Opening day comes early this year at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The extended meet runs from today through May 8th, 2022. There are new stakes added to the program and two year old racing for the first time in recent memory. The calendar for the Triple Crown prep races has been revamped, with the Arkansas Derby being run on April 2nd, five weeks before the Kentucky Derby, instead of being positioned just three weeks out. Today’s feature, the Advent Stakes, which is one of the new stakes added this year, is a 6 Furlong sprint for two year olds. There are some other interesting races on this card today where there are some favorites from some big barns that feel vulnerable.
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||7||1,6,7||5,9||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||10||3,10||4,6||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|6||7||6,7||1||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The shorter prices look fairly logical in the lid-lifter for the meet, which is a $10K beaten claiming race at 5 and ½ Furlongs. Lil Miss Hot Mess (#4) went off form in Kentucky after some quality races here last year with starter allowance company. She was given some time off and returned with an improved effort last month at Churchill, again in starter allowance company. She drops in for a tag in her second race off the bench, where she should be tough. Honey Parade (#3) is the main danger, also coming in from Churchill. She was very wide and a non-factor with open $25K claimers last out. She drops to the lowest level in her career. She appears to have lost a step since her two win 2020 campaign, but she makes sense at this level. Take Charge Erica (#1) is another one that’s not in the greatest form, but she definitely likes racing here, which is enough reason to consider including her on multi-race tickets. She won twice here in the spring with open claimers. Since leaving here, she ran five times, not hitting the board in any of those starts. She has decent speed from the rail, which could make her dangerous if her return to this track helps her find her better form.
A full field of two year old, $40K maiden claimers go one mile here. This race is an absolute toss up to me, so if I’m looking at the multi-race sequences, I’ll definitely be looking for coverage. Brad Cox and Steve Asmussen, who will be locked in battle for leading trainer throughout the meet, send out the two favorites, Beach Holiday (#5) and Requisition (#9). Of the two, I prefer Requisition, as he’s been improving from a figure standpoint and now gets the addition of Lasix. This is one of three mounts that Santana has for Asmussen today. This is worth mentioning because this duo has been ice cold over the last few months. Santana isn’t named to ride any of Asmussen’s starters tomorrow, so strong rides on these three mounts today are imperative for Santana moving forward. From a pedigree standpoint, no one in the field can touch Beach Holiday, who is sired by Into Mischief and foaled by Grade 1 winner on dirt and turf, Cocoa Beach. However, his on track performance hasn’t come close to his sire or dam thus far. He was gelded after his last start, making this Godolphin homebred expendable. Perhaps gelding him will make a difference, and Geroux and Cox have hit at 30% together at Oaklawn. Both are worth considering in the multi-race exotics, but I’m going to try to beat them vertically, while looking for value. I’m going to play some prices here, using Lookinforexcitemen (#7) on top for Chris Hartman. Ths two year old son of Lookin at Lucky makes his second career start after debuting in a sprint at this level at Churchill last month. He showed some early interest before fading late. He gets Lasix for the first time, and should improve at longer distances. Spend Again (#1) had nothing go right last out when running into next out Grade 2 winner, Smile Happy. He was eased that day after running a strong race two back at Churchill at this level. His rail draw is desirable today and 6-1 would be a great price. If he can run back to that effort two back, he’ll be tough here. Popster (#6), ships in from Remington Park, after stumbling at the break in his second career try. I think that race took something out of him, as he’s been off for two and a half months. Trainer Kenny Smith does not have good numbers with horses dropping from maiden special weight to maiden claiming company, nor with horses off this kind of a layoff. As a result, I think we’ll get better than the 12-1 morning line figure, which is what I’ll need to use him. I do like him stretching out though, and I think he’s better than many of these on paper.
Karl Broberg and Robertino Diodoro are going to be major players in the claiming ranks at this meet, and they have the two principal players in this $30K-$25K claiming sprint. Yodel E.A. Who (#2) was a beast at Saratoga when beating a sharp $40K claiming field in July. Broberg claimed him that day and tried him twice with optional claiming/N2X allowance company. He was no match for that level, which is ultra-tough at the Spa. Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner, Aloha West, beat him in his first try. Beau Liam, who came back to be second in the Grade 3 Ack Ack at Churchill in his next try, beat him at the end of the meet. He ran well in his next two tries in protected spots at Delta, but the configuration of that track can be tricky for some horses. I think he’ll come back and run much better here. Diodoro claimed Awesome Saturday (#3) last out at Keeneland, when he finished 3rd when running for Asmussen. He’s only run once in a one turn dirt sprint this year, which is odd, as that has been what he has done best over his career. Blinkers go on, which is a solid angle for Diodoro’s horses.
A full field of $10K N2L claimers go six furlongs here in another race that looks like it could be ripe for an upset. Diodoro sends out favored Violent Pass (#6) who was claimed for $50K at Keeneland two starts back. He ran poorly in a race in the slop at two turns at that $50K N2L level last out at Churchill. This is a big drop that will result in about a $20K loss if he wins and is claimed. He may have the best numbers, but that’s a hard horse for me to use. The other short price is Chicken Hawk (#2), who broke his maiden in 2020 at Louisiana Downs with maiden special weight company. Since then, he really hasn’t been competitive in any of his starts with winners. He drops off to a lower level while making his first start in almost six months. Despite the connections (Geroux riding for Asmussen), I’m not seeing this as a winning formula for him. I think Wise Khozan (#4), shipping in from Hawthorne, will be very tough in this contest. He’ll likely be in a good spot on the track, while dropping in class from $20K N2L claiming races in Illinois. There’s some cheap speed in front of him that should enable him to track and pounce. His trainer, Scott Becker, has won 34% of his races in 2021 with 241 starters, so he certainly knows how to get a horse to the Winner’s Circle. Other than his tough trip, seven wide journey two back, he’s been very competitive in the rest of his 2021 starts. This is a tough early sequence, so this would be a spot where I think it makes sense to be aggressive with him, trying to beat the shorter prices. I like a few longshots, primarily underneath, but these are horses that could be added to deeper tickets in hopes of catching some big balloon payouts. Remington Park shipper, Funandfunny (#1) has two races with $7,500K N2L claimers that would likely get him close here. Toss his last in a turf sprint, and he makes some sense assuming he can work out a closing trip from his rail draw. I know he’s been cold, but Ricardo Santana is a heck of a jockey, and I believe he’ll be riding his tail off at this meet. If his business relationship with Asmussen is dissolving, this meet could be serving as an audition for a lot of connections, and it will be up to him to make the most of those opportunities. Another one that could be closing late is Kat’s Hitman (#11) with Calvin Borel. There is definitely a lot of pace signed on here, but there’s not an obvious closer. Toss his last and his effort at one mile wasn’t bad at Remington two back. He looks to have grown up a bit in his two dirt starts since coming back from the layoff. He’s one of only three that has their one win on this track. Rubiginous (#8) was overmatched last out with $30K N2L claimers at Churchill, but he was very competitive with $20K N2L claimers two back at Prairie Meadows. He’ll need to catch a flyer from the gate, as there are many others that want the lead, but if he’s able to replicate his two sprint races in Iowa, which is a big if, that would likely be good enough to win.
Arkansas bred fillies and mares run six furlongs under maiden special weight conditions in what is the last leg of the early of the Pick-5 and the first leg of the late Pick-5. I think the four shorter prices here stand out over the other seven. On top, I’ll take Unbridled Twister (#10) making her second start off the layoff after being trounced with open maiden special weight company at Keeneland last out. That was a useful race as both the first and second place finishers came back to win in their subsequent starts. The winner of that race, Goodnight Olive, appears to be stakes bound after a pair of dominating efforts in a row. Unbridled Twister ran well enough in two of three starts at this level in the spring and could be sitting on her best career effort to date. Little Burrito (#3) invades from Delaware in her third start off the layoff. She’s had several chances, making her 9th start today. She showed some interest at this level last year, and she improved last out when running with open maiden optional claiming company. The recency with this duo gives them a bit of an edge in my mind over both Choctaw Charlie (#4) and My Dams Attitude (#6). Choctaw Charlie took the summer and fall off, not competing since April when she finished second beaten six lengths. Her 2020 form was much better than her 2021 form, which is a bit of a concern, especially at shorter odds. She makes her first start for Lynn Chleborad, who is a higher percentage trainer than her previous one. My Dams Attitude was not in good form at Arlington this summer when racing on synthetic and turf. However, her dirt form on this track last season was good enough to compete with these. She appears to have been claimed by Westerman with this meet in mind.
My strategy from a horizontal wagering standpoint in this $10K starter allowance is to try to beat the two shorter priced horses on the outside here. Exemplar (#9) is the ML favorite coming off a win with open $10K claimers at Churchill in the slop. Norman Cash claimed him out of that race, which wasn’t his best effort, but it was a win. However, this one has the outside post and is 0-12 on this course. He makes sense underneath, but I’m going to try to get away with leaving him off the multi-race wagers. I’ll use the same strategy with Jack’s Advantage (#8) who was claimed off Diodoro last out at Churchill with open $8K claimers. His best races have been in one turn middle distance races, as opposed to two turn races. He has one win at this distance and the other three have come at shorter distances where he didn’t go two turns. He’s going to have some pace pressure inside and outside, while moving up in class. Botswana (#7) is the top pick after running two sharp races in a row on the main track. Most of his career tries have been on the grass. In fact, his last race was the first race that he entered specifically for the dirt since August of 2018. He just missed when facing a tougher group at this level at Churchill. If the track is playing fairly, he’ll be tough to deal with late here. Tez (#6) was claimed by Diodoro last out when losing in a photo to Exemplar in Kentucky. He ran twice here in 2020 and ran two sharp races, winning once. He has much more upside to me than Exemplar, and getting a higher price on him at the windows seems like it would be a gift. On deeper tickets, don’t discount the Ohio invader, Istillgotit (#1) who has good speed from the rail. He’s won three of his last four against lesser rivals at Thistledown and Mahoning Valley. He’s the fastest early on in here and if speed is holding well, he could be good enough to run away from them.
More two year old action here, with maiden special weight fillies going six furlongs. I’m going to take Roll Baby (#5) on top for Asmussen, after finishing 5th in a maiden special weight contest at Keeneland in October. Marr Time, the winner of that race, is from the same dam as Beholder, Into Mischief, and Medelssohn, and the runner up, Dame Joviale, came back to beat a nice field at Churchill two weeks ago. Despite maybe not coming up as fast, I think that race was deeper in quality than the maiden special weight race Hypersport (#7) is coming out of. She ran a big race at 31-1, finishing second on debut in a race that blew up the toteboard. Mason and Arrieta team up again, with this very logical player here. On deeper tickets, I’ll look to add both Brad Cox first timers, Sweet Beauty (#4) and Firewolves (#9). Firewolves is clearly more highly regarded than her stablemate, as Geroux takes the mount on this $140K daughter of Practical Joke. The works are decent and I never mind the outside post with a first time starter in a one turn race. Sweet Beauty is a daughter of Maclean’s Music, so there’s definitely some speed and precocity in her pedigree. She was working at Turfway and sent here a few weeks ago, suggesting that her works are good enough to think that she can compete on this circuit. 12-1 seems like much better value than the 5-2 line on Firewolves, as on the surface, three doesn’t appear to be much disparity between the two.
Race 8: The $150K Advent Stakes:
The opening day feature is a six furlong sprint for two year olds. This is another spot where I’m not sold on the two morning line favorites. Cairama (#9) broke his maiden in a slower maiden special weight heat in the fall at Belmont. He took on graded stakes foes in the Nashua last month and was an uninspiring 5th that day. He cuts back to 6 Furlongs, which will be the shortest distance he’s run at, but I’m not convinced that will be where he will be at his best. Higher Standard (#10) was a dominating winner in the mud at Churchill three weeks ago in his debut. I’m always wary of short prices coming back off a big speed figure on a wet track. I’m not willing to completely toss these two, but I’ve got them more as backups as I do like what I’ve so far from B Sudd (#6). He was a sharp third on debut at Keeneland in a strong heat. Kaely’s Brother, who was the winner that day, came back to win the Jean Laffite Futurity at Delta Downs, and Trademark, who was second, won his next two starts, winning a maiden special and clearing the N1X condition at two turns on both of the Stars of Tomorrow cards at Churchill. In his maiden win, B Sudd stalked the pace, assumed control and gamely battled to hold off Unpredictable Bay, who was also a next out winner on the Stars of Tomorrow card. He skipped the Lively Shively last week at Churchill (where trainer Dallas Stewart started a different horse) in favor of ths spot. I see him as the one to beat here. Both Kavod (#2) and Sonnyisnotsofunny (#7) are interesting in this race, both coming off races where they were claimed for $50K. Kavod will make his first start for Chris Hartman, and his 9th start overall this year. He’s been facing some stiff competition, but his one turn form isn’t bad. He’ll likely need to improve here for new connections, but Hartman does win 18% first off the claim while boasting a positive ROI. Sonnyisnotsofunny debuted like a good thing at Ellis this summer, drawing off to win by open lengths. Something was amiss two back at Keeneland, when next out stakes winner, Tejano Twist bested him in allowance company. He dropped in for a tag at CD and ran an improved third, while going off as the favorite. He’s now in the third race of this form cycle, and his debut was good enough to think that he could get back there.
There is a ton of speed signed on to this money allowance, and if she can sit the right trip, Code Name Kate (#3) is going to be awfully tough in the nightcap. There’s at least six horses in this eleven horse contest that look like they want to be on the lead. Code Name Kate looks like she can sit back and make up ground late in this race, as I think many of them will be backpedaling in the stretch. She has a win on the course, and is coming off a big effort on a wet track. She can run just fine on a fast track though, and she’s now in the third race of her current form cycle. Miz Blue (#5) is one of the cooler horses out there, winning eight of 4 career starts, leading from gate to wire in each of her wins. There appears to be more speed signed on than in any other race she’s been in, which does cause some concern. However, she looks faster than the others in the early stages. If speed is good today, her chances are definitely upgraded, despite moving on to a tougher circuit. She certainly could be upgraded to the A line if the track is favoring frontrunners on a warm day.
Favorite Bet Today:
Race 4, Pick 3: I think there’s vulnerable favorites in the 4th and the 6th race, and I don’t see a heavy favorite in the 5th race. As a result, I think this Pick-3, which costs $6.00 for a $1.00 base wager, is worth playing a few times.