The Saturday card at Oaklawn is highlighted by an excellent renewal of the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 Mile and 1/16. Last year’s winner and 2020 Kentucky Oaks winner, Shedaresthedevil, makes her first start of the year against Breeders’ Cup Filly and Sprint Winner and 2020 Apple Blossom winner, Ce Ce. There are two other graded stakes winners, Pauline’s Pearl and Lady Mystify in that nine horse field, which is one of the best races in the country this afternoon. Many of these fillies and mares are looking to prove they belong in the $1,000,000 Grade 1 Apple Blossom here next month. Snow was rolling through during the back half of the Friday card, but the sun is out today, and the track should be drying out as well.
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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|6||7||2,7||4||DBL, PK3, PK5|
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This is not a very good group of $30K maiden claimers to start the afternoon. There are seven runners with experience and one first time starter that make up this eight horse field. The seven experienced runners have a combined total of 23 career starts. In 17 of those races, these runners have been beaten by double-digit lengths. The morning line favorite, Prather (#5) was eased in the slop in his debut, and then finishing 6th, beaten 13 lengths in his next start at the Fair Grounds. Both of those races were in maiden special weight company and he drops after being gelded. They paid $475K for this son of Into Mischief in October of 2020, so the hopes of getting any kind of return on that investment are slim to none. He’ll likely be the post time favorite starting for Asmussen and getting Rosario aboard, but his two races don’t inspire much confidence. I’ll cover with him on some deeper plays, but I think there’s value in trying to beat this one. Mesmerized (#7) is the one for me here, returning to a sprint after struggling in the slop with $50K maiden claimers last out. That was a much tougher group and he struggled after breaking from post 10 that afternoon. He fits at this level and should have a forward move for his third career try. I think that Lookinforexcitmen (#3) might have the ability to rebound after a dull race last out, when going two turns at this level. I’m not sure that six furlongs will be his best distance, but I think that after four straight two turn races, he might be finishing better than many of these in the final stages of this contest.
Time restricted $6,250 claimers go six furlongs in the back end of the early daily double. It’s pretty hard to get excited about anyone in this ten horse field, as most are far from their best form. I think Pull My Chain (#8) is a little interesting here. A mid-60’s Beyer figure is good for him and every time in his career where he ran one of his better figures, he had a figure regression in his next start. That is a concern, as he is coming off a race where he earned a 62 Beyer figure. However, when you go back thorugh his historical running lines, every time he ran one of his better Beyers, he faced significantly tougher competition in all but one of his next starts. The one time he made his next start at the same level of competition ($10K starter allowance level), he caught a muddy track. All of those factors could explain some of the regression. Today, he drops in class after putting up that figure with open $8K claimers last week. If he can run back to that effort, he should be close with this group, and he has the feeling of a horse that might go off at odds higher than his 12-1 morning line. I think he’s worth a shot here. Praetorian (#5) has more consistent running lines than most in this field and is coming off a solid second place finish with open $6,250 claimers. The class relief certainly is welcome for this seven year old gelding. Kevin Witte (#2) was last seen in October at Delaware when he narrowly missed in an optional $6,250 claiming.$5K starter allowance race. He’s been away since, and Moysey doesn’t have great numbers with horses coming off the layoff. However, he was fairly solid for most of 2021 and he makes sense with this field as well. Both Mine My Time (#6) and Impressive Student (#10) are shorter priced horses in here that certainly have a shot, but I’m not sure the value will be there for either. Mine My TIme (#6) is a claim and drop runner for Timothy Martin. The drop is minimal and with a win, it would certainly still be a profitable investment for his connections. He was bad last out with $10K time restricted claimers, so this drop is definite class relief. He has rebounded in the past when running poorly. Impressive Student hasn’t been seen on the racetrack in over nine months. He comes in for Asmussen with only three recorded workouts, which isn’t ideal in my eyes. Rosario taking the mount in a race like this is a positive sign though. I was a little surprised to see him return here, as opposed to facing Louisiana bred claimers at the Fair Grounds. However, the purse structure for a race like this is better and the competition is about the same.
$10K N3L claimers travel six furlongs in another race where there are plenty of question marks. There are three recent claims taking significant drops in class and the longshots in here offer little to get excited about. I’m going to try to get out of this race using only two, taking Marvelous Thunder (#3) on top. My thinking is that he’s really the only horse with any kind of sprinter speed in this race. Granted, he’s only made one start since August of 2020, so I’m having to take a little bit of a leap of faith in hoping that he can get close to his form from his four year old season. His return to the races wasn’t awful, and I think that if Kelsi Harr is aggressive early, he can wire this group. All West (#7) is a big class dropper, but at this point in his career, it’s probably a valid decision. He’s typically been a two turn runner, sprinting only two times in his 18 race career. Moquett does have solid numbers with horses turning back in distance, so I can accept that move here. I’m not sure I love the blinkers coming off on the cutback, but this by far the softest field he’s ever seen.
This allowance race for three year olds could very well be an Arkansas Derby audition for We the People (#4). He won on debut when going a mile against a decent maiden special weight field here last month. He drew off powerfully to win by 5 and ¾ widening lengths under the wire. He’s a son of Constitution out of Tiznow mare, so the stamina should be there. He looks like he could be a talented runner for Rodolphe Brisset and WinStar Farms. He feels like a short priced single here, but the one I’d cover with on a few deeper plays would be Elusive Target (#5). He was second last out, ten lengths behind the impressive stretch out sprinter, Zozos, a colt who is likely tabbed for a Derby prep race in the near future. That was a much better effort than his lackadaisical effort to start his three year old campaign back in January. I think he’s on the right path now, but he might be running into another buzzsaw today.
The early Pick-5 sequence concludes with another restricted claiming race, this one for $12,500 N2L runners at six furlongs. Not all $10K N2L claiming races are created equal and the race at that level on 1/22 was much stronger than the race at that level on 2/18. As a result, I’m cautiously making Holding Pattern (#10) my top pick. His only career win was on this track back in December. He ran into Gar Hole two starts back, and that one won a state bred stakes race last week. He was 5th in the better N2L claiming race in his last start and was claimed by Diodoro. I really don’t like that he has had problems at the break in most of his career races, and as a result, I’m not loving that Diodoro is giving the opportunity to the apprentice, Erick Medellin, who is still in search of his first win on this oval. I say this not as a knock on the young rider, but with a horse that has a documented history of gate problems, he might be better suited to having a crafty journeyman rider who might be more adept of getting him out of trouble. However, I do think this one has enough ability to overcome a slowish start with this group. Espionage (#3) is the second choice on the morning line for Chris Hartman, making his first start since July. He’s only run four times, and if he can find his form from his second and third career start, he’ll win this race easily. He was a voided claim for $30K in his last start at Ellis and hasn’t been seen since. I’m not loving the fact that he resurfaces for $12,500 here, but I’m not seeing a very high ceiling for most of these.
Three year old fillies, entered for a $40K-$35K tag, are looking for their first career win in the kickoff leg for the Late Pick-5. I’m going to use a pair of second time starters on the A line, making Late Nite Music (#7) for Asmussen and Rosario my top pick. She showed some early zip before fading late in a maiden special weight race at Sam Houston in her debut last month. She cuts back to six furlongs from six and a half and drops in class. There’s not a ton of talent on paper in this field and I think she’ll be more fit after gaining racing experience. She seems like a gate to wire threat here. I liked the debut effort from Tropinka (#2) when facing $30K maiden claimers last month. She was just off the early pace, but ran up on heels while in tight and was forced to steady. I liked that she didn’t retreat after finding trouble, as she continued to run on late. Ain’t She a Pistol (#9) continued to bother her in the stretch as that one was tiring. She crossed the wire 4th, but was promoted to third via disqualification. I think she could have a forward move in this race, despite the mild boost in class. The morning line favorite is Sweet Beauty (#4) for Brad Cox and Ricardo Santana. You don’t see too many Cox horses that have gone off at double digit odds in all three of her career starts, but she did. She ran like a longshot in all three of those races as well. She drops, which is probably necessary, and cuts back to a sprint, which is probably better. I presume she’ll be too short of a price for me to be comfortable playing in the vertical wagers, but she’s definitely worth covering in the multi-race bets.
This is the fourth and final restricted claiming race on the Saturday card, as $20K N2L claimers sprint six furlongs here. I liked the effort from Violent Gigi (#5) last out against a better field at this level. He was midpack early and advanced nicely along the rail. He had some traffic trouble before he was able to get out. He finished well against a nice class dropper for Asmussen and Rosario that day. He ran some nice races here last year and some nice races at Monmouth this summer. I think he makes a lot of sense in this spot. Road Bible (#2) may offer some value after faltering at this level in the same race that the top choice is coming out of. He was sent off at 3-1 that day though and was claimed by Karl Broberg off that race. I think he can compete for the early lead from his inside draw and finish better than some of the other frontrunners here. Appraisal (#4) is the morning line favorite for D. Wayne Lukas, and he’s probably the most consistent runner in the field. He doesn’t have a ton of upside though. I’ll save him for the deeper tickets.
This eight horse optional claiming/allowance sprint is an evenly matched contest. The morning line favorite, Saffa’s Day (#3) is coming off two straight wins, but he is moving up in class. He’s only finished off the board three times, and all three of those races were in stakes company. Two of those losses came to Essential Quality and Highly Motivated, so he has faced top notch horses in the past. He loves running here, where his only off the board finish came in the Southwest Stakes behind the eventual Belmont and Travers winner. 5-2 feels like too short of a number for me though. I do think that Happymac (#5) will be the post time favorite, so Saffa’s Day is more palpable for me at 4-1 or better. My top pick will be Shotski (#6) cutting back to a sprint for Chris Hartman. There should be a solid pace for him to close into. He sniffed the Derby Trail in 2020 before going on the shelf after a 4th place finish in the Fountain of Youth. Since then, he’s been up and down, but I think he could figure prominently in this spot, while getting the trip. Happymac might have the highest ceiling in the race, assuming he can return to his form from last spring. He struggled against a sharp field in his first start since a failed turf experiment at Saratoga. He was a little flat in his return, and perhaps not being on the lead contributed to that lackluster effort. I expect Rosario to be more aggressive with him here. On deeper tickets, One Fast Cat (#7) has run a few big races from time to time, including a strong win in the slop against Macron on New Years’ Day. His last two have been disappointing, but he isn’t the worst price play in a field where there are many chances.
Race 9: The G2 Azeri Stakes:
There’s a decent amount of speed signed on this excellent renewal of the Grade 2 Azeri Stakes. Last year’s winner, Shedaresthedevil (#7) is back after defeating Letruska in this race last March. She starts her five year old campaign in the same race, only this time, she finds a bigger field where there’s definitely other pace players. She was a four time graded stakes winner in 2021, capturing Grade 1 trophies in the Clement Hirsch and the La Troinenne. She was overmatched in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff when they were flying on the front end. She was well campaigned last year, finding spots where she had small fields and definite advantages. I’m not sure this race stacks up as well for her though. I’ll cover with her here, but I’m looking for the four year old filly, Pauline’s Pearl (#2) to sit the perfect trip and pull the mild upset. Last year’s Fantasy winner tried taking on the big guns in the Kentucky Oaks, but wasn’t up to the task at that point in her career. She returned in some lower key three year old races and started to regain her confidence when she traveled to New Mexico and beat Lady Mystify (#6) on the square in the Zia Park Oaks back in November. She came back in the Houston Ladies Classic and dominated that field when facing older horses for the first time. She has the ability to sit off a contested pace and make her move late. Ce Ce (#5) makes her second start of her six year old campaign after finishing second in the Santa Monica last month at Santa Anita. She was one of the more memorable winners of the Apple Blossom in 2020 when she overcame Post 14 to gamely defeat Ollie’s Candy. Since then, she’s had most of her success in one turn races, most notably defeating Gamine in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Del Mar last fall. She ran well in her seasonal debut, but Merenith was just ultra-sharp that day. She might be in her best career form, so starting here makes sense. There’s a million dollar prize in the Apple Blossom next month, but if she doesn’t have the same punch at two turns anymore, she can fall back on Grade 1 races like the Madison and the Derby City Distaff in the spring. I think these are the two that will be deciding this excellent feature.
The nightcap is a state bred $20K maiden claiming race that drew an overflow field of 13. Lucks Big Boy (#3) went on the attack at this level two starts back, leading until the last few yards when second time starter, Smokin Boots, caught him late. There isn’t much speed here, and those two finished almost a pole in front of the third place finisher, Jacks Spring Break (#1). Toss the last where he was absolutely empty in a sprint. If the bug boy, Medellin, can harness his speed a bit, he should be in good shape here. Botany (#2) stretches out after a pair of sprints. He really hasn’t been close in his first two races, but he’s dropping in class. He’s certainly bred to handle two turns and he could be the one closing well late to catch the likely pacesetter.
Favorite Bet Today: Late Daily Double Race 9 ($10 Base Wager, $40 Ticket)
With a potentially contested pace, I’ll try to beat Shedaresthedevil (#7, R9) in the Azeri, taking both Pauline’s Pearl (#2) and Ce Ce (#5). I’ll pair them with Lucks Big Boy (#3, R10), who probably won’t go off near his 15-1 morning line figure, but still figures in a race where he could be the lone speed. He almost took a field like this gate to wire two starts back, and he might be able to do the same today. Botany (#2, R10) is the most likely runner to be gaining on him late.
Race 9: 2,5
Race 10: 2,3