Oaklawn Park Racing Preview – 3/19/22 – By Eric Solomon

Two very nice Grade 3 Stakes highlight the ten race Saturday program at Oaklawn. The Hot Springs Stakes was renamed the Whitmore Stakes, in honor of the local hero that won that race four years in a row (2017-2020). It’s only fitting that another fan favorite, 19 time winner, Greeley and Ben, shows up in that race. The Essex Stakes serves as a rematch between the top two finishers of the Razorback Stakes, Plainsman and Thomas Shelby. The weather forecast is sunny and temperatures in the high 60’s, so it should be a perfect day of racing in Hot Springs, Arkansas. 

 

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
1 7 4,7 2 DBL, PK5
2 2 2,5 3,7 DBL, PK3, PK4
3 10 10 DBL, PK3
4 5 5,6,9 DBL, PK3
5 5 1,5 9 DBL, PK3
6 3 3,4,6 8 1 DBL, PK3, PK5
7 3 3,7 2 DBL, PK3, PK4
8 5 5 4 DBL, PK3
9 1 1,3,4 8 DBL
10 7 7 5

 

 

Race 1:

I’m on three of the four shorter prices in this state bred $30K maiden claimer for fillies and mares that starts the day in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Catch a Whiff (#7) changes barns and drops in class after a dull effort with state bred maiden special weight foes last month. Her debut effort, while traffic filled, wasn’t a bad try. She’s lightly raced and definitely a candidate to improve in this spot. Miss Rita (#4) is probably the biggest threat to the top pick. She’s started four times in her career, all at this current meet. Her two starts in state bred maiden claiming races are significantly better than her starts with state bred maiden allowance types. Lori’s Eyes (#2) has had more chances than the top two, which is usually less desirable in this kind of race. However, she has shown significant improvement in her last two starts, narrowly missing in two races with similar fields. In my eyes, these three bring a lot more to the table than Choctaw Charlie (#5), who has had several chances. She hasn’t been close to winning in two years. She does drop in for a tag for the first time, but her last two efforts have been bad, despite taking a decent amount of money at the windows.

Race 2:

Seven are entered in this optional claiming/starter allowance race. This one is a little tricky as three of the seven participating are coming in off dull efforts. Six of the seven have run recent races that would be competitive here. I ended using both of the Diodoro runners on the A line, giving preference to Admirably (#2). He makes his first start for this barn after shipping in from Southern California. He has a few drills over the track and gets the services of Ramon Vazquez. While David Cohen has ridden almost three times as many races for Diodoro over the last 15 months, Vazquez has a much higher winning percentage on his horses (36%  compared to 22% here and 33% compared to 20% overall). I think he can sit a nice trip stalking the early speed horses. Of the speed runners, Honorary Degree (#5) has the outside draw and is in the best form of that trio. He was claimed out of a $12,500 N3L race last month, so this is a decent step up in class. I think he’ll win the pace battle, which should give him a fighting chance to hold off his stablemate in the stretch if he’s good enough. On deeper tickets, both Awesome Saturday (#3) and Win With Pride (#7) are horses that are a little interesting, but also horses that have valid question marks.  Awesome Saturday was sharp in the fall, but definitely felt a bit suspect showing up in a restricted $12,500 claiming race last month. He was pretty much eliminated at the break, so I can forgive that effort. He makes his first start for new connections in a protected race, but his very slow work last week makes me wonder how sharp he is right now. At odds above his 6-1 morning line figure, I’d probably be willing to take a shot. At odds lower than that, I’d probably try to beat him. I’m also wondering about the value that we’ll get with Win With Pride. He was very good in his first race at the meet with open $16K claimers. He moved to the starter allowance level where there was definite regression. He’s a horse that has run well in claiming races, but I’m wondering if the class hike is problematic. I like his post and running style for this race though, and at odds higher than his 7-2 morning line, I’d be more willing to play him.

Race 3:

There’s a lot of ways you could go in this state bred $20K maiden claiming race, but for me, I’m going to take a stand with Obviously Too (#10). The chart-caller’s comment was that he was “mugged” at the break. That might be putting it nicely, as he was pretty much eliminated from that race after his next door neighbor veered in sharply at the start, costing him several lengths. I would argue that the start cost him over ten lengths, and when you see that he was able to rally into 4th, beaten 8+ lengths, you could make the argument that his break was the difference between winning and losing. It remains to be seen if he can repeat that effort under better circumstances, however, he showed a lot of toughness in that race, when he certainly could have packed it in. He ran on with $30K maiden claimers whereas many others are coming out of a $12,500 maiden claiming race. While the difference between the class levels isn’t as pronounced as it would be in open company, he is coming out of a stronger race than many of his rivals. I’ll roll the dice with him as a single of a modest ticket, and if he’s at or around his 5-1 morning line odds at post time, I think he’d be worth a solid win wager.

Race 4:

Older horses go 1 mile and 1/16 in this money allowance race. There are a lot of need the lead type horses in this race, many of which run of the risk of getting cooked in a pace battle. Stayin’ Out Late (#5) really is the only proven horse that can come from off the pace. He’s being asked to do that against a solid field while making his first start since last September, so that does need to factor into the equation. However, Asmussen has good numbers off the layoff and he has a strong race on this oval. He’s also fared well in the one race where there was an aggressive early pace. Beer Chaser (#9) is a little interesting in this race as the longest shot on the board. He’s never run farther than 6 and ½ furlongs, but you’ll almost certainly get value on a horse trying something new. His pedigree is a bit of an unknown, but there are definite route influences with the grand sire and dam. He was very sharp when he was claimed for $30K two starts back, beating a nice field that afternoon. He struggled a bit in starter allowance company last out when sprinting, but he was finishing with some interest. I’m on board for taking a chance at long odds with him. I have been very impressed with Pat’s Property (#6) at this meet. Even though he could be up against it from a pace standpoint, I think he’s worth using here. He showed an ability to rate off the lead last spring in Indiana. He’s been very good when going out to the front in his three races thus far this meet, winning once and losing in photo in the other two tries.

Race 5:

We have a field of ten for this $10K starter allowance race at six furlongs. Seau (#5) was not good last time out, when facing a similar group. He was wide and didn’t have the same tracking speed that he utilized so well when losing in photo finishes in his two prior tries before that. I think he can return to better form with a more aggressive ride this afternoon. Jack Van Berg (#1) has the speed and the rail, which could be a potent combination in this race. He rebounded nicely last out after a miserable try two starts back. He was a winner the last time he caught a fast track, in a $40K claiming race at Churchill when Diodoro claimed him. I don’t love the short price on him, but I think that he fits nicely in this race. Riverboat Gambler (#9) is one that could be coming along late in this race. He’s been a popular runner at the claim box of late, being claimed the last five times he was eligible. In his last two starts, which haven’t been as sharp, he has been in last place in a big field at the first call. David Cabrera returns, and he’s been more aggressive when he’s ridden him in the past. If he can stay in contact with the field early, I think he can factor in this race when possibly being overlooked in the wagering.

Race 6:

There are many ways to go in this maiden special weight contest for three year olds going one mile. There are a few second time starters that are very interesting in this spot. I like Kingmaker (#3) to move forward, while also stretching out for the first time. He wasn’t very sharp on the break, but he was definitely able to stay involved in the race. He’s had a pair of solid works since that effort and the runner up that day, Life Is Hard, was able to break his maiden on this course last week. He’s bred to be able to handle the longer distance and he runs for a barn that does well with their second time starters. Plausible Denile (#4) is another one coming out of a sprint race in his debut, finishing second in a full field. He was well backed at the windows, going off as the 9-5 second choice. That tells me that there was a belief that this horse showed some ability in the mornings. He was a $375K purchase, and he’s also bred to be able to handle longer distances. Papa Rocket (#6) was done in after the first furlong when he was floated five wide in a competitive maiden special weight race that produced next out allowance winner, and Arkansas Derby candidate, We The People. Lukas adds blinkers, and gets a better post today, not being stuck on the far outside. I think he showed enough in his debut to make me think that he is better than what we saw from him last out. Battle Call (#8) was claimed for $75K in his debut when going two turns. He was involved early and was clearly second after battling with his more experienced stablemate at that time. Jerry Hollendorfer acquired him, and he has good numbers off the claim, so I expect him to be able to run another credible race. I think that the others might be a little more well-meant though, not having been offered for a tag before. Maasai Warrior (#1) is a tricky read for me in this spot. He’s the morning line favorite for Brad Cox, and he’s certainly drawn well for a horse that wants to be forwardly placed. However, his last race at the Fair Grounds was very disappointing to me. I’ll cover with him, but I think others have more upside than he does, especially at short odds. 

 

Race 7: The G3 Whitmore Stakes:

After winning this race in four consecutive years when it was called the Hot Springs, Oaklawn Park did the right thing and renamed this stakes after this fan favorite whose career was highlighted by winning the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Typically, we see a lot of familiar faces battling each other in these sprint races, but that’s not the case this year, as there are several runners looking to establish themselves in this wide open division. However, I think the one to beat in this race is Greeley and Ben (#3). He’s moving up in class after beating a solid starter allowance field here last month. One for Richie, who was second best that day, came back an impressive winner last weekend. He has 30 career starts and 19 of them have resulted with him in the Winner’s Circle. He likes to be near the front end, but doesn’t need the lead. For a six furlong sprint, there isn’t a ton of serious pace in this race, so I think he has a tactical edge over the talented four year olds that could have an impact here. I really liked what I saw from Tulane Tryst (#7) last winter at the Fair Grounds. He was second in an allowance race on Derby Bay and was overmatched behind Drain the Clock and Jackie’s Warrior in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens in June. He met Olympiad in his return from a layoff at Keeneland and wasn’t ready for that, but his last two allowance wins have been very good. This is a logical place to bring this $310K purchase back into the stakes world.Bob’s Edge (#2) looks to continue to roll after winning the King Cotton Stakes here at the end of January. He certainly looked like a stronger horse after a productive three year old campaign. He notched his first stakes win in that race, where the front end speed fell apart. He likes this course and always runs a quality race when on the main track. I’m against Hollis (#9) in here, who very well could be the post time favorite. He was a part of the pace meltdown in the King Cotton. He’s been very good at 5 and ½ furlongs in two allowance races at this meet, but I don’t think he has the same punch at six furlongs. 

 

Race 8: 

This is the second division of the maiden special weight race for three year olds at one mile. There was definitely more depth in the first leg on paper, but the nicest horse from both of these races may be Life On the Nile (#5). I’ve been high on this beautifully bred horse in his last two starts at long odds. He nearly got the job done for me at 10-1 last month, just getting caught in the final stages of that contest. He continues to get better with each trip to the track, and while he’ll be a much shorter proposition today, I think he graduates today. El Gemar (#4) will be the other one that I’ll give a look to in this spot. He was away slow, but he hung in there and made up decent ground to get into second last out. He was aided by a swift tempo on the front end, but I still give him credit for continuing to battle despite the tough beginning. He’s bred to be a two turn horse, so I don’t mind the stretch out in distance for him today.

 

Race 9: The G3 Essex Stakes

Four of the top five finishers of the Grade 3 Razorback Stakes last month are back in this $500K stakes race for older handicap runners. This is the second to last race in this series at this meet, with the Grade 2 $1,000,000 Oaklawn Handicap sharing the card with the Grade 1 Apple Blossom on April 23rd. Both Thomas Shelby (#1) and Plainsman (#4) dueled to the wire, with Plainsman getting the narrow advantage in the Razorback. Both horses draw better posts this afternoon, and both should be close to the front end again. With Thomas Shelby on the rail, and stablemate, Warrior’s Charge (#3) to his inside, Rosario may need to have Plainsman a little further off the pace in this spot. If Thomas Shelby can get away with a slightly easier pace this time, he doesn’t have to improve much to turn the tables on his rival. He’s been caught late in all three stakes races at this meet, but he’s made it hard to pass him each time. I believe the rail gives him a slight edge, and I think he’ll go into the starting as the third choice in the wagering. I’m giving him the slight edge. Plainsman is a gritty seven year old horse that knows how to win races. He’s looking for his 10th win in his 29th career start. He might be in the best form of his career, so I’d have to use him on all my multi-race bets. Warrior’s Charge on the other hand won for the first time in a while last time out, absolutely humiliating a solid allowance field at the end of January. Third place finisher, Trident Hit, came back to win his next start, so he didn’t beat a soft field for that condition. He likes the local track, winning four of his six career victories here. If his confidence is back, he could be very dangerous.  One longshot that could be a player on the rise in class is the Maryland bred, Hanalei’s Houdini (#8). He’s always been a nice Mid-Atlantic based runner, but he’s been very good since Mike Maker claimed him for $50K in October at Keeneland. He was second to Green Light Go, who ran a monster race at Aqueduct on 1/13. He came back 16 days later to run a very good second to Cordmaker in the Jennings Stakes for Maryland breds at Laurel. Both horses that defeated him came back to win in their next starts. He goes back to two turns after his last two races going at one turn miles. This is a step up, but if he can maintain his form, he could have an impact on the outcome of this one. 

 

Race 10: 

The nightcap today is a N1X allowance race for fillies and mares going one mile. From a class perspective, many of the horses in this spot have been seeing each other in claiming or starter allowance races at this meet so far. Pharoah’s Heart (#7) on the other hand made her first start since April last month in a contentious allowance sprint. She appeared to hit the gate at the start or break outward a bit, enough to lose early position. She regrouped and was kept on the outside of horses. She ranged up with a powerful five wide move, which she sustained through the stretch. The wire came at the perfect time for Joyful Cadence, a stakes placed filly who was making her second start of the season, who narrowly defeated her. She stretches out to a mile, which wasn’t an issue in California last year. She just looks to be better than this group today. On deeper tickets, Trouville (#5) comes back to the dirt after a dull effort on the turf at Santa Anita. She was third in her last two starts at this level on the main track out west. She should be forwardly placed in here, and if she’s able to run back to her race at Del Mar three back, she could be a strong challenger.

 

Favorite Bet Today: Race 2, Early Pick-4 ($36 Ticket, $1 Base Wager)

I am going to build this ticket around Obviously Too (R3, #10). While I don’t love singling in a lower level state bred maiden claiming race, I saw enough to think that this one won’t be a maiden for too long, if running at this level. While I think the second race could be chalky, I’m going to use four of the seven in that race, since some of the horses are eligible to rebound. I think there are some price horses in the 4th and 5th that could add value to this ticket. 

The Ticket:

Race 2: 2,3,5,7

Race 3: 10

Race 4: 5,6,9

Race 5: 1,5,9

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