The most anticipated day of the Oaklawn Park Meet is upon us, as the racing office has put together a fantastic 13 race card. The Grade 1 Arkansas Derby is the signature race of the meet, producing great horses such as American Pharoah, Smarty Jones, and Afleet Alex to name a few. This year’s race is a very competitive group of 11, which should send a few runners to Louisville in five short weeks.
The Grade 3 Fantasy for three year old fillies, The Grade 3 Oaklawn Mile, and the $200K Hot Springs Stakes will all support this tremendous card. First post today will be a little earlier, 12:15 (CT) and the Arkansas Derby is scheduled to go off at 6:50 (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||5,7||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||7||7||4||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|6||11||6,11||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|9||8||8||2,10||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|10||8||6,8||10||DBL, PK3, PK4|
Arkansas Derby Day starts off with a maiden special weight race for three year old fillies, going six furlongs. The maiden special weight races on the card have a little more juice, with a total purse over $110K as opposed to the typical $90K. I’m not buying the morning line favorite, Into Love (#5) as a serious win threat. She’s been a money burner at this meet and is likely better suited for the bottom of the exotics. Valorie Lund has only brought a few runners to this meet, but those that are here seem to be able to run. She sends out Goddess of War (#2) for her debut today. Lund’s fingerprints are all over this filly, as she trained the sire, Atta Boy Roy, and the dam, Amariah Grace. She had some zippy works at Turf Paradise before shipping here and Atta Boy Roy gets 15% winners from his debut runners. Beautiful Bolt (#8) makes her second career start for Chris Hartman today. She was 5th in the slop in her debut on the Rebel undercard. While he has good numbers with just about every other category of runner, his second time starters have struggled to finish first, going 0-23 since the start of 2022. 6% of his runners have won in their second start over the last five years, but 30% of them finish in the money, so it’s not like they’re running poorly. I’ll use another firster, Penzig (#4) as well in this spot. She makes her debut for John Ortiz after some decent AM drills. Her dam, Richwood, has produced some respectable foals, including Jackman, who loves running on this course.
State bred fillies mares will sprint six furlongs in this optional $25K claiming/N1X allowance race. I think Pattern Bet (#7) can get the run of this race here. She came up empty on March 10th, when facing a N2L allowance field. Prior to that, she had a pair of very nice efforts, including a second place finish to Kaboom Baby, who was a strong winner with better company here yesterday. I think there’s some cheap speed to apply pressure to the morning line favorite, One Way Or Another (#5), which should give her every chance to roll late. One Way Or Another also put forth a dull effort last out, when she couldn’t make the lead and wound up chasing horses. Bejarano is off Pattern Bet and on her, in order to try to get her in a better early spot. She hasn’t won since her debut last February, but she’s been desperately close on more than one occasion.
I think Rollin Chrome (#7) has a big chance in this N1X allowance race for fillies and mares going 5 and ½ furlongs. She cleared the N2X condition at Sam Houston in her last start, after three straight runner up finishes. She changes barns, now being saddled by Shawn Davis, who has good numbers with new acquisitions. I think there’s a lot of speed and she’ll be able to sit off the front runners and pounce in this spot. Violent Point (#2) might be the speed of the speed for Robertino Diodoro. That might mean something, especially on a big race day where sometimes these tracks can be very glib and friendly to front end speed types. We’ll have to watch the first two races to see how speed is fairing. If front runners sweep the early double, she’d be the one I’d upgrade on to the A line.
The are two short prices in this maiden special weight, both of whom look like serious players in this race. I’ll use both Runaway Jack (#3) and Miracle Worker (#7), but I think Speakinofthedevil (#5) has a live look off the layoff for Asmussen. There isn’t much speed signed on in this race, and he didn’t show much speed in his first two starts in Kentucky this fall. However, blinkers go on and Asmussen turns to Tyler Gaffalione, who rode him last time out and is here to ride in the big races on the program. He’s worked well, and while he might need this race from a fitness standpoint, I think the goal is to have him be more forwardly placed here, which would be a good place to be. Miracle Worker ran a big race to lose in a three horse photo on debut back in February. He was forced to steady on the turn, but still finished with plenty of interest. Rykit, who was about four lengths behind this one, came back to win a restricted maiden special weight race in handy fashion in his next start. Runaway Jack has put up two big figures in defeat in his first two starts at the meet. He does have some early foot, but he hasn’t been the best gate horse. Plus, taking too short of a price on a horse that has finished second three times in a row isn’t the best wager.
Race 5, The Grade 3 Oaklawn Mile:
Seven older runners are entered in the first stakes race of the afternoon, which also kicks off the mid-card Pick-5. Smile Happy (#1) ran a huge race in his return off a long layoff, earning a strong 101 Beyer Speed Figure for his effort. However, that race was only 15 days ago, and I see this a big ask for this horse to come back and repeat that effort, while moving up the class ladder. I’ll play against him, using the favorite, Hopper (#7) as the top pick for Bob Baffert. Even though he won’t have a runner in the big race, Baffert will support the program by entering this lightly raced son of Declaration of War. He was a game 4th after dueling on the front end in the Big Cap last month. He cuts back in distance from 10 furlongs to one mile and he makes his third start of his current form cycle. I think he’s the one to beat here. Silver Prospector (#4) is not the most consistent runner in this field, but he does show up with huge efforts from time to time. Asmussen will turn to Tyler Gaffalione today to ride this six time winner for the first time. I think he has the chance to complete a rare Declaration of War exacta on the main track.
State bred fillies and mares will sprint six furlongs in this maiden special weight race. I’ll look to the outside and make Aloha Baby (#11) the top pick. She’s been working well for Ernie Witt, who has had some success with debut runners, especially in these state bred races over the last several years. She’s working well in the morning, and her full brother, Street Commander already has notched a win at this meet. Cristian Torres getting the call is encouraging. Ngala (#6) is the logical morning favorite after finishing a fast closing second in her debut last month. She had some trouble at the start and wound up at the back of the pack early on in that 12 horse race. She came with a six wide last charge which was good enough to be the runner up that afternoon. Moquett wheels her back quickly after that effort.
I’m going to try a bit of a price in this optional $50K claiming/N2X allowance race. Chipofftheoldblock (#3)was very good at this meet last season, ending his meet here with a third place finish in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, going off at 36-1. He would go one to struggle in several races at Horseshoe Indianapolis and at this level early on in this meet. Michael Lauer gave him some time off and he brought him back in a confidence building spot at Will Rogers Downs where he was a handy winner. Even though he has only one win in 10 starts on this oval, he tends to run very well here, and I think he could sit a nice trip here, stalking some of the early speed, which figures to be hot and heavy, with a pair of need the lead types next to each other in the starting gate. Gar Hole (#8) is a local favorite that always runs his heart out. He’s an Arkansas bred who has dominated the state bred ranks, but he;s struggled to break through in open company. He won the Nodouble Breeders Stakes here last month as a heavy favorite and he tries again in open company. He’s been committed to going to the front in his last few starts, but he’s been equally as effective when pressing the pace. I think that’s the kind of trip that could win this race for him. Osbourne (#4) ran a monster race on this oval two starts back. He followed that effort up with a less impressive second place finish in the slop on the Rebel undercard. He was beaten by a MyRacehorse runner last time out (Chasing Time) and he’ll be up against a different one, Straight No Chaser (#6) today.
Race 8, The $200K Hot Springs Stakes:
Three year olds will go one mile in this stakes race. Both Eyeing Clover (#2) and Carmel Road (#5) are coming out of the Grade 3 Gotham at the one mile last month at Aqueduct. Both horses were a part of an ambitious pace battle and both ended up folding. I don’t love either of these horses at two turns, so I’ll try to beat them by using Gun Pilot (#3) and Frosted Departure (#5). Gun Pilot is the top pick for Steve Asmussen. He ran well at this distance in two allowance races, running second to Verifying in January and beating Bourbon Bash, a live longshot in the Arkansas Derby later on today. He tried stakes company in the Rebel and came up empty in the slop that afternoon. The class relief and dryer footing should help his cause here. Frosted Departure ran a big race to finish 3rd in the Southwest Stakes at 46-1. He was too close to a torrid pace in the Rebel last out, where he faded to 8th. He’s been better since running closer to the front end, but he doesn’t necessarily need to be on the pace to win. While I have a ton of respect for Francisco Arrieta, the jockey switch to a star like Flavien Prat has to be seen as a plus.
I like both of Asmussen’s runners in this maiden special weight route for three year olds. I prefer Route Runner (#8), making his fourth career start today. He’s sired by Gun Runner out of the versatile dam, Pure Clan. I remember that mare well, as she gave me a bit of a scare as she was flying down the track in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf. I had Midday singled for one of my bigger hits as a horseplayer that afternoon. She was a two time Grade 1 winner on the turf and multiple graded stakes winner on dirt. This colt has improved with each start and has been working well since his return in February. Interlock Empire finished in front of him that day, and he went on to break his maiden and is now entered in the Arkansas Derby later on in the card. Asmussen also sends out a longer priced runner, Auto Glide (#2) to make his second career start and his first since his debut at Ellis when going two turns on the turf. It’s not uncommon for trainers to send out horses that might be better suited for the dirt, in two turn turf races early in their careers, because often if they are bred for distance, they’re much more likely to find a turf race at two turns than a dirt race. Her’s sired by Tiznow out of a Malibu Moon mare, Lunar Surge, who did her best work at two turns on the dirt. He still might need this race, but at long odds, I think he’s worth a look. Quality Chic (#10) will have to work out a trip from the ten hole, but I think we’ll see an improved effort from this Quality Road gelding in his third career start. He paired his Beyer figures in his first two tries, one on synthetic and the other here on dirt. The winner of that race, Major Blue, came back to win in his first try against winners last week.
Race 10, The Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes:
The local prep for the Kentucky Oaks drew a competitive field of ten three year old fillies. The one with the target on her back in the favorite, Wet Paint (#6), who is coming off back to back stakes wins here. She came from way back in the slop to get up in time to win the Grade 3 Honeybee last time out. She’ll be a tough customer once again, but she’s only run on wet tracks in her three career starts on traditional dirt courses. She;s dead game, coming from off the pace to win these races, but it’s not the easiest way to get to the Winner’s Circle. She’s one that I’ll be using for sure, but I think the price is going to be too short for me. I’m on Royal Spa (#8) in this race to win. She’s sired by Violence, who is having quite a good season with this three year old crop. Most notably, he sired the Juvenile Champ, Forte. Rodolphe Brisset trains this filly, whose dam was sired by Mineshaft, but she did her best work at one turn. This barn excels at getting horses to stretch out to two turns after sprinting. She likes the course and could be very dangerous here, On deeper tickets, Condensation (#10) is an interesting filly. She’ll have to overcome the 10 hole, so I’m hoping Francisco Arrieta, fresh off a big day yesterday, doesn’t get too aggressive with her. She is capable of stalking the frontrunners, despite her penchant for early speed. She could be upset minded here.
The appetizer to the big race is a 12 horse N1X allowance sprint race where there are many chances. Cipriano Contreras seems to have figured out what to do with Breslau (#2). He’s been red hot since he was claimed three starts ago. He dominated a field of $50K N2L claimers two starts back after being claimed for $30K. He came back to score a hard fought victory over Ninja Warrior, who was a winner yesterday, in $40K starter allowance company. Francisco Arrieta opts for the favorite, Favorite Outlaw (#12), but Walter De La Cruz, has been riding very well with limited opportunities over the past few weeks. Favorite Outlaw might see Oaklawn as his favorite course, running two big races in maiden special weight company here last season, graduating in the second start. He went off form after leaving Hot Springs, but he seems like he’s back and better than ever. He was second to a promising three year old sprinter, Corona Bolt, in his seasonal debut last out. On deeper tickets, I see Ultimate (#5) as a horse that could be rolling home late. His best local effort came when there was an aggressive pace battle on the front end. His last few haven’t been as good, but I do think he could be trending in the right direction.
Race 12, The Grade 1 Arkansas Derby:
I covered this race in depth on the ITM Blog, with a horse by horse analysis. I ended up siding with Angel of Empire (#6) on top. He’s been very good in all of his dirt races, most recently winning the Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds. Rocket Can (#7) won the Holy Bull in February and was the runner up to Forte in the Fountain of Youth last month. Mott brings him in from Florida to avoid the Juvenile Champ, who is slated to run in the Florida Derby today. Bourbon Bash (#1) is a live longshot after running 5th in the Rebel, a race which was better than it looks on paper. Reincarnate (#8) is also worth including, although I don’t love him as the favorite. Full analysis is linked below.
The nightcap on this marathon program is a N1X allowance race at one mile for four year olds and up. This race feels like it sets up nicely for a longshot. There’s a lot of speed signed on, so I’m looking for some back markers that have a chance to get rolling late. I landed on Tonka Warrior (#9) to make amends after a few dull efforts. He was well bet in his last two tries at this level, going off as the favorite. He didn’t run particularly well in either race, falling flat after swinging six wide two back and struggling to close into a slow pace last time out. I think he’ll get the right set up today at a much juicier price. Mr. Thunderstruck (#4) was 6th last out in a nine furlong race at this level. He didn’t run poorly, but some of his rivals simply ran better. He’s run his best races when he’s closed into a fast face at one turn. He’s shown enough ability where I think he could get the job done at two turns here with the right trip. Knocker Down (#1)is the morning line favorite in this race, stretching out to two turns for the first time since a failed attempt at doing so in the Ellis Park Derby. He was a huge longshot that afternoon, so I can forgive that effort. He’s caught wet tracks in his last two starts and hasn’t run as well as he has on fast tracks. I don’t love the price at all, and Geroux is going to have to avoid a duel with him. However, I think he might be the most talented runner in the field. On deeper tickets, Megan’s Honor (#12) has an outside shot here. The post is less than ideal, and he has no shot if he gets hung out four or five wide into the first turn. However, if Arrieta is able to find a way to save some ground, he could be overlooked at long odds for a barn that knows how to win races wherever they go.