is capable of taking another step forward. Day Trade is a horse that is giving me some mixed messages. The pedigree is exceptional, as the dam has produced multiple stakes winners. He’s a full brother to Home Brew, who won the Oaklawn Stakes, Pegasus Stakes, and the Bourbon Trail Stakes as a three year old. I don’t think baby brother is nearly as talented, as he was put up for a claim in his debut. He improved in his second start, where this colt was claimed. He crushed a $50K maiden claiming field last out, with Cipriano Contreras claiming him out of that spot. He definitely looked better at the one turn mile last out, and his pedigree tells me he’ll improve. I’m just not sure how high his ceiling really is.
Race 7: The $150K Poinsettia Stakes:
I’ve been a big fan of Carribean Caper (#2) since her debut in 2021 at the Fair Grounds, and I think she’s going to get back on track in the first of two stakes races on the card today. She started her career with five consecutive victories as a three year old, including stakes wins in the Audubon Oaks at Ellis and the Grade 3 Dogwood at Churchill. She was away from the races for almost a year before returning in the Seeking the Pearl Stakes at Colonial Downs over the summer. She was pressing a hot pace in that seven furlong contest and came up empty in the final furlong. She was away for a few more months before returning to face the boys in the Thanksgiving Classic last month at the Fair Grounds. She ran a more competitive 4th place that day. She returns to face fillies and mares while cutting back to 5 and ½ furlongs today. I think she can sit a nice trip just off the early leaders and make her run through the stretch. She feels like the one to beat here. Pretty Birdie (#7) is the speed of the speed and the one who I’ll use as backup on some deeper tickets. She’s been away since walking home in the Victory Ride at Belmont back in July. She was very competitive here last season, winning the Purple Martin Stakes back in March. If speed is playing well, I might use her a little more prominently, however, I think she might be tougher next time out.
The highlight of this N1X allowance race at 1 mile and 1/16 is the return of Barber Road (#1). He has been on the sidelines since finishing off the board in the Belmont Stakes. He picked up a lot of checks on the local Derby Trail last season, finishing in the money in all four of the Derby Points Races on this course. He was a 60-1 outsider in the Kentucky Derby, where he found himself in last place early on, sitting off a hot pace. He closed well through traffic to be 6th, less than five lengths behind Rich Strike. He showed that 12 furlongs is likely out of his range when he was 7th in the Belmont in his next start. It was interesting to me to see him morph from a horse that liked to be on or near the pace in sprint races as a two year old, to a deep closer in route races as a three year old. I don’t see a ton of early speed signed on in this race, and taking 4-5 (ML) on a horse whose only wins have come with $30K maiden claimers and $30K starter allowance foes, feels like a bad bet. I’ll cover with him, but I think there’s two runners that have a very good shot at beating him today. Disc Jockey (#9) is on a roll right now, winning his last three starts at Los Alamitos and Remington Park. Diodro and Cristian Torres are off to a torrid start at this meet, teaming up to win four times together, including a victory in stakes company last weekend. By clearing the N1X and N2X condition at Remington, he remains eligible for the N1X level here because of the purse structure there. I think the recent form, along with his running style, gives him an advantage over the favorite. Pat’s Property (#8) showed up here at the beginning of the meet and was very good when winning a contentious starter allowance race at 45-1, going gate to wire. He comes back here off a similar layoff today, and he looks like he might be the quickest in the early stages of this race. His form tailed off a bit after leaving here in the spring, however, his local efforts last season make him a viable player at long odds today.
Race 9: The $200K Tinsel Stakes:
I’m going to try to beat the morning line favorite, Run Classic (#3) in this race. He’s lightly raced, coming off a hard fought second place finish at Churchill last month. He’ll likely take money after a monster effort at seven furlongs at Keeneland back in October. I see him as a more effective horse at one turn, and I’m not sold on him at this nine furlong trip. King Fury (#7) is going to be my top pick, with the thought that this race could fall apart. He hasn’t had the four year old campaign that Ken McPeek has hoped he would, most recently finishing a dull 4th in the Fayette Stakes at this distance at Keeneland. However, West Will Power was able to set a dawdling pace that day and he was much closer to the front end than he’s normally comfortable with. He’s run well closing into strong paces, and I think that’s the kind of trip he could get today. His best races are on off tracks, which seems like an unlikely scenario this afternoon, however, he’s more than capable on a fast main track with the right trip. Bal Harbour (#4) has no questions about the distance, crushing a field at this distance at Saratoga two starts back and then finishing 3rd in a 13 furlong stakes race on the main track at Keeneland. Diodoro claimed him for $50K at the Spa two back, when he was a confident winner. The goal was to have him compete in stakes company, which he did well when doing so at the Grade 2 level last month. Everything that Diodoro and Torres are sending out is worth looking into right now. Logical Myth (#6) is an interesting runner in this race. Only four of his 32 career starts have come on the main track, with the other 28 being contested on the grass. His last in the Zia Distance Championship was very good on the main track. He was also sharp in the mud at Keeneland back in the spring. I’m not certain he’ll be able to do it again at this level, however, I think he has more upside than some of the others here.
State bred fillies and mares sprint under N1X allowance conditions in the nightcap. One Way or Another (#9) is the heavy favorite on the morning line. She wants to go early, and I don’t see her getting the lead without a fight. There’s significant early speed threats coming from Lightning Hart (#2) and Derby Day Lassie (#3), both drawn inside of the favorite. After winning her debut, she’s burned money a few other times in her career. I’ll use her as a saver, since she could be simply faster than these, but I’m concerned that she’ll be caught late. I made Sulwe (#12) my top pick, in hopes that she’ll be able to put it all together in her first start since May. She was excellent in her debut at Sam Houstion at the beginning of the year, and then broke her maiden in her third career start. She came up short in two starts at this level at the end of the meet. I do think she’ll get a favorable pace scenario for the race she wants to run. She’s the one that I’ll be looking for, cruising down the crown of the track in the final furlong. Mocha Kiss (#6) finished in the money in her last four races at this level here last season. She returned last month in an open allowance at Remington where she was outclassed. She was making her first start since May while facing saltier open allowance company. She’ll get class relief and might get first run on the leaders here. Chai Tea (#10) is an interesting longshot that might be worth using in this race. She was bad here last season, but she made significant progress after changing barns and relocating to Canterbury Park in Minnesota. I liked her progression of races there and think that she might be a different horse from when we saw her here last season.
Favorite Bet Today: Late Pick 5 ($36 Ticket, $0.50 Base Wager)
I see this sequence as a solid spot to single Carribean Caper (#2, R7) and try to beat Barber Road (#1, R8) at short odds. I’ll leave Barber Road off the main ticket, while backing up with him on some smaller plays. I’ll be leaving out three morning line favorites when punching this ticket, playing against the short priced, Run Classic (#3, R9) and One Way or Another (#9, R10) as well.
Meet Statistics: Top Pick 8/34 (23.5%), $77.00, $2.26 ROI