After a week off, Oaklawn Park returns with a nine race program on the last day of 2021. Field sizes are strong this afternoon with 97 runners entered and an average field size of 10.2 runners per race (not including the also-eligibles). The weather forecast is warm and dry for today, but the weather is scheduled to take a turn over the weekend, with a strong cold front rolling through. We’ll see how that affects the first Derby Points race of the meet, The Smarty Jones, tomorrow 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||1||1||5||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||4||4||6||1,2||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|6||2||1,2,6||10||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The day starts with an open $6,250 claiming race. I’m going to go with the two senior citizens in this field on the A line, giving the edge to nine year old, Bourbon Cowboy (#3). Speed was very good at the start of the meet, especially when the weather was a little warmer like it will be today. On paper, he has the best early speed in the bunch, and could wire this group. He was a part of an aggressive pace battle last out at Remington when going seven furlongs. He fits from a figure standpoint and I think he can rebound on the cutback to six furlongs. Tiz Showbiz (#1) is a ten year old gelding that fits here from a consistency standpoint. He’s found the Winner’s Circle 19 times in 105 starts, winning three of his last six starts. He’s cutting back from a route to a sprint after coming up empty in the stretch when facing open $8K claimers three weeks ago. He doesn’t have a great record on this track, and I’m not certain he’ll get a great setup for his late close. I can’t fault anyone for trying to beat him vertically, especially at 2-1 (ML) or lower, but he’s been too consistent to leave off the multi-race tickets. On deeper tickets, there’s a trio that could be worth covering. Smart Time (#7) had four really solid races to start his career, but has never really come close to getting back to that form in his last six tries. He beat conditioned $10K claimers in a race that came back on the slow side. He was overmatched with starter allowance foes here on 12/4. While the class relief is welcome, he’ll need to step forward while running for the lowest tag yet. Arch Ability (#5) made his first start in almost 16 months here on 12/5, when he finished a well beaten 5th with time restricted claimers. He has races in 2020 that could be competitive with this group. He’ll need to move forward, but he has more upside than some of the other longer priced entrants here. Secretary at War (#2) is the second choice in the wagering here, and was also well beaten in the aforementioned starter allowance race that Smart Time is also coming out of. He keeps getting claimed for lower prices than what he was claimed for in the past, suggesting that he might be tailing off at the end of his seven year old season. I don’t love him in this spot, but I’ll cover him based on connections.
Deronda (#1) is the one to beat in this $40K maiden claiming race for Arkansas bred two year old fillies. She was 5th in her local debut when facing state bred maiden special weight company. She drew the rail that day and was shuffled back after shying away from the rail when coming out of the chute. She did draw the rail again today, but with one less runner in this field, she’ll be one extra space away from the rail at the break here. She closed with a lot interest and I think with a better break, she’ll be closer to the front end, leaving her with less work to do later on. I’ll include the firster, Chai Tea (#5) on some tickets as well. Trainer Ernie Witt already has a winner at the meet with a first time starter in an Arkansas bred maiden claiming contest (Doc Irwin, 12/17). This daughter of Jonesboro has been working well enough in the AM to contend with this group. There are five other first timers in here, (4,7,8,9,10). None of them jump off the page, but if any are well backed by the public, I’d consider adding them to a Pick-4 ticket.
There’s a lot of early speed signed on in this $50K-$40K N2L claiming race, so I do think this race could set up for a horse that could be rolling late. I’ll take a shot with the Delta invader, Legendary Gift (#1) who is exiting a big effort with a soft group of maiden allowance runners at seven furlongs. She’s cutting back in distance and also going from a two turn race to a one turn race, but she gets a pretty good setup here, if she’s good enough on the bigger oval. Both of her one turn races were poor, but she had excuses in both. She’s definitely improved as of late, so I’d be willing to play here anywhere near her 15-1 morning line figure. Super Wonder Girl (#7) is the only mare in the field, as this five year old is facing nine three year old fillies. She makes her third start off the layoff after running dull efforts in the slop when facing better in Kentucky in her last two tries. Prior to going on the shelf, she was knocking on the door with better. She hasn’t run with a tag since September of 2019, when she finished second at Churchill. She’s had some physical ailments over the years, but if she’s right, she could be tough while racing on a fast track again today. If speed is holding up well in the first two races, California shipper, I’m The Boss of Me (#8) might be the quickest of them all here. She’s hit the board in five of six starts this season, winning once, and fading late in the other five. She might be better suited for the bottom of the exotics, but she might start to get brave if she’s able to clear this field early on. Ricardo Santana has been riding well at the meet so far, winning 8 of 42 starts, and he’ll likely need to be aggressive early to shoot his best shot with her.
The second of four races on the New Years Eve card for two year olds, is a $30K maiden claiming race for fillies that drew an overflow field of 13. Abuela’s Honor (#4) is the one to beat in this race for Brad Cox and Florent Geroux. She ran well enough in her debut at Indiana Grand in the slop back in September. She faltered in her next start, when facing a solid field there, where the top two finishers went on to win in their next outings. She struggled last out at two turns in an off the turf maiden allowance at the Fair Grounds. She drops in for a tag, which makes sense off her last two tries. Undecoded (#10) made her debut in the slop last month with $150K maiden claimers at Churchill. She faded to 5th that day, but now drops and adds Lasix for her second career try. I expect a better effort out of her today. Candy’s Story (#12) is a longshot first time starter for John Prather and Travis Wales. Prather won earlier in the meet with a horse making their debut in a maiden claiming contest (Mo Choctaw 12-12). Her works are respectable, and the outside draw should help for her first career run.
This optional claiming/allowance contest for fillies and mares ends the Early Pick-5 and starts the late Pick-5 today. Sun Path (#4) is the headliner, making her second start off the layoff and stretching back out to two turns after coming back in a sprint last month at Churchill. She’s a full sister to multiple graded stakes winner, Bonny South. She looked to be as talented as her sister when dominating an allowance race at the Fair Grounds last year, winning by over 12 lengths. She moved on to the Oaks trail, but had a tough trip in the Silverbulletday, and was a little flat in the Grade 3 Honeybee here in March. She went on the shelf before returning in that sprint race where she was defeated by a talented sprinter, Center Aisle, who won the Grade 3 Sugar Swirl at Gulfstream in her next start. Cox puts blinkers on her for the first time and Geroux opts to ride her over her stablemate, Bold Tactics (#2). Lady McKenzie (#6) is a six time winner that is entered for the tag in this spot. If speed is good today, I suspect Geovanni Franco is going to be aggressive with this front runner. She was a strong winner two back at Indiana Grand, but came up short when sprinting at Churchill last month. There are several that have tactical speed in this race, but she’s the only committed frontrunner, which makes her worth considering. Bold Tactics had a very good stint in the mid-Atlantic region this summer, dominating a pair of races at Monmouth, and finishing a respectable 4th in stakes company at Parx. She hit the board in her other five career starts here and at Churchill, but she hasn’t shown the same spark we saw from her in the summer. Her half brother, Home Brew, is the morning line favorite tomorrow in the Smarty Jones Stakes. Geroux sticking with Sun Path tells me that he believes that one is more talented. Willful Woman (#1) was second in the Black Eyed Susan this spring at long odds, before spending six months on the sidelines. She returned with a pair of even efforts at Churchill in allowance company and with stakes foes here. They paid $400K for her and she’s been respectable in the afternoon, but I’m not sure how high her ceiling is at this point.
This is an interesting $30K-$25K open claiming contest where six of the eleven entrants are making their first starts for new connections after being claimed. I was on Yodel E.A. Who (#2) a few weeks back when he was entered in a race at this same condition. He was flat in his local debut, finishing 4th that day when running on a surface that was hard to close on. If the track seems to be playing fairly, I’d expect him to move forward for Ron Moquett. He doesn’t claim many, but when he does, they often improve. Riverboat Gambler (#1) is a Broberg claim back, coming off a 4th place finish at Remington in his last outing. He was a winner two back at the $15K open claiming level there. He’s won here before and is reasonably consistent. He is 20-1 on the morning line, which feels very high. However, that figure could lead him to being overlooked in the wagering, especially in the Pick-5. I think he’s live here and worth using. Archiemyboy (#6) has hit the board in 26 of 32 starts, winning seven of them. He struggled in his first two starts off the layoff at Hawthorne with Illinois breds, but he got back on track last out. He’s the kind of horse that stays good when he’s in good form, so I’ll use him, despite moving back into open company. Morning line favorite, Drena’s Star (#10) feels vulnerable in this spot. He was claimed for $62,500 two back by Mike Maker. He brought him back in starter allowance company last out, where he finished third as the 9-5 favorite. He ships here from Kentucky and drops significantly, to a point where he will not be profitable in a win and claim scenario. He was excellent at this meet last year, so I won’t toss him. He’s one that I’ll use in the multi-race wagers, but I’ll try to beat in the vertical exotics.
I had more trouble with this race than any other race on the card. Winterwood (#9) feels like a horse that would be a worthy single. He has two strong efforts in maiden allowance races where he closed late to be third against good fields at Churchill. He doesn’t have a ton of tactical speed though, and he’s in a big field on track that has been difficult to close on when the temperatures have been warmer so far this month. I made him the lone A, but I’m going to watch some races before I really fully understand my betting strategies for this race. There are two well meant first timers coming from the Asmussen and Cox barns that both look live. Favorite Outlaw (#2) was installed at the morning line favorite here for Asmussen, and Ricardo Santana, gets the call. Santana rode first call for Asmussen here and many other tracks for several years. They went on a cold streak together this fall, and Asmussen started looking elsewhere. I’m not sure what to make of this quick reunion, but the Lieblong’s paid $350K for this son of Maclean’s Music, and his works are respectable. I don’t love the 3-1 (ML) price, but if his odds fall below that threshold, that tells me that this one could be a runner, as public money has been smart money with firsters at this meet. Insolito (#8) debuts for Cox, who has won with 15% of his first time starters over the last two years. While those are solid numbers, it’s significantly lower than his 26% winning percentage in 2021. This one has some decent works though, and certainly wouldn’t be a shock if he won. Off The Cuff (#6) debuted here on 12-4 and had some trouble at the break that day. He was ignored in the wagering and could only gather up enough steam to be 8th that day. I think he’ll get better at longer distances, but I do expect an improved effort from him after getting some raceday education. Apprehend (#13) will need a defection to compete, but his lone dirt race was strong, finishing second to Corniche, who only went on to win the Grade 1 American Pharoah and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in his next two starts. I don’t get his next start in a five furlong turf sprint at Del Mar, as there were certainly other options for two year olds to run under the same conditions at that meet on the dirt. He was trained by Peter Miller, and the horses now trained by his former assistant, Rene Amescua, have won at only an 11% clip since Miller walked away. That’s below the 18% winning percentage that he had in 2021. He gets Lasix for the first time today and gets back to the dirt, so if he does go, I’ll be using him, but I’ll proceed with caution as there are some mixed signals.
On paper, the two favorites tower over this field. Matareya (#4) debuted like a good thing this summer at Ellis, dominating a maiden allowance field by over four lengths. That earned her a trip to the Grade 1 Alcibiades, where she finished a wide 5th behind her stablemate, Juju’s Map. She returned at Churchill in November when cutting back to a 6 and ½ furlong sprint in the Fern Creek Stakes. She finished a respectable second that day behind Marissa’s Lady, who was a next out stakes winner at Turfway. She looked like she was wanting more distance, so getting back to a two turn route seems like a logical decision for this well-bred daughter of Pioneerof the Nile. Hypersport (#1) took advantage of a speed bias when running well to break her maiden here on opening weekend, drawing off to win by four lengths. She finished with a very fast time in that six furlong sprint, and now she stretches out to a two turn race. Blame is the sire here, so getting the mile shouldn’t be a stretch. She’s drawn well and would be worth upgrading if the track is playing kindly to speed.
The last race of 2021 at Oaklawn is an excellent allowance race for fillies and mares at six furlongs. This contest is absolutely wide open, so I’d be looking for as much coverage as can be afforded. Joyful Cadence (#9) gets the nod as the top pick, making her first start since June today. She made her second career start in March and her first start on dirt after debuting on synthetic at Turfway. She decimated a respectable maiden allowance field that day and earned a spot in the starting gate in the Purple Martin Stakes here in April. She narrowly missed that day and lost in a three horse photo the following month in the Grade 3 Miss Preakness at Pimlico. Both efforts were very good, but she came up empty in her most recent start, which may explain the 6 and ½ month break from racing. She’s been working steadily for her return and gets the services of the red hot Reylu Gutierrez. If she can run back to her springtime form off the layoff, she’ll be very tough to beat. Miz Blue (#8) was caught late at this level on opening day, fading late to hold third. She is a win machine though, winning 8 of her 15 career starts, and despite facing more rivals today, I think there are less dedicated front runners signed on in this race. I do think she’ll benefit from having a race over the track. Well Spent (#11) seemed to like racing here in her local debut three weeks ago when defeating open $32K claimers. She has been very popular at the claim box, so it’s not a surprise that Diodoro entered her in this protected allowance race with a hearty $100K purse. She has been getting better and should be tough while climbing the class ladder. On deeper tickets, I’ll use some of the shorter prices that have a shot, but don’t strike me as great value. Code Name Kate (#5) will be the highest price of this trio. She was 4th in the 12/3 race at this condition, on a day where it was not easy to come from off the pace. She ran very well in the mud two back and has a very good local effort last season. If the track is playing fairly, she’d be worth considering. Palm Cottage (#2) was second in the same race with a bit of a trouble line in the stretch. Watching that race again, I don’t believe she was beating the winner that day, even with a clear run. She’s struggled to put two solid efforts together, and I think she’ll be too short of a price, especially if her red hot connections connect with a few other horses on the card (which I think is a likely outcome). Oscarette (#7) was a distant second to a good filly, Goodnight Olive, in her debut at Keeneland in October. She handled her business last month, breaking her maiden against an average field at Churchill, while going off at 3-5. She faces winners for the first time, and is another horse that will likely be overbet based on her connections. I’ll cover her on some deeper tickets, but I prefer others.
Favorite Bet Today: Early Pick-4 ($36 Ticket – Base Wager $1.00)
I think the later sequences could be very lucrative this afternoon with some big fields and some vulnerable favorites. However, with the 11 day break, trying to put a serious ticket together without seeing some races, feels like a fool’s errand. I have some ideas for those wagers, but I like the Early Pick-4 today as a spot where you can invest a small amount, but still could be well rewarded if things shake out the right way. I’ll use All A’s and B’s on this ticket, throwing in a few prices that hopefully can make this sequence pay well. I’ll play this ticket for a dollar instead of the $0.50 minimum. I did mention that if any of the first timers in the second race take some heavy action at the windows, I’d add them to my ticket. If that happens, I’ll play a $0.50 ticket using them in Race 2 and the same horses underneath.
Race 2: 1,5
Race 3: 1,7,8
Race 4: 4,10,12
Race 5: 4,6