Oaklawn Park Racing Preview – 2/19/22 – By Eric Solomon

There’s a ten race card this afternoon in Hot Springs, headlined by the Dixie Belle Stakes for three year old fillies. This race came up very strong this year, as there are three fillies that were stakes winners in New York as two year olds, entered here to make their first start as three year olds. Joel Rosario and Florent Geroux are in New Orleans today for the big Saturday card at the Fair Grounds, but John Velasquez returns here for the second time this season. He has five mounts, many of which look live this 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
1 4 2,4,5,8 DBL, PK5
2 11 1,1A,11 8 DBL, PK3, PK4
3 4 4 6,8 DBL, PK3
4 5 2,5 3,4 DBL, PK3
5 1 1,8 9 DBL, PK3
6 3 1,3,11 DBL, PK3, PK5
7 3 3 2 8 DBL, PK3, PK4
8 1 1,6 8 DBL, PK3
9 1 1,3,5 4 DBL
10 1 1 8,9

 

 

Race 1:

The lid lifter for today is a $30K maiden claiming contest for three year old fillies going one mile and one sixteenth. This is a tough race to figure, so I’m going to use four here and hope for the best. I made Bunnie Rae (#4) my lukewarm top pick. She was bad with $40K-$35K maiden claimers last month, never really showing much interest. The weather may have been a factor for her as it was a cold and wet day and she took a decent amount of mud to the face early. She has three decent works at Louisiana since and drops in class for this spot today. All three of those works are labeled bullet works, but she was the fastest of only four, four, and six workers at the five furlong distance each morning. While the bullet label doesn’t mean anything to me, I do like that she has worked well enough after that poor effort, signaling that she could rebound. Purrfect Mistress (#5) tried to take the field gate to wire at this level last month, giving up the lead at the top of the stretch and holding second. That was her best career effort and that race would likely be good enough to beat this group. 2-1 (ML) feels like tough odds to swallow in this spot though. I think she’s worth covering, but the price may not be right. Keen Contender (#2) makes her third start off the layoff today and her second two turn start on the main track. She continues to gradually improve, with her last race being her best. She almost got even with the leader at the top of the stretch last out before giving way under less than ideal weather conditions. Burrow Down (#8) was claimed after a disappointing effort in the same race on 1/8 that Bunnie Rae and Keen Contender are coming out of. She was bet down to the 9-5 favorite that day. I liked her in that race, but that was a crazy low price to take on her, bet down from her 5-1 morning line figure. Her effort three starts back in a one mile race with $50K maiden claimers at Keeneland was solid. If she can run back to that, she could be a factor here. 6-1 (ML) or higher feels like the right odds for her.

Race 2:

Open $6,250 claimers go six furlongs in the back end of the early double. The current form in this field is generally not very good. The horse for course angle will not really be in play with this field as the combined record over this track is 5 wins in 63 total starts. Only one of those wins have come in the last two years. I ended up liking a few horses that will hopefully be able to rebound from poor efforts. Fort Ridge (#11) draws the outside post again after losing ground when swinging four wide last out when facing time restricted $10K claimers. His three prior efforts on the main track here and at Hawthorne were better and would likely make him competitive at this level. He is the type of horse that has found success over his career on every surface, but this six furlong distance has typically been where he’s had the most success. From a value standpoint, the entry of Tiz Showbiz (#1) and True Saint (#1A) will likely not be what it should be for either horse. However, both parts of the entry are live, so having two horses for one on the multi-race tickets makes a lot of sense here. I prefer True Saint, who would likely be the longer price if he were uncoupled. Blinkers go on for the first time in his second race off the claim. He was chasing a loose leader who was keyed up in his first start off the layoff. It’s been a long time since he’s found the Winner’s Circle, but he has been at his best when he can challenge for the lead. Look for an aggressive ride from the apprentice, Erick Medellin, who is looking for his first local win. Tiz Showbiz definitely fits from a speed figure standpoint, but he often leaves himself with a lot of work to do. He makes sense as the favorite, and being a part of the entry gives some added insurance as I wouldn’t want to count on him at short odds. On deeper tickets, I’m hoping to see improvement from Kierkegaard (#8) in his second race over the track. He was third last out with a better field at this level. The first two finishers were clearly best that day when he rallied late to grab third at 54-1. He had some tough races at Delta when going two turns, but his one turn form in sprint races this summer at Canterbury was decent. He hasn’t shown a ton of early foot lately, but when he was at his best, he was involved in the race in the early stages.

Race 3:

An overflow field has entered this $20K state bred maiden claiming race for three year olds and up at six furlongs. This is a serious drop in class for Jackys Back (#4) who is 10-1 on the morning line after an awful effort at two turns with open $50K maiden claimers last out. He is a three year old taking on some older horses, but he’s definitely got a chance at this level. He was moving late to get into 7th in a state bred maiden special weight race two starts back. Prior to that, he was overmatched with open maiden special weight company at Churchill and Keeneland. If you ignore his last, he makes a ton of sense in this race, while cutting back to a sprint. He’ll be my lone A horse in this race, while hopefully getting some value here. I’ll use the two morning line favorites on the B line, giving the preference to Max’s Heart (#6). He’s another class dropper that struggled to make inroads at the state bred maiden special weight level. His best race was with $40K state bred maiden claimers in the slop. Early speed is his game, and he should be setting the fractions with this group, and the leading rider, Ricardo Santana, will try to keep him together late. Lord M (#8) has been second in his last two starts, his most recent coming at this level. He was the beaten 9-5 favorite last time, and figures to be in the mix again. I’d be more apt to use him underneath, but I still think he’s worth covering on some deeper plays.

Race 4:

We have another wide open claiming race, this one being a time restricted $10K claimer at one mile and one-sixteenth. River Echo (#5) makes sense on the class drop here. He faced a very good field in starter allowance company last out, and had no answer that day. He ran much better two back with open $30K-$25K claimers. He takes a deep drop in class, which is understandable, especially with a barn that has struggled all meet long. He has enough tactical speed to sit the right trip with this group today. Eagle Pass (#2) might be better at the one turn middle distances, but he’s worth giving another chance under better conditions. He struggled to find while racing in some nasty weather last month when facing open $10K claimers. He was farther off the pace than usual and took a decent amount of mud in the face that day. The winner blitzed the field early, clearing from an outside draw, and led all the way around the course. Both Zitman (#3) and Cashanova (#4) are pace dependent closers. Zitman scored with a soft $6,250 group two back. He had a rough trip last out to be third with open $10K claimers last time. This group is a little softer, so he could have an impact with the right trip. Cashanova likes to come from the back of the pack and is taking a significant drop in class to compete at this level today. He was buried on the rail in the mud last time out, and would benefit from a better trip.

Race 5:

This is an interesting condition, which is an allowance race for horses that have never won four races in their lifetime. In the sprint races yesterday, you wanted to be near the front end, which may make this race a bit more difficult for the morning line favorite, Whiskey Double (#9). He was a local winner in first start after a seven month break, handling the muddy track with ease that day. He came over the top with a five wide rush after sitting near the back of the pack in the early going. That wide sweeping move didn’t look to be playing well yesterday, and I’m not sure he’s going to get a blistering pace in front of him to set up his late close. He was third behind Jackie’s Warrior in the Pat Day Mile last season, so he definitely has a high ceiling. I think seven furlongs might be his best trip. I’ll use him on the B line, but I’ll look to beat him with a pair of runners that want to be more forwardly placed. Royal Daaher (#1) was 5th behind Mucho in a non-conditioned allowance race last out. Mucho would go on to run his eyeballs out to be a close second in the Fifth Season Stakes in his next start. Royal Daaher had some big efforts on this course last season, and should have a good trip along the rail. John Velazquez pilots the California invader, Established (#8). He’s trying to erase the memory of his disastrous run in the Native Diver in November at Del Mar. He’s been more effective at one turn though, so the cutback to a sprint makes a lot of sense. He’s another one that might find the six furlong distance a bit too short, but I think his tactical speed will be a weapon that will keep him in the mix with this group.

 

Race 6: 

The late Pick-5 starts with a $30K-$25K N3L claiming race. I’m going to try to beat the morning line favorite, Eastside Cool (#10) in this race. He ran a career top at this level last out, but now moves to an outside gate after being claimed. He’s been knocking on the door, but he’s winless in his last 11 starts. I’m thinking that Wartime Hero (#3), drawing near the inside today, could get a better trip than he got in his last two starts when he had to try to swing 4-5 wide. He’s making his third race off the layoff this afternoon. Prior to going on the bench, he was an emphatic winner at Saratoga with $16K N2L claimers. He has enough tactical speed to sit a better trip with this group today. Another one moving up in class is Call of Honor (#1). He has the rail and he has enough speed where he could steal this race on the front end. His last two starts on dirt were open length victories. He was claimed by Greg Compton who has good numbers with runners making their first start off the claim. Tillis (#11) is hoping that they fly on the front end, because his game is coming from off the pace. He’ll likely need to pass them all because his best shot is to tuck in from his wide draw and make one run late. He’s lightly raced and continuing to improve. He got into third at this level going one mile last out, so getting the longer stretch run with the extra 1/16 of a mile today could help his cause. 

 

Race 7:

The late Pick-4 starts with a nice allowance sprint for fillies and mares. I think Novel Squall (#3) will be happy to see that Sarah Harper has graduated from this condition. She finished in front her in their last two starts at this level. Today this four year old filly is in her third race off the layoff and she’s been trending in the right direction early in her four year old campaign. I think she’ll get a great set up here with speed inside of her from Alberta Sun (#1), and speed on the outside of her from both Southern Grayce (#4) and Berry Good (#5). Both of those fillies are making their first start off the layoff, so they could be a little more headstrong than normal. Novel Squall overcame a bad break to rally into second last time. I think she gets first run on the back markers today. Melting Snow (#2) is one of the closers that is worth a look here. She closed well in a big field with a fast pace last out to get up just in time. Trainer Rene Amescua has clustered his five wins at this meet so far. He had his first winner in a few weeks on yesterday’s card, so this stable could be heating up again. Wildwood’s Beauty (#8) is the class of the field and as a result, she was installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite. She was 4th in the American Beauty Stakes here last month. That was a salty race, so this spot is definite class relief for this six year old mare. She earned her first win on this course in the mud last month. I think she could be overbet here, and she appears to have a lost a step from her best days. She’s still dangerous at this level, so I’ll cover her on deeper tickets. 

 

Race 8: 

This nine furlong allowance will likely go through the heavy favorite, Warrior’s Charge (#6). He’s 9-5 on the morning line, and will likely go into the gate at even money or less after dominating an allowance field here by almost ten lengths last out. His last two starts on a fast track have been excellent, and he should get that again here. My only concern with this one is that he’s 0-5 in nine furong races. Most of those races have come in graded stakes company, and many of those efforts weren’t bad, just not good enough for that level. However, because this distance might be a touch too far for him, I’ll look for some coverage. I’ll keep him on the A line because he has a class edge and the best recent speed figures, but I’ll take a chance with Intrepid Heart (#1) as my top pick. He loves racing here, winning three times in five career tries. He debuted here with a big effort for Todd Pletcher in 2019, and was good enough to run in the Belmont in his 4th career start, where he went off at 6-1. He’s had some ups and downs over the last few years, but since being claimed by Eddie Kenneally, he’s run three sharp races. He gave O Besos all he could handle last out at the Fair Grounds and now he comes back to his favorite track in good form. I think he can sit a good trip from his inside draw, and if he can duplicate his last effort, he’ll be tough here at a decent price. Fort Peck (#8) was cross-entered in the Mineshaft at the Fair Grounds this afternoon, but it appears he’s staying home for this race. He’s been working well in the morning for Diodoro, in preparation for his first start since the end of October. He’s run well at this distance, winning two of three starts. His lone loss was his last race on a very sloppy course in the Grade 2 Fayette Stakes at Keeneland. He may need this race before he’s at his best, but he’s another one that might be worth covering if your budget allows.

 

Race 9 The $150K Dixie Belle Stakes: 

The highlight of the day is this very good stakes race for three year old fillies. Four of the eight starters are stakes winners, and two of them have won graded stakes. There is a crazy amount of speed signed on for this race, and the only one proven that she can really pass horses is Icy Stare Down (#1). She was supposed to go in an allowance race last month, but that card was canceled, so Cox has been keeping her busy in the mornings to get ready for her first start against winners. This is a much deeper field than what she was going to face last month, but she does have the advantage of winning and working over this track. Santana will ride her for the first time as Geroux is in New Orleans. If she can sit behind the likely duel that is coming on the front end, and make one big run, she could pull the upset against some of these highly touted young runners. Wicked Halo (#3) made her mom proud by winning the Grade 2 Adirondack at Saratoga in her last start, the same race that the dam won back in 2015. She’s been on the bench since and finds a tough spot to make her three year old debut. She’s sired by Gun Runner and her dam sire is Tapit, so I’d think she’d be in line to try two turns in her next start. She has been working well at the Fair Grounds and definitely showed she could handle herself just fine in sprint races, winning while under early pressure last time out. The stamina influences in her pedigree may be a difference maker in this kind of race. Happy Soul (#5) is the morning line favorite and she could be any kind. Wesley Ward doesn’t come here often, but he means business when he does. He brought his Grade 1 winning filly, Kimari, here twice for stakes races in the last two years, and she won them both. Happy Soul debuted at Keeneland last year and finished 2nd. She went to Belmont and won her next two starts, the second coming in the Astoria Stakes. Both wins were dominating performances, crushing her competition by over 11 lengths each time. She’s been away since June, and was working in Florida before going to Santa Anita where she recorded two nice works. She has now entered here, planning to run in Arkansas. Ward adds Lasix, but takes the blinkers off for her three year old debut. At short odds, I’d likely try to beat her, but I need to cover her on my tickets, because she certainly looked like she had the potential to be special when she was on the track last year. On deeper plays, I’ll give a look to Hypersport (#4) cutting back from a pair of two turn races. She ran in Secret Oath in both of those races, who absolutely crushed both fields. Prior to that, she was a gate to wire winner with maiden allowance horses at this distance back on the opening day of this meet. She has struggled to find her best stride when other horses are in front of her, so that is a concern. However, she may be better equipped for one turn races, and cutting back a sprint after those routes may give her a stamina edge over some of her rivals that are coming off the shelf. 

 

Race 10: 

Ther nightcap is an overflow optional claiming/allowance race at one mile that has drawn a deep and interesting field. I liked Harvard (#1) a decent amount in this race, making his first start since finishing a troubled trip 4th in the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga last summer. He made his first two starts in a pair of contentious maiden special weight races at Gulfstream and Keeneland, finishing second in both last year. He broke his maiden last May, setting easy fractions in his first start at two turns at Indiana Grand. I was really impressed with his next start, where he cleared the N1X condition at Churchill, beating older horses, including Dack Janiel’s, who would win a salty N1X allowance race at Saratoga in his next start. Harvard tried stakes company and stumbled at the break at the start of the Curlin. He rushed up and pressed a fast pace for the nine furlong distance, eventually fading to 4th. I like the rail draw for his return and I think he could pull the upset under Francisco Arrieta here. Bankit (#8) may get the right set up in his first race since finishing third in the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup this summer. This New York bred has earned over a million dollars on the racetrack. While he’s banked a lot of that money running in state bred stakes races, he’s had some success in open company as well, most notably, winning the John B. Campbell at Laurel last year. He was second, beaten seven lengths in a similar race last year on this oval, when American Dubai ran his eyeballs out. He might need this race before he’s at his best, so 5-2 feels a little light for me. Runnin’ Ray (#9) has hit the board in his last six starts, winning three times. He was very good last month in allowance company in the slop on this oval. He has shown that he can put two big efforts together, but I do wonder if he’s at his very best when the track has some moisture in it. His recent efforts makes him one that you’ll want to cover with though here. 

 

Favorite Bet Today: $20 Win 1 – Race 9

There’s not many multi-race sequences that I’m in love with on this card, so I’m thinking about a win bet here, assuming the conditions are right. In the featured race today, there is a ton of speed and many horses making their first start of the year. If I can get 5-1 or better on Icy Stare Down (#1) in that race, and closers look like they have a fair shot of getting home in the earlier races, I’m going to take that wager. I do like playing a horse that has proven they can pass other horses when facing other horses that are unproven at doing so. There is so much early speed signed on in that race, a closer should have every chance to get home, if she’s good enough. 

 

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