Oaklawn is back with a nine race Sunday program to close out the week of racing in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The Azeri Stakes looked like a great race on paper, and it did not disappoint. Ce Ce was able to hold off a late charging Pauline’s Pearl and a resurgent Shedaresthedevil to get the victory. All three would be worthy candidates for a rematch in the Apple Blossom next month. The forecast is for a sunny afternoon today with temperatures nearing 60 degrees. Keep in mind that starting this Thursday, Oaklawn will be racing four days a week for the next four weeks, making up for some lost cards due to weather earlier in the meet.
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||9||9,12,14||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||6||5,6||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|6||3||3,4,5||9||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The first race of the day is a $35K-$30K claiming race for horses that have not won two races in the last five months. There’s a few that have faltered for their new connections since being claimed, and I’ll be avoiding them. Town Champ (#6) was claimed last out when he was nailed on the wire with open $16K claimers here. He’s been 1st or 2nd eight times in ten career starts on this oval, so the mild rise in class doesn’t phase me. Assuming he breaks well, he should be on the lead from his outside draw. There shouldn’t be a ton of competition for the early lead, so he certainly could be the one to take them all the way. Cave Run (#4) is the other one I’ll be using here. He’s been a consistent runner throughout his career winning 9 of 34 career starts and hitting the board 11 more times. He was claimed for $20K in December, a race which he won. He’s faced some solid fields in his last three races, while still running hard. This race is class relief for him, as both the runner up and third place finisher in his last race came back to beat nice fields in their next starts.
I’ll try to create a little value in this $10K state bred maiden claiming race. Warning Label (#9) has been running competitive speed figures with open $10K maiden claimers in his last three starts. This is a drop in class for him, although it might not look like one on paper. He’s been better as a four year old than he was when he was racing here at three. I think he could upset this group. Backgate Red (#12) gets an outside draw in this overflow field. He makes his 4th career start, while dropping in class each time. He’s been near the inside in his last two, so this post might work to his advantage. Mammoth Spring (#14) will need some defections to be able to compete for the second time in his career. He ran a solid 4th with similar in his debut when going off at 65-1. I don’t think he’ll be anywhere near that number if he does get to go in here, but he probably has the most upside of any in this field.
Four of the seven entered in this maiden special were beaten by We The People last out, who was a dominating winner that day, and a dominating winner in allowance company yesterday. He may have a date in the Arkansas Derby in three weeks. Meanwhile, Chileno (#6) who was third that day, returns to face the runner up, Deputy Connect (#2) today. While I don’t love his 0-6 record, Chileno should have the tactical advantage, with little early speed signed on in this spot. He was second when he was last on the front in the early stages, back in November at Churchill. I expect Rosario to be the aggressor in this race. Deputy Connect improved in his last start, after closing a lot of ground in his debut. He’s struggled to get away cleanly in his first two tries. The pace isn’t likely to be very strong, so a good start could have him in a better ealy position today. These are the two that are most likely to decide this one.
There’s another short field here and it’s another race that looks like it could be on the chalky side. Brad Cox’s biggest threat in this race is Brad Cox, as he trains the two prime contenders in this optional claiming/allowance race for three year old fillies. Warrior’s Battle (#1) has three starts and three wins at this current meet, winning each race by open lengths. I thought she could have been vulnerable in her last start when stretching out to two turns for the first time. However, she was even more dominant in that optional claiming/starter allowance race that afternoon. She moves to an allowance level where she could continue to improve, while trying to clear the N1X condition. Interstatedaydream (#2) makes her first start since finishing second to Wicked Halo in the Adirondack Stakes this past summer at Saratoga. She won her debut at Belmont when beating an average group that day. She returns in a two turn race, and while she’s bred to get that kind of distance, I think she might be better next time out.
We have some more three year old fillies here, this one for $30K maiden claimers. I’m interested in seeing how this race will be bet. Only Show in Town (#6) is listed at 10-1 on the morning line, while running for the potent combination of Asmussen and Rosario. While I think that price is fair, I doubt we’ll get that number. She’s been beaten by double digit lengths in all three career starts. She comes back to the main track after showing no interest on the Tapeta surface at Turfway in her last two. Her lone dirt start with maiden special weight types at Churchill was her best race in terms of speed figures. At 6-1 or better, I’m comfortable with her as the top pick, but lower than that, I’ll likely lean toward the favorite. I really liked Burrow Down (#5) in her last start last month, and she led every step of the way except for the last one that day. When you take away her race on a wet track, on synthetic, and on turf, she has been progressing nicely. That also makes her seven losing starts looks a little more forgivable. This feels like the right level for her.
The Late Pick-4 starts with a spreadworthy $12,500 claiming race for horses that have not won a race in the last 6th months. Firery Tale (#3) drops back to a similar level where he ramn a big race three stars ago. He’s faced tough fields in his last two races. He was flattered by Wobberjod, when he narrowly lost in allowance company on Friday after a super game effort. He could also be flattered by Town Champ, who is my top pick in the first race on the card, if he runs well roday. Look for a better effort from him today. Secret Oath (#4) may have bounced a bit after running a big race two back, narrowly beating the starter allowance professional, Beverly Park. He ran a poor race in his next start, but that was on a miserable weather day when going a mile in allowance company. He’s been away since, and returns while entered with a tag. Plane Talk (#5), on the other hand, is entered with the waiver. He’s making his first start since the summer, where he was very competitive at Canterbury. He hasn’t been nearly as effective when racing here, but he certainly could be a factor at this level. I’ll cover with the morning line favorite, Verrazano First (#9). After winning in bunches early on in his career, he’s been winless in his last seven starts. He was claimed for $16K two back, and he came up a little short with a better field of $20K claimers. When he was rolling, he was more engaged in the early parts of the race. He hasn’t been as speedy in his last few, which is a bit of a concern for me here, especially at short odds.
I’m going to want some coverage in this state bred optional claiming/allowance race for fillies and mares, three year olds and up. I ended up with Tapit Right (#1) on top, seeing as how she’s drawn well and is one of the more consistent runners in this group. She’s been in the thick of it in all four races during this meet so far. She stretches out to two turns for the first time today, which is definitely a question mark, but many in here will have to answer the same question, while likely conceding some ground to her. From a pedigree standpoint, she is better off than many others. Seriously Sassy (#4) comes back after finishing 6th in her first start of the year at this level when sprinting last month. She is your likely pacesetter here, and she’s one of only two with a win at this distance. She’s certainly capable of taking them all the way. Hot Springs Bling (#5) outran her long odds last month, finishing third at 58-1. She makes her third start off the layoff and could have another small forward move when going two turns. She was a winner going two turns at six furlongs at Fair Meadows Tulsa to break her maiden there this past summer. On deeper tickets, C.C. Harbor (#9) is the one that is getting the most class relief in here. She moves to state bred company for the first time in two starts. Her only win came in maiden allowance company on the grass at Louisiana Downs in September. She returned here in January and faced a much tougher field of optional claiming/allowance runners in open company. Blinkers go on for her third start, and while I don’t love the gaps between races, she won’t have to take a huge step forward to be competitive with these.
Seven older colts go 1 Mile and 1/16 in the featured allowance race this afternoon. Last year’s winner of the Grade 3 Longacres Mile, Background (#7) is back to make his second start of the year for Michael Puhich. He returned to the races in a 5 and ½ sprint race when facing Hollis, who was a much the best winner last month. He is at his best going longer though. He was able to come from off the pace to win Emerald Downs’ signature race, but he can also be on or near the lead. I think he can sit the right trip and score a mild upset here. Market Analysis (#4) adds blinkers after breaking a bit slow when going nine furlongs in a similar race last month. He still was able to make the front and was the leader until Trident Hit wore him down in the final fifty yards. He’s hit the board in his last five tries, winning two of them, which is notable in this field, as three of the major players in here haven’t won a race since 2020. On deeper tickets, Beaver Hat (#6) is likely to be one of the longer prices, but he seems to be rounding into some better form. He was a distant second by the more talented Warrior’s Charge in his last start. However, he finished in front of Trident Hit who beat the favorite at this level last out. He’s capable of firing a big race on his best day, and while he might be better suited to use underneath, I’ll still cover with him on some deeper plays.
It’s hard to knock Slim Man (#2) in the nightcap, making his third career start in maiden special weight company. He was second in his first two tries, putting up a big time Beyer figure when finishing behind the very promising colt, Favorite Outlaw, in his last start. He’s been in the second flight of horses in his first two starts, but they ran sub 22 opening quarters both times. I think Geroux will have him a bit closer and poised to pounce on the frontrunners when they move off the turn. Ghaaleb’s Big Win (#12) is an Illinois bred that ran a solid race with open company in his debut here last month. Scott Becker adds blinkers, which is a strong angle for his horses. He’s drawn well, landing outside of the others, and could definitely be eligible to take a step forward in his second career try. On deeper plays, I’ll look to Asmussen’s first time starter, Maxienfinn (#6). This son of Speightstown has been working well at Louisiana Downs, firing a 47 flat bullet last week. Rosario is on Mean Jakey (#5) who is making his first start since October for Asmussen, but I still think this firster has some potential.
Favorite Bet Today: Late Pick-4 ($48 Ticket, $0.50 Base Wager)
Even if the nightcap chalks out with Slim Man (#2, R10), I do think this sequence could pay well. I think the first two legs are wide open, and some of the shorter prices in the third leg (R8), haven’t won in a long time, but still figure to take money. I’ll play against them and throw in Ghaaleb’s Big Won (#12, R10) in the last leg, as a horse that may be overlooked as most of the money will come in on the favorite.
Race 6: 3,4,5,9
Race 7: 1,4,5,9
Race 8: 4,6,7
Race 9: 2,12