The Grade 3 Bayakoa Stakes, which is the next local stop on the way to the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Stakes in April, is the headliner on the first Saturday of racing in February at Oaklawn Park. After scoring victories in the Mistletoe and Pippin Stakes, Lovely Ride will be back to try to win her third stakes race of the meet. She’ll face four familiar faces and two new ones in that 1 mile and 1/16 contest, which will be the 9th race of the afternoon. First post is 12:30 (CT) with the featured race scheduled to go off at 4:42 (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!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Exotics Menu|
|2||5||5||9||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|6||6||6,10||3,5||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|7||2||2||1,3||DBL, PK3, PK4|
We’ll get things started with conditioned $30K-$25K claimers going six furlongs. Four of the seven runners met in a race at this condition last month where Mean Jakey (#5) ran too well to lose. He finished second by a nose, and about five lengths behind him was Burninhunkoflove (#6). Both runners have traffic notes in the trouble lines, but I’d argue that the “traffic trouble” that Mean Jakey had to deal with was minimal, where the traffic Burninhunkoflove encountered was far more significant. As a result, I’ll take the value play and use that one on top. I thought that effort, which was his second start off the Joe Sharp claim, was better than it looked on paper. He was in tight early, breaking near the back of the pack, but he moved up nicely in between runners. He floated wide at the top of the stretch, but his hole quickly closed, and he was forced to lose some action and go further outside, while still finishing with some interest. He was very sharp last year at Churchill in the spring and Sharp could have him trending back that way. Mean Jakey is still worth using, especially after being claimed by Diodoro from that spot. He brings him back to the same level and employs Cristian Torres for the rider upgrade. Best of Greeley (#1) is the morning line favorite, coming off a third place finish in stakes company at Will Rogers Downs back in May. He’s changed barns since though and makes his first start for new connections. Doug Anderson doesn’t have great numbers with runners off the layoff, so there’s a chance that he might need this one to shake off some rust. I’ll cover with him on deeper plays.
This $10K maiden claiming race is likely one that I’ll be watching from the sidelines as opposed to being an active wagering participant. Brad Cox sends out Family Tradition (#5) for his first start since his debut back in September of 2021. He ran well in that race in Indiana to be second and has been missing in action since. I don’t love suspect droppers like this, but I really don’t have a strong opinion on anyone else. Cox has won with a horse or two like this at this meet so far. My backup plan if I had to play this one would be Order of Merit (#9). He was claimed for $20K three starts ago, where he ran his best race at Keeneland. His last two against maiden allowance types have been bad. The cutback to six furlongs is a bit odd, as this will be the shortest distance he’s competed at. He still looks more palatable than others though.
Mount Craig (#1) looks like a solid favorite in this maiden special weight race. He’s a four year old son of Arrogate out of a Curlin mare that was a stakes winner at Saratoga when going 1 mile and ⅛. I suspect he;ll handle the two turn transition just fine, and drawing the rail for this assignment certainly doesn’t hurt his prospects. I think he’ll be closer to the pace than he was last time when he got rolling late in the slop in Louisville. Patrolman (#9) in the outside stall will be where I end up backing up. He took a strong step forward in his second career try last month. Atlantic Dancer (#7) has gotten the best of him in their first two starts, but he seems like he has more upside, potentially at longer odds.
Three year old fillies will go one mile in this optional $80K claiming/N2L allowance race. There’s not much speed signed on, so I believe that Midnight Heiress (#8) has the potential to take this group from gate to wire, while clearing from her outside post. She was up front early in the Year’s End Stakes before faltering early that day. He was slowly improving in form at Monmouth before having a breakthrough race at Delaware two back. She was in over her head last out, but this appears to be a more manageable group. Strikingly Spun (#7) has two sharp starts to start her young career. She ran a quality race in her debut on the Breeders’ Cup undercard at Keeneland. She shipped here and handled the mud well to earn her first career score. She’ll face winners for the first time, but she is getting better, and should be another live mount for the Sharp barn on this card. Fabulous Candy (#6) is one to cover on deeper tickets. She’s in for the $80K claiming tag since she was a winner at this level two starts ago. Like the top pick, she also had a strong two turn effort at this distance in the Mid-Atlantic region. When you draw a line through the two stakes races, her form lines are much sharper.
While I don’t think we’ll get the 12-1 morning line price on Once Upon a Dream (#5), I do think there will be some value on this class dropping son of Connect. Cristian Torres picks up the mount for leading trainer, Robertino Diodoro after he had a miserable time against a tough maiden special weight field in his local debut. His two races in Kentucky against high priced maiden claimers, both coming at one turn, weren’t bad and definitely put him in the conversation with this group. He’s been gelded since his last start, perhaps indicating that something was amiss with him in that last start. He fits at this level and could possibly be flying under the radar. Manta Ray (#11) is a Good Samaritan first time starter for Ron Moquett. He’s been working well in the morning for a barn that hit with 16% of their runners that debuted at the maiden claiming level in 2022. Good Samaritan was a graded stakes winner on turf and dirt and the dam’s runners have won most of their races sprinting on dirt. Moon Connection (#10) was a solid second at this level when making his second career start at this level last month. He moved forward off his midpack debut finish at Hawthorne. He’s a definite contender, but I do see this field as a deeper group than he was up against in that last start. Eternally Grateful (#6)was claimed by Steve Asmussen for $20K two weeks ago when he finished second. He looked like a better horse than he was in the fall in Kentucky, so perhaps the $20K claim will prove to be a fruitful one. Asmussen’s son Keith has been riding with more confidence as the meet has gone on, and he gets the assignment today.
Conditioned $10K claimers going 1 mile and 1/16, start the Late Pick-5. If you believe that Incorrigible (#10) can clear the field from his outside post in the run to the first turn, I think he’d be the horse for you here. I don’t see a lot of competition for the early lead, so I’d think that is going to be the mission for Bejarano. He’s clearly a better runner on the dirt as opposed to the synthetic course, so his four Turfway races that muddy up his current form are tosses for me. He was very good in Indiana in the spring, but he was disqualified from purse money for his victory back in May. He was away until December when he resurfaced at Turfway. He showed speed and faded badly with $12,500 claimers. Jonas Gibson claimed him and brought him down South. He’s worked well at Louisiana Downs, which is his home base, since the claim, and although he’s 0-5 at this meet, this barn wins at a high percentage. I’ll use him on the A line, but I’ll look for a better price on top. Steve Asmussen could be in line for a very nice afternoon here. He trains Primer Dimer (#6), who I think has the chance to rebound from a poor effort when going nine furlongs against a much sharper bunch. He has tactical early speed, so I can see him sitting a very comfortable stalking trip just off the early pace in this spot. He ran a decent race to be third at this level when breaking from post 11 two starts back. His last win came with $16K-$14K N2L claimers in September at Del Mar and that is the template for the race I’d like to see him run here. Morning Snow (#3) has a longshot look in this race. He was making his first start since September for Danny Pish last out. He had a rough trip into the first turn, losing action in a similar spot. He faded to 6th that day, but he looked like he needed that race. That was the first time he routed on the dirt. He’s a horse that has had some physical ailments, but he has needed a race or two before we see his best. He’s not impossible at long odds here. Take Charge Gent (#5)would be another runner that I’d cover with in this spot. He made his local debut in the same nine furlong starter allowance race that the top pick is coming out of. He ran very well in an off the turf route at Fort Erie in September, and now he makes his third start off the layoff while also getting class relief. He might need a faster pace than what I’m projecting in this race, but he is one to think about underneath in the verticals and on some deeper horizontal plays.
Seven three year olds are looking for their second career victory in this optional $80K claiming/N2L allowance race at one mile. I think the connections of many of these are relieved that Brad Cox doesn’t have a runner in this spot as horses like Verifying, Victory Formation, Giant Mischief, Blazing Sevens, and Hit Show have all won races that some of these runners are coming out of. Gun Pilot (#2) is the one that seems the most dangerous. He was a clear winner in his debut race at Churchill on the second Starts of Tomorrow Card. Talladega, who was seven lengths behind him that day, came back to run off the board to Shopper’s Revenge, but then easily beat maidens here last week. Gun Pilot ran into a monster when he met Verifying last out. He tried to take it to him early from his rail draw, but he was no match for that one late. I think he comes back and gets the job done here. I’m not sure how far the other two short prices in this race, Protege (#6) and Bourbon Bash (#7) want to go to the front. While I think the two turn mile could certainly be within reach for both of them, they’re drawn outside of the speed in this race and will likely have to concede some ground loss on top of that. As a result, I’ll look to back up with both Gunflash (#1)and Vigorish (#3), both of whom should offer better value. Gunflash is coming out of the Verifying race last out, and he was pinballed around a bit going into the first turn, losing position. He wasn’t going to touch the top two that day, and he wasn’t interested late. However, he should be able to secure better position in the second flight of horses. He’s a half to the multiple stakes winning sprinter, Flash of Mischief. That one has run quality races at two turns as well, finishing second in stakes race at nine furlongs. Vigorish debuted as an easy winner at Remington in November for Steve Asmussen. He’s a half to Pingxiang, who won multiple stakes races in Japan between six and seven furlongs on the main track. That one was sired by Speightstown and this colt was sired by Honor Code. Perhaps that pairing could give this colt a bit more stamina than his half brother.
A dozen four year olds will sprint six furlongs in this $50K N2L claiming contest. Concept (#12) feels like he’s dropping into the right spot while making his second start off the layoff. At two years old, he was an impressive maiden breaking winner of the Kip Deville Stakes at Remington when going this six furlong distance. He showed up here in April last season and was no match for a much more talented N1X allowance field. He was on the sidelines until the end of the year, when he resurfaced at the Fair Grounds in a solid N1X field there. He ran well that day, but faded to 4th. At this point in his career, this $50K claiming spot feels like the right level. I like his outside post for the race he wants to run.The other short price is the California invader, Commander Carl (#8), and he also wants to mix it up early. As a result, this race could be ripe for a closer, and that could be St Andrews (#3). He’s had many chances to get that elusive second victory after winning his debut in New Orleans in December of 2021. Since then, he’s struggled to find a place and a distance where he best fits. He ran well here two starts back, at this distance when facing $30K-$25K N2L claimers. He closed well to get into second, despite being pace compromised. He was claimed that afternoon and drops back for a tag, albeit a higher on than he was claimed for. His starter allowance effort was a disaster from the start against a sharper group. He’s definitely one to include in the vertical exotics, and if he gets the right trip, he could be in line for more today.
Race 9, The Grade 3 Bayakoa Stakes:
I’m going to try Ice Orchid (#3) to turn the tables on Lovely Ride (#7) in the feature today. I thought she ran a strong race to be second to her rival last out when Lovely Ride had the better post. She used her inside position to secure the early lead, with Ice Orchid chasing from second. She hounded Lovely Ride every step of the way, but couldn’t quite get by. There’s some other speed in this race, but Ice Orchid and Ricardo Santana Jr. are drawn inside of them today. I think she holds her spot and causes Lovely Ride to float wide and lose home ground today. I like her pattern of improvement and she’s never finished off the board in eight career starts, putting her consistency on display. If the pace gets too hot, Le Da Vida (#6) could be rolling down the stretch late. She was moving well in the later stages of the Pippin Stakes last month. She was the beaten favorite in her last two races where the pace scenario and the track conditions worked against her. I do see a chance for the pace to be a little more lively than the last two races, which should help her get back on track. Lovely Ride is still in excellent form, soI will cover with her after winning both stakes races to start the meet. She’s been a stubborn foe that proved impossible to get by in those races. She draws an outside post though, which may make it harder for Cristian Torres to run the race he wants to run with her today.
I’m intrigued by Shake Up (#6) in the nightcap, which is a maiden special weight sprint for Arkansas breds. Tom Durant purchased this son of Lord Nelson for $285K ten months ago at the OBS Sale in April. Lord Nelson has a stud fee of $10K and the dam’s other runners to race haven’t been good enough to command that kind of price.There’s not many other Arkansas bred horses selling for six figures at auction either. Clearly, he is a physical specimen that hasn’t put it together on the racetrack yet. However, I found his last start to be encouraging, and he was moving well late, getting into the bottom of the superfecta at 38-1, finishing close behind Classy Socks (#11) and Skyped (#10), both of whom he’ll have to deal with again today. Pearcy Road (#9) is a second time starter that was away slow, but as the race went on, he started to figure some things out. I expect him to break better in this spot and give a better overall showing as a result. Classy Socks is a speed threat in this race, and if frontrunners are having success over the drying out track today, I’d likely upgrade his chances. Blinkers go on this afternoon to keep him more focused as he was drifting out while conceding the lead late in his last start. Great Barrier (#4) is another well bred horse that might be able to show more in his second career start. He showed little against a slaty open maiden field at Keeneland in October. Ortiz gave him a few months off and brings him back in a spot where he’s dropping in class, but racing for just about the amount of money. He’s been gelded since his last try and figures to improve with this group.
Favorite Wager Today; The Late Pick-5 ($48 Ticket, $0.50 Base Wager)
The Late Pick-5 is appealing because there are some prices I like in the spread races. Gun Pilot (#2, R7) feels like a free square to me, and while the value on him won’t be great, I think horses like Primer Dimer (#6, R6) and Shake Up (#6, R10) have legitimate win chances at double digit odds on the morning line.
Meet Statistics: Top Pick 41/194 (21.1%), $316.60 $1.63 ROI