This is one of the bigger days of racing in Arkansas, as two major preps for the Derby and the Oaks highlight this expanded twelve race program. Both the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes and the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes drew large fields, making them both very good betting races. While the Honeybee might not be very deep, there are many logical contenders in that race. The Rebel on the other hand is one of the strongest Derby Prep races to date. In addition, there’s an eleven horse field entered in the Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters, going off as the 7th race of the day. The first post for the expanded card is scheduled for 12:00 CT/1:00 ET.
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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The day starts with a state bred maiden special weight race for fillies and mares, three and up. The morning line favorite is Indian Irish (#4) who is a speed and fade type coming off a poor effort at this level. She’s merely a back up for me as she did run her best race on an off track. I don’t typically love playing horses moving up to maiden special weight from maiden claiming, however, the difference between those conditions are not as pronounced with state breds as they are with open company. As a result, the three runners I’m using on the A line all are coming out of races where they ran with a tag. I’m going try She Be Sheehan (#5) on top. She’s a second time starter coming out of maiden claiming company. She however is dropping in class as the group she saw in the open $50K-$45K maiden claiming race was stronger than this field. Horses sired by Shaman Ghost tend to struggle in their debut, but they typically improve in their second try. Slight improvement could be all she needs to beat this below average field for the condition. Twinkling Irish (#9) is moving up in class from a state bred $20K maiden claiming race, which is where she debuted. She closed a ton to get within a length of the winner last out, while running in the mud. While her barn does not have good numbers with second time starters, an off track clearly won’t hold her back. Finishwhatustarted (#6) changed tactics last time out and led a field of open $15K maiden claimers for the first five furlongs before tiring late. Her speed figures moved up considerably in her third career try. If she can build off that race, she may be tough to catch, and her presence certainly complicates things for the favorite. Uncle Shortys Girl (#3) is one that I’ll use on the B line, making her second start. She finished third, eight lengths behind the winner in her debut and seven lengths behind next out winner, Ms Carroll County. She ran ok, despite a bit of trouble. Since she’s coming out of a maiden allowance, and the other fillies are coming from maiden claiming races, I think the public might lean on her more, thus reducing the value. I think the others have just as good of a shot at winning this and the price will likely be better. If her odds float up, I could consider playing her more prominently.
The first Pick-4 of the afternoon starts with a $50K starter allowance race for horses that also are eligible for the N1X allowance condition. A field of ten are entered here, and I think Icarus (#6) has a shot for redemption in his second start off the layoff. He was 5th beaten five at this level last out when making his first start in four months. He drew the outside post and was hung out five wide going into the first turn. He doesn’t need the lead, but there is less early speed signed on for this contest, which should ensure better position going into the first turn. Mahaamel, who finished second in a dead heat that afternoon, came back to win a race yesterday. Greatheart (#4) was the horse that dead-heated with Mahaamel and he’s back at this level for his second start off the Jerry Hollnendorfer claim. He got through on the rail that day, but labored a bit as Jedrek, the race winner, had all of the momentum. His form gets muddied up a bit with some synthetic and turf races in there, but his dirt efforts are generally solid, and he likes this course. On deeper tickets, Driven One (#2) could be a gate to wire threat in this race that seems to be lacking some early speed. He’s made three starts at this meet, with two of them being strong efforts. His effort two back was not his best, but he was taking way off an aggressive pace battle that day, trying to score from 15 lengths behind the dueling leaders. He’s more effective on the front end and I think the $16K starter allowance field he faced last out was tougher than this group, despite it looking like a rise in class on paper. Fort Peck, who won the 1 mile and 3/16 race is a darn good horse and would likely be a heavy favorite if he were eligible for this condition (which he’s not). Ingrid Mason and Travis Wales teamed up to have a winner yesterday.
If I can get the 8-1 morning line odds on Perfect Flight (#2), I’ll be running to the windows, however, that’s probably not a realistic thought when it comes time to wager on this optional $62,500 claiming/conditioned allowance race. He’s coming off a pair of dull efforts in Southern California stakes races, losing badly to Taiba in the Malibu and then finishing near the back of the pack in the San Pasqual last month. He ships to Arkansas where he’ll find class relief and a field of older horses, many of whom don’t appear to be as effective as they once were. Irad Ortiz is scheduled to ride this four year old who still has some upside. To me, I think he’s playable at 3-1 or better and I like his chances of getting the job done with this group. On deeper tickets, Trident Hit (#3) is a six year old who likes running here. He came up empty in the final furlong when making his first start in 11 months last month. That was his first off the board effort in six career starts on this oval. I don’t know how much gas is left in the tank for him, but I do expect that we’ll see a more fit horse on the track today. Frosted Grace (#1) is the morning line favorite after beating high priced time restricted claimers here last month. He’s a consistent runner, finishing first or second in more than half of his 37 career races. Cristian Torres gets the call today for Diodoro.
I think the shorter prices are going to be tough to deal with in this maiden special weight for three year olds going 1 mile and 1/16. Seeking Unity (#6) is a heavy favorite on the morning line after a huge effort at the Fair Grounds three weeks ago. Ken McPeek has five winners at this meet, although four of them all came on the same card. Irad Ortiz is going to take the mount after this one posted a serious Beyer Speed Figure in that race, all of which should lead to this horse going into the starting gate at odds of even money or less. He was purchased for $280K, which is 37 times more than the stud fee for Unified, which is always a stat that I like to see. I think this horse is a runner and he’ll be used on my multi-race wagers, but I’ll try Tahoe Run (#1) on top to beat him. McLean Robertson brought him here after three sprint races at Hawthorne to start his career. He’s looked very good running twice at this level. He faced a very salty field two back when Shopper’s Revenge dominated a field in his second career start. He was overlooked at 21-1 last time out, running a game second behind Funny Uncle. He’s drawn well along the rail, and he should be able to secure a good position. I like his progression of races at two turns and I think he can get the job done today.
The Early Pick-5 will end and the Mid-Card Pick-5 will begin with this N1X allowance race for four year olds and up, sprinting six furlongs. There is a ton of early speed signed on in this race, so I’m thinking Mumayaz (#2) is the one best suited to pick up the pieces late. He’s 0-6 on this course, but five of those races came last year when he wasn’t as good as he is now. He was a winner on the dirt at Churchill two back with $50K starter allowance company. He was a decent 4th at this level last out when he found himself in a tricky spot before launching his bid. James Graham is going to pick up the mount in his first day of racing locally this season, and this may be his most likely winner on the program. Go West (#10) has been very sharp this season, since turning back to sprints at Sam Houston . He cleared the N3L condition with a huge effort three weeks ago at Sam Houston, but remains eligible for this race due to the purse structure there. He’s won his last two starts by open lengths, and he looks to continue that roll here. Knocker Down (#8) was inexplicably bad last time out, but Brad Cox shows some confidence in him by keeping him at this level. He was second two back behind Golden Hornet, who was a beast that afternoon and runs later on in the program. If rail speed looks good on the drying out track, Skelly (#5) would probably be worth upgrading. He’s the quickest of the horses inside of him and should be able to secure that rail position. He’ll be under fire the whole way though, so some caution will need to be exercised.
This maiden special weight for three year old fillies feels like a good spot to play against Malibu Toast (#9). She’ll be well backed as she’s trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Irad Ortiz. However, as a result, the value that I’d want from her after a dull effort last time out, will likely be canceled. If her odds float up, than maybe I’d consider her, but I prefer others that seem just as good, if not better. Mary’s Boon (#1) is a second time starter that will likely keep the favorite honest on the front end. Eduardo Gallardo should be actively trying to secure the rail position with this filly, assuming that one of the firsters doesn’t catch a flyer from the gate. This barn does well with second time starters and she’s bred to be a decent sprinter. Flyin Bessie (#2) has faced some tough customers in her last two starts, narrowly losing the Klassy Bridgette two back and losing to Effortlesslyelegant, who I see as a live runner in the Honeybee later on today, last time out. The latter went on to win an allowance race and a stakes race in her next two starts. She looks like she wants to stalk and pounce, which could be the right kind of trip with this group, if some of the firsters are forwardly placed. I liked both Afternoon Tea (#6) and Beautiful Bolt (#8), both of whom make their first career start in this spot. I’ll give preference to Afternoon Tea, as Flavien Prat will be taking the mount for Rodolphe Brisset. They teamed up to win a race like this with Talladega last month. This filly has been working well and the dam has produced some useful runners that are good when sprinting. Chris Hartman sends out Beautiful Bolt for the first time after a series of solid works, She’s by Bolt d’Oro and she’s the first foal from Beautiful Becca. The tax might be a little higher on Hartman right now as he’s been so good at this meet. I’ll cover with one and might play her a little more if her odds float up.
Race 7, The $150K Carousel Stakes:
The first of three stakes races this afternoon is a six furlong sprint for older fillies and mares. I’m interested in Yuugiri (#5) in this spot. She looked very promising last year when winning her debut by open lengths when sprinting. She immediately was put on the Oaks Trail and got herself there with a win in the Fantasy Stakes last season. The Oaks was an absolute disaster where she folded up after setting the early fractions. She was on the sidelines until she returned in a six furlong sprint here at the end of December where she was clear winner while setting a Beyer top. Brisset gave her a little time, but keeps her in sprints, which may be what she’s going to do best. She’s never been challenged in two starts at this distance, and while Pretty Birdie (#7) is going to be a tough customer, I think she’s going to be tough to beat. Pretty Birdie is going to force the pace from the break. She’s an excellent gate horse that ran very well in her four year old debut. She was never tested when winning the Poinsettia here in her last start back in December. She will likely have to navigate a wet track for the first time in her career though. Hazy Command (#1) could benefit if the two favorites decide to duke it out on the front end. She’s won her last two races here, including an impressive score two back in the mud when clearing the N1X condition. She looks like a horse that is coming into her own in her four year old season, but this is a decent step up the class ladder.
The third and final Pick-5 of the afternoon gets under way with an optional $50K claiming/N2X allowance race that oversubscribed and was split into two divisions. The second division is the next race. I see Albizu (#8) as the one to beat in this heat. He missed the break at this level last month and could do better than 4th. The top two finishers that day came back to win their subsequent starts, both in allowance company. His two previous starts on a muddy course were much sharper, and assuming that’s what he’ll be working with again today, I see him storming home late. Flap Jack (#1) climbs the class ladder after two emphatic wins at this meet against less competition. He’s been a different horse since switching tactics to racing on the lead. He won his first start after the Chris Hartman claim and now he pushes him to face a tougher bunch. On deeper tickets, Improbable Journey (#5) is the longshot that feels best suited to pull off an upset with this group. He was very impressive three back when clearing the N1X condition here in the slop. He struggled in his last two with similar, but getting back on a wet track might be enough to move him forward at this level.
The second division of this optional $50K/N2X allowance sprint is tricky because the three shorter priced horses are coming off monster efforts and all could be in line to bounce off those efforts. I’ll try Chasing Time (#3) to step up in this race. He made his seasonal debut last month in a tough spot. He missed the break and ended up finishing toward the back of the pack. Joel Rosario rides him back for the first time since a seven length win on this course last January. I liked his closing third place finish at this distance in the Chick Lang Stakes back in May and I think we’ll see a better effort from him in this spot. Life is Hard (#9) feels like the shorter priced runner with the best chance of running back to his last race. He loves the local oval and only went off form when shipping to Churchill last year. He’s two photo finishes away from being a perfect 4-4 here. I think he’s going to be more effective as a sprinter moving forward. Whelen Springs (#6) may be worth a flyer if you’re able to get him around his 20-1 morning line figure. Irad Ortiz taking the mount for John Ortiz may drive down the price on the winner of the 2022 Bachelor Stakes here last season. He ran two huge races last year and everything else has been just meh. If his odds do drop, he won’t be for me, but as longshots go, we know he’s capable of running the big race. Wayakin (#1) is one that I’ll use as a saver here. I think he’s more effective in longer one-turn races, however, he’s another one that is capable of stepping up from time to time. He’s had some trouble lines in his last few starts, so perhaps getting a clean trip will help him move forward.
Race 10, The $300K G3 Honeybee Stakes:
This race produced the winner of the 2022 Kentucky Oaks, Secret Oath. This year, there’s no standout, but there are 12 three year old fillies looking to establish themselves as serious contenders for the Oaks on the first Friday in May. The top five finishers of the Martha Washington Stakes here last month are back to face seven new faces. Of that quintet, the winner, Wet Paint (#7) was clearly the best. She bided her time at the back of the pack, waiting behind a moderate pace. She came with a powerful move to win going away by two widening lengths. She’ll likely need to work out a good closing trip, but I do think there are some definite speed horses here that will force a lively pace. I think the Asmussen runner, Grand Love (#3), who is the morning line favorite, typically wants the lead, and I think she’ll be extra keen in her first start of the year. Others will likely want to go with her, which should suit Wet Paint just fine. A wet course should only help her cause. Effortlesslyelegant (#1) was a dominant maiden winner at six furlongs in her local debut last month. She’s bred to handle two turns and should have no problem stretching out in her third career start. Norm Casse has won with half of his starters at this meet, and I think this Liam’s Map filly is well-meant. She closed well in her debut to get up for 4th, but she led from start to finish last month. She’ll have to ration her speed to be successful here because there are some others that want to be forwardly placed. She’s sired by Liam’s Map out of an unraced Uncle Mo mare. Despite being the first foal to run from the dam County Clare, she sold for $475K at the Keeneland September Sale in 2021. If we’re able to get 20-1 or better on her, I’ll definitely take a shot because I think she has a ton of upside. Defining Purpose (#8) was the winner of the Years End Stakes on New Year’s Eve. She was a little flat in her last start, when she was a little closer to the front end than she was in the prior start. She’s been a little up and down, but I think she can sit a winning trip in this race. On deeper tickets, Towhead (#2) is worth including after a career top effort in an impressive win in allowance company last out. She’ll be making her 10th career start today, which is more than any of her other rivals. She has wins on turf and dirt and she is one of two horses in here that have the top Beyer Speed Figure of 82 in their history. I do worry if the addition of Lasix helped that big jump last out. She won’t be racing with it in this spot.
Race 11: The $1 Million G2 Rebel Stakes:
I covered this race much more in depth on the ITM Blog, which was posted yesterday. I posted the link below. I do think with the likely wet conditions, Giant Mischief (#5) is going to be the one to beat in this race. Despite being a little green, I thought his race in the Remington Springboard Mile was strong. His dam relished an off track, winning three stakes races in the slop. Red Route One (#3) is the best of the closers in this spot. He came from last place to secure second in the Southwest in the slop last month when facing a superior horse in Arabian Knight. I think he’s progressing well enough to be there with this group, especially if there’s a strong early tempo. Verifying (#1) is a half to Midnight Bisou, who is looking for his first stakes score. That mare was strong at three, but she was even better at four. He ran huge last out when having a sweet trip in an allowance field. If he doesn’t bounce, he’ll be tough. Reincarnate (#6) makes the trip from California for Tim Yakteen. He was recently switched from the Baffert barn in order to maintain eligibility for the Derby. He’s a big horse that is going to likely have to handle some type of adversity for the first time today.
State bred maiden special weight runners close out the Rebel card. I like Midnight Taxes (#7) quite a bit in this spot for Chris Hartman. He had to deal with Bob Baffert runners Newgate and National Treasure in his maiden special weight races on the dirt at Del Mar this summer. Jeff Mullins moved him to the turf, where he finished 4th both times. Since his last start, he’s been gelded and now runs for Hartman, who has been lights out all meet long. He gets back to the dirt and gets significant class relief while facing fellow Arky breds, yet he’s racing for a higher purse. I think this formula adds up to a win in the nightcap. Pearcy Road (#14) is somewhat interesting if he is able to draw into the body of this field. He’s missed the break in both career starts, but ran okay each timer. Prather adds blinkers today, and perhaps having no one on the other side of him will help him advance today. Time Andbeyond (#10)is the morning line favorite, and he’d be where I’d land as a saver, especially if Pearcy Road does not draw in. He ran well in his local debut in the mud back in December. He lost to eventual winner of the Jerome Stakes, Lugan Knight at Keeneland in his debut. I don’t love that he missed two months of training though, and only one work in that span is a little concerning, especially at short odds.
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