The weather is going to be worth watching on Arkansas Derby Eve. Severe storms cut last Friday’s card two races short, and there are some more in the forecast today. As always, timing will be key with these thunderstorms and how they may or may not affect the program. There is also a wind advisory in the forecast tomorrow, which could be worth paying attention to as well. This 10 race Friday matinee is highlighted by the $250K Matron Stakes for fillies and mares, sprinting six furlongs. Local fans will get a treat as Frankie Dettori will be in town to ride today, in what I believe will be his first time riding at Oaklawn. First post today is 12:35 (CT) with the featured 9th race scheduled to go off at 4:58 (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||7||3,6,7||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|6||5||5,11||1,6||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|7||1||1||7||3||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The afternoon starts with a $10,000-$7,500 N2L claiming race at two turns. I’ll try the recent maiden breaker, Levy (#5) to go back to back. He made his first start off a six month break a winning one when beating a soft field of $10K maiden claimers in the slop. His speed figure was on the slower side that day, but he has better figures on a fast track. He ran better in his second start off the layoff after his previous break. Quick to Blame (#3) will be the heavy favorite on a heavy drop in class today. Asmussen had a winner with a horse on a similar drop yesterday. His speed figures are significantly better than the others when he’s at his best. I’m not sure we’ll see his best at this level, especially after being claimed for $30K two starts back, but he’s still likely better than most of these. Smooth Scat (#1) is a lightly raced runner that is getting better. He’s drawn the rail in a race where he’ll likely be setting the pace. We’ll see how this son of Mor Spirit handles the stretch out to two turns for the first time. I’d be more bullish on him if his connections haven’t struggled as much as they have at this meet.
Fillies and mares who have started for a $12,500 claiming tag in one of their last two starts will be going one mile in the first leg of the Early Pick-4. It’s been a long time since Dream Streak (#7) tried going this far on the racetrack, and he’s never done it on a traditional dirt course. She’s sired by Shackleford out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare, so there’s reason to believe that she’ll be able to handle the distance. She makes her first start off the Coty Rosin claim, and she figures to be the pacesetter in this spot. If there’s not much pressure, she could be feeling brave. Hoping For a Ring (#6) was a strong runner in her last start with conditioned $10K claimers at the beginning of the month. Her only poor start at this meet came when she was sprinting. She improved with each start last season so I’m thinking she’ll be tough once again with this group. Xylophone (#3) doesn’t have much speed, but she is probably the most consistent runner in the field. She just missed at this level three weeks ago and will take advantage of running in another protected spot for McBride has to think about moving her up in class or dropping her back in for a tag.
There’s a little extra juice in the allowance pools this weekend, with the N1X allowance purse set at $115K. Let’s Duet (#6) is going to be awfully tough to beat in this race. She’s been right there in her last five starts, winning twice and finishing close in the three second place finishes. Sheclearly likes running here and she should get some pace to close into with Jump Into the Fire (#8) drawn outside, and racing off a layoff today. I think she’ll get the right setup to clear this condition today. Blameitonmidnight (#2) will be my backup plan in this spot after clearing this condition in her last start at Sam Houston. She remains eligible for this race due to the purse structure there. Her two turn dirt form is solid, and she can win on the lead or sitting off the pace.
Unlike the second race, this $12,500 starter allowance is for horses that have started for a $12,500 tag once since the start of 2022. Bentley Combs has Hellorhighwater (#1) firing on all cylinders, winning twice and finishing second last time out in the three starts since he claimed him. He has good speed from along the rail and was a dominating winner against many of these two starts ago. He’s been too good to ignore lately. What a Country (#8) figures to be the main danger as there should be an honest pace for him to close into. He’s finished first or second in his last five starts and has run well in his last local tries. That’s good to see since he is 0-12 on this oval. On deeper tickets, I’ll cover with Flatout Winner (#6), who is another consistent player in this field. He was a dominating winner against a softer $10K starter allowance field in his last start. He was no match for Hellorhighwater three starts back, but he belongs at this level on his best day.
This is a wide open group of $10,000-$7,500 N2L filly and mare claimers. I’ll look to the outside and try Back Seat Betty (#11) on top. She broke her maiden in a woefully maiden claiming race when making her debut this summer at Laurel. Since then, she’s been overmatched in her next three starts. Her first race over this oval, back in February, wasn’t too bad when facing a better group of starter allowance foes. She broke poorly in a race with a slow early tempo in her last start when facing $30K N2L claimers. She takes a significant drop in class and makes her third start of this current form cycle. I think she has more upside than most. Graydawn Day (#6) is another runner that is taking a serious drop in class. She was the only runner to finish in front of Back Seat Betty when they squared off in their last start. Her races at this level of competition at Remington park in the fall were more competitive. Bayshore Foxes (#5) is the morning line favorite, and definitely a horse that will be included on the A line in multi-race wagers. I see her as the most likely winner while getting back on dirt and cutting back to a sprint in her second start of the year. She looks to be one of as many as four that may want to set the pace. She’s the best of that bunch and she’s returning to the site of her only career victory. If the rains come early, that would only upgrade her chances. I don’t love the price in this field, so I will shop for some value, but she’s worth covering here.
The Late Pick-5 begins with a $20K maiden claiming contest for three year olds going six furlongs. I’m not a big fan of the two shorter prices in this race, so I’ll try to take some prices. I’ll try the firster, Explosive Pride (#5) on top in this race, thinking that the track is going to be pretty wet by this point of the day. He’s sired by Exaggerator who was a beast on a sloppy course. His full brother, Jolly Heretic, won on debut with $20K maiden claimers in the slop at Aqueduct last February. He has gone on to win three times in his career. His dam, Amie’s Dini, ran well in her lone try in the slop and she loved running here, winning the Martha Washington, and finishing second in the Dixie Belle, Honeybee, and Fantasy Stakes back in 2012. The works are okay and the price at 15-1 on the morning line feels like he’d be worth taking a chance on. Run Poppy (#11) is a son of Runhappy, who was inexplicably entered in a one mile maiden special weight race three weeks ago when making his first start since July. He came up empty in that spot, walking home in the end. He ran well enough as a two year old in his first two starts to think that he could contend on the class drop and the return to sprinting today. On deeper tickets, I’ll include the other first time starter, Unbowed (#1) and another big price, Scott City (#6). Unbowed has been working well enough in the morning for his debut.Randy Morse is capable of getting horses to win first out, so, even with a less than desirable post along the rail, I think he has a chance here. Scott City drops in for a tag for the first time after being non-competitive with open maiden allowance types in his first two tries. He was purchased for $210K, so I don’t love seeing him in for a mere $20K tag, but at odds in the neighborhood of 30-1, I could be willing to ignore that.
Some of the better Arkansas bred filly and mare sprinters will compete in this $115K conditioned allowance. Kaboom Baby (#7) and Connie K (#1) were second and third, respectively, when they last met in the Downthedustyroad Breeders’ Stakes at the beginning of the month. The absence of Summer Shoes in this race should give the advantage back to Connie K today. She’ll be forwardly placed in a race where there isn’t too much early speed for her to contend with. She’s been very good on wet tracks, just missing in the mud back in December and setting her career top Beyer Speed Figure in the slop last April. I think she has the pace advantage and will be able to hold off Kaboom Baby, who continues to improve in her five year old season. She’s in great form, but it is worth mentioning that she hasn’t been in the Winner’s Circle in close to two whole years. Richness (#3) might be worth including, while making her third start of her current form cycle. I’m a little hesitant with the fact that she’s been a voided claim in her last two starts, especially after ending her 2022 season with a strong 4th palace finish in the Downthedustyroad Breeders’ Stakes. However, she’ll be in a good striking position, especially on a wet course.
This is a fun optional $40K/N2X allowance race for fillies and mares, sprinting a quick 5 and ½ furlongs. Summer Shoes (#3) beat a nice group of state bred fillies in stakes company last out, two of which were heavily favored in the previous races. She has performed well on off tracks and continues to improve as a lightly raced five year old. She ran very well with open N1X runners two starts back and I believe she remains eligible for that condition. She’s aggressively spotted here and I think she’ll be in front when they cross the wire. Gunning (#2) is a half to Mage, who goes in the Florida Derby tomorrow. She was very good when clearing the N1X condition in the slop, and her only poor effort came in the Dogwood Stakes in September. I think she’ll get a good stalking trip in this race. Adaline Julia (#7) is one of two runners that Frankie Dettori has committed to ride on this Friday program. She’s been excellent in her first two races of the meet, winning them both. It is hard to roll through the conditions in consecutive races, so taking a short price on her might not be the best value. However, I do think she’s another one that could be sitting the right kind of trip to win this race. American Lily (#9) is another one that could be worth covering with in this race. She was third in her local debut, setting the pace and fading late that afternoon. She looked very comfortable when stalking the leaders and clearing the N1X condition two starts back at Santa Anita. She’s never caught a sloppy course and she does have the highest Tomlinson figure in the field.
Race 9, The $250K Matron Stakes:
Four year old fillies Matareya (#2) and Wicked Halo (#6) are set to make their 2023 debut in this stakes race that could serve as a prep for the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff on Kentucky Derby. Both of these fillies had four race win streaks snapped in Grade 1 races when making their last starts of their three year old seasons. Matareya flattened out after a tough trip as the 3-10 favorite in the Grade 1 Test back in August. Wicked Halo finished third at 14-1 when running behind Goodnight Olive in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint in November. Matareya owns the win in their only head to head matchup, but I do think Wicked Halo has matured into a better horse since they last met. I think the race sets up better for Wicked Halo, assuming the field stays intact. She started her career as a need the lead type, but she’s run very well stalking and pouncing in her last few starts. Even though she’s the morning line favorite, I think she’ll be the second or third choice in this race. Teddy’s Barino (#5) is another runner on the card with a huge Tomlinson Figure. Assuming that she’ll get a sloppy course, I do think she’s quick enough to go with Pretty Birdie (#3) and put her away at the top of the stretch. I’m not totally convinced that she could hold off Matareya or Wicked Halo, but cutting back from seven furlongs in her second start off the layoff could give her a fitness edge over the big two. Matareya is still worth using, but I’m not convinced we’re going to see a horse that has taken that next step forward. She wasn’t as sharp in her last two races, so her running lines look like a horse that was ahead of the curve in the spring. Cox certainly knows how to get a horse ready to fire off the bench though, and Flavien Prat will make the trip to ride her back.
A full field of 12 will go in the nightcap, which is a $50K starter allowance race for horses that have never won three times. I’m siding against the favorite, Ninja Warrior (#11) who is being asked to go two turns on the dirt for the first time while drawing a difficult post. I’ll try to get out of this race, going only two deep, using Jedrek (#3) as the top pick. He’s coming off a third place finish against a very good N1X field at the beginning of the month. Prior to that, he won two straight races on this oval. He drops back into the starter company where he has a strong post advantage over his major rivals. Jolly Tommy (#12) is going to need to work out a trip from post 12, but I think he’s an interesting longshot in this race. Diodoro claimed him for $50K last out after battling on the front end early and fading late. I like that he’s been moved to a protected spot. He’s better when coming from a little farther off the pace, which is likely what he’s going to have to win here. He’s a winner on this course and he could offer some value in this spot.