Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I’m hoping that the luck of the Irish is with you for this nine race program at Oaklawn, which kicks off the first of four straight Thursday cards in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The featured allowance race is a 12 furlong marathon on the dirt. No one in this field has gone this far in the afternoon, so that’s a race that could be very interesting.
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||4||2,4,7||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||1||1,6,8||7,9||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|6||8||1,8||9||2,4||DBL, PK3, PK4|
State bred $20K claimers sprint six furlongs in the opener. The morning line favorite, J.E.’s Handmedown (#4) certainly fits with this group from a speed figure perspective, but he hasn’t found the Winner’s Circle in almost three whole years. I think he’s worth trying to beat here despite dropping in class. I’ll cover with him on some deeper plays, but I’ll try to beat him using a few horses that might be able to rebound while getting back to a fast track. Five O One (#8) has been declining in form in his last three starts, however, two of those three races came on off tracks and the other race was a two turn contest. His effort here back on December 10th would likely dominate this group if he can run back to that race. Ima Bling Cat (#1) should get a good, forwardly placed trip with his rail post. He’s faced some salty fields in his last two starts and gets some notable class relief today. He’ll benefit from a more aggressive ride that should put him on or near the lead. Smarty Grimes (#5) is a clever claim, taken for $6,250 out of open company last month. He pretty much came from last to blow by the front runners and get the job done at 10-1 odds. He hasn’t faced state bred types since the first few races in his career, and he’s been in much better form since being claimed for $3,500 at Columbus Races in Nebraska back in June. The purse for this race is $14K higher than the purse for the $6,250 claiming race he is coming out of, and the field is comparable in quality.
Freer (#2) looked comfortable in the mud at this $10K maiden claiming level last out, yielding late in the final 1/16 of a mile in the mud. He’s had 10 chances thus far to break his maiden, and he’s struggled to put two strong efforts together. However, this is not the sharpest bunch. I’m using him on the A line, but I slightly prefer the lightly raced runners, Lookin Good So Far (#4) and Outcome (#7) to possibly pull the mild upset. They were 4th and 3rd, respectively, at this level last out. Going six furlongs today might give both a better opportunity to relax off the early lead. Lookin Good So Far dropped into this level last out, and was making headway before having to tap on the brakes for a bit. I do like that he’s one of a few that is proven to be able to make up ground, which may come in handy here. Outcome was forced four wide off the turn and flattened out when Freer and eventual race winner, Holiday Ticket, punched on. He followed up a decent effort two back with $12,500 maiden claimers with another solid effort last out, showing that he is gradually improving.
We’ve got another maiden claiming race, this one for three year olds running with a $30K tag, going 1 Mile and 1/16. El Potente (#5) made his seasonal debut in a six furlong sprint with $50K maiden claimers last out. He showed some zip before fading to 6th that afternoon. He’s faded badly in his first three starts, but I’m thinking that he might be better going longer, especially if he’s able to harness some of that speed. Outside of Driven One (#2), there’s no one with experience that has shown legitimate interest in being on the lead. Lone speed in his second race off the layoff could be the right combination with this subpar group for the condition. Schmooze (#8) is the other one that I’ll be using in this race. He’s shipping in from Turfway for Ken McPeek after failing to have an impact in a trio of career maiden special weight races. His only try on the main track wasn’t good, but it was in his debut in a one turn mile, so I’d be willing to give him another chance.
$6,250 claimers sprint six furlongs in this race. I’m going to be against the morning line favorite, Trappe Valley (#3) who was claimed for $13,500 back in October in Hawthorne, and drops in for half that this afternoon, while not being seen on the racetrack since. With the purse structure here, a win and claim could still be profitable, but entering this one here feels like a vote of no confidence from Ingrid Mason. In addition, she’s 0-14 over the last 15 months with horses that run first off the claim for her. Bebop Shoes (#6) was a winner when he was claimed out of a time restricted $10K claiming race back in January. He’s been sharper than usual in his last few starts, hitting the front end early on. Many here have been up and down, and I think his consistency is going to help his cause in this spot. Broberg and Cabera send out Lonely Private (#5) while adding blinkers here. He showed improvement last time out after throwing in a bit of a clunker two starts ago. He hasn’t been as sharp as he was earlier in his career, but he lands in a fairly soft spot here. The price that intrigues me a bit in this race is Whenthedovescry (#9) on the outside. He was a winner three starts ago when he was claimed for $8K. He struggled in his next two starts for John Cox, but was claimed by Moquett at this level in his most recent outing. He may get the right stalking trip if they go too quick in the early stages.
An overflow field of Arkansas bred $10K maiden claiming fillies and mares ends the Early Pick-5 and starts the late one. The mantra for this race is that someone has to win it, so I’m going to want as much coverage as possible. I’ll try Chai Tea (#1) on top in hopes that she can run them down late, while cutting back from a pair of two turn races against better fields. Her last sprint three starts ago wasn’t awful, so there’s reason to believe that she can build off the effort. Tallandlong (#6) makes sense as the morning line favorite here, based upon her 2021 form. Her first start of 2022 was not good, and getting close in four straight races to start her career. It’s been tough sledding for Barkley at this meet, but she gets a soft group on the drop. Mazie G (#8) significantly improved in her third career start and her first since joining Thomas Vance’s barn. She has the speed to make the front end, which isn’t a terrible place to be in a race like this. On deeper tickets, I’ll look for coverage with the firster, Fibrillator (#7), who doesn’t look like much, but she also won’t have to be much to beat this group. Kenkead (#9) deserves a second chance after a slow beginning in her debut. Moquett’s horses typically improve in their second start.
The Late-4 is an interesting sequence this afternoon. 90%+ of the races at this meet are run at six furlongs, one mile, or one mile and one sixteenth. 75% of this sequence is run at differences other than those three. The first leg is a maiden special weight run at 5 and ½ furlongs. Alpha Whiskey (#8) is a Divining Rod first time starter for Randy Morse that was entered in a much deeper maiden special weight race here over the weekend for three year olds only. He has to face older horses here, but I don’t think this field is nearly as talented. Randy Morse has done well when teaming up with Jon Court on this oval. His connections paid $135K for him at auction in May, which is a significant increase from his sire’s modest $5K stud fee. His works are respectable and I think he’s a candidate to upset this group. Sparty Sense (#1) looks like he might be sitting on a big race after drilling a 46:2 bullet work here last week. That drill might be meaningful since he was a little flat in his last start, when making his first start since last May. That was his first dirt race as well, so there’s reason to believe that he can move forward here. Acehigh Royal (#9) is another firster, this one for Ron Moquett. He’s been working quickly in the morning and gets Florent Geroux to ride. He has a sprint friendly pedigree, so the 5 and ½ furlongs should suit him well. There’s a pair of shorter prices that I don’t want to completely eliminate, but I’m going to try to beat. K C Rocket (#4) comes back to the dirt after knocking on the door in four of his first five starts. His last two have been sprinting on the grass in New Orleans, but he showed last year that he’s more than capable on the main track. Sinner’s Sin (#2) is the morning line favorite and another one that I’ll try to beat here. He took a big step forward when making his second career start last month. He was blazing early on and might have to do the same again here. I think others have more upside than him though.
Ekati’s Verve (#3) feels like a very logical single in this $20K N3L claiming race at 1 Mile and 1/16. Chris Hartman has been rock solid at this meeting, winning with 25% of his starters. He ships in from the Fair Grounds, coming here in very good form. Many of his rivals in this spot haven’t found the Winner’s Circle in some time. He was a winner with $15K N3L claimers two starts back when he was eligible for N2L company. He just missed with $30K-$25K N3L claimers in New Orleans. Even though he’s dropping in class, the purse for this race is $5K higher than his last effort, where he came up just short. Assuming he takes kindly to the local course, I see him as the most likely winner on today’s card.
The featured race is a N3L allowance race at 1 Mile and 1/2 . This is unchartered territory for the entire field, so this is another spot where coverage is going to be important. Goalie (#2) makes the most sense here after trying the main track in for the first time two starts ago. He ran a solid race at 1 Mile and 3/16 at Churchill, finishing third behind Huge Bigly and Farmington Road in a solid allowance race there at the end of their meet last fall. Market Analysis beat him in his local debut in January, and that one came back to beat a nice group here on Sunday. Diodoro has done well getting these kind of horses to sketch out to longer distances. Wartime Hero (#8) is bred for distance up and down. He’s sired by Belmont winner, Empire Maker, and his dam was the runner up in the Kentucky Oaks back in 2011. He’s moving up in class, running mostly with restricted claimers. However, he’s in good form and the distance could very well be the equalizer here. Johny’s Fireball (#5) is another one that is sired by a former Belmont winner (Tonalist). He caught a muddy track in his seasonal debut here going one mile. Even though Bauer’s horses have struggled in the second start off the layoff (0-21 since 2021), I do expect him to build off his last start.
A $10K starter allowance race at nine furlongs closes the Thursday afternoon program. There’s not a lot of early speed signed on, so I think both Home Run Trick (#4) and Brice (#8) will both be comfortably up front. I’m not convinced that Home Run Trick can stay the distance, but I think Brice can. He hasn’t been in his best form since shipping here. He started off the meet strong, winning at this level in December. However, his last two races have been poor. He was away flat two back and never looked comfortable while racing in behind horses. He was a little dull at the break again last out, and made an early move before flattening out. I see the extra half furlong as a plus here, since it gives him more time to establish early position before going into the first turn. He doesn’t need the lead, but he wants to be in the clear, and I like his chances of getting by Home Run Trick, if Rosario can keep him glued to his flank without dueling on the front. Venture Forth (#7) is a logical player to have on your tickets after winning at this level last month. He’s finished on the board in his last seven starts, including a second place finish in the mud at this distance. If Go For Sherrie (#2) can wake up and force the pace with the other two, or if Brice and Home Run Trick wind up dueling, he’d be the most likely one to benefit. Derby Code (#5) is another one that might want them to spar on the front end. He ripped off three straight wins last year here and at Canterbury in the spring. He returned in January from a four month break and was third that day and again last month when running at this level. He could have a forward move in his third start of this current form cycle.
Favorite Bet Today: Race 6, Late Pick-4 ($45.00 Ticket, $1.00 Base Wager)
I think this is a sequence where you can build a decent ticket around Ekati’s Verve (#3, R7). He already beat a comparable field at this N3L level when he was eligible for an N2L contest. I’ll go five deep in the maiden special weight in race 6, and try to connect with one of three in the last two races.
Race 6: 1,2,4,8,9
Race 7: 3
Race 8: 2,5,8
Race 9: 5,7,8