The last two graded stakes races of the meet are run today, and both are offering million dollar purses. The Grade 1 Apple Blossom goes as Race 5 and it features last year’s winner, Letruska, facing off against the 2020 winner, Ce Ce. They are looking to join Zenyatta, Azeri, and Paseana as horses that have won this race multiple times, which is certainly a prestigious club to be in. Race 11 is the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, featuring an evenly matched field of eight, with many familiar faces in the local handicap division. First post for the 12 race card is scheduled for 12:10 CT (1:10 ET) this afternoon.
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||3||3,10||1||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|5||2||2||3||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|6||1||1||6,10||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|8||4||4||2,6||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|9||4||4,5,6,7||DBL. PK3, PK4|
On paper, the opener, which is a $25K N2L claiming race for fillies and mares going six furlongs, looks like it will be pretty formful. I’ll give the edge to Fifth Risk (#7), dropping in class and cutting back to six furlongs after a disastrous race going one mile with starter allowance company two weeks ago. She was claimed by Asmussen out of a similar race back in January where she finished 4th against a deeper group. He brought her back two months later at the $30K starter allowance level where she finished a strong third, less than two lengths behind Montgomery Park and Epicurean. Toss her last where she blew the break and lost interest and she fits very well with this group. My Coralena (#2) is the logical alternative, facing winners for the first time, after crushing a $30K maiden claiming field in her most recent start, We was second two back in a very productive $20K maiden claiming race, where the top three finishers went on to win their next starts. Genaro Garcia claimed her out of that spot, moved her up in class a bit, and was rewarded with an eight length score. After getting a few weeks off, she’s breezed three times in the morning and this seems like a reasonable spot to make her next start.
$16K maiden claimers sprint six furlongs in the back end of the early daily double. I’m going to side with some of the less seasoned runners in this race. Lead Off (#3) makes his third career start and his second off the Diodoro claim. I don’t love that he was claimed for $40K and dropped to $16K for his next start. He ran okay that day, breaking slow and making up ground to get into 5th. Diodoro sticks with the apprentice, Medellin, and when they have teamed up at this meet, they have won twice in five tries together. I can see this one taking a step forward. Take No Prisoners (#10) debuted with $40K maiden claimers last out, and lost all chance at the break when he broke in the air. That was a solid field that he was up against that day and he appears to fit much better at this level. Ramon Vazquez, who won 44 races at this meet before shifting his tack to Southern California, is back to ride Idol later on in the Oaklawn Handicap, but he’s picked up some mounts today, including this one for Moquett. Pikachu (#1) finished 4th, in front of Lead Off last out, when he too, had a lousy break. He made up a lot of ground to get into 4th, and showed that if he breaks on time, he could be competitive at this level. I don’t love the rail draw, but I think he still is worth considering in this race.
Three year olds and up go six furlongs in this maiden special weight. Louis Cella sends out a pair trained by Ron Moquett, and I think these two have the upper hand here. Grapnel (#2) figures to be the better price of the duo, making his second career start today. He was an even 5th in his debut at this level two months ago. Moquett’s horses typically improve in their second starts. He’s worked well in the interim and gets the services of Ramon Vazquez once again. Sinner’s Sin (#3) didn’t show much in the mud on debut, but has looked much better in his last two races, getting close to the winner each time, but falling a bit short. Jose Ortiz, who is the regular rider of Letruska, will ride in his first local appearance of the year. I also am curious as to why he’s entered in this race, as opposed to the maiden allowance race just for three year olds later on the card at the same distance. Perhaps they thought this race might come up softer, which very well could be the case. He’s a major player, but I do worry that the price disparity between the two runners will be too large.
An overflow field of conditioned $12,500 claimers go six furlongs here. This feels like a spread race to me, and (spoiler alert), since I think Letruska is a single in the next race, this is definitely a spread race for me. I think Torin (#2) is interesting at a price with Franciso Arrieta aboard. He was awful in two starts here in December and January, however, both races were on a muddy and sealed course. Cox gave him three months off and brought him back with $10K N3L claimers at the beginning of the month and he ran a much stronger race, finishing second, beaten only one length. He does move up in class, but his fast track form here is very good, winning twice and finishing second once. I think he can move forward off his last and fly under the radar here. Abdan (#11) finally graduated from the maiden ranks three starts back when making his 10th career start. He ran a clunker two back with $30K N2L company, but was a popular winner when facing $12,500 N2L claimers last month. Timothy Martin claimed him and brings him back for the same tag, while moving up in class. He’s drawn well and gets Isaac Castillo to pilot him. Major Attraction (#8) keeps knocking on the door at this N3L level. He’s hit the board in four straight tries and was claimed in his last two starts. Matt Williams has good numbers first off the claim as he tries to get off the duck for this current meet. Tkotchke (#10) is the wild card in this race. He was a voided claim in his last race with $30K conditioned claimers at Churchill back in November. He was a wide 5th that day when going off as the 11-10 favorite. He was a winner here in 2020 and faced significantly better horses in 2021, while remaining winless. He makes his first start of the season while taking a heavy drop in class. He’s playable with this group, but I’m just unsure of what to expect out of him. I’ll cover with him, and see what the toteboard tells me there. Top Brass (#12) is another one that could be worth covering. He’s a 13 time winner that has won two straight. He’s eligible for this spot as the claiming tags were low enough to not count toward the time restriction. He’s been facing lower level runners, but Broberg is giving him the chance here after strong effort in his local debut for 2022. Horses at this level don’t often win three straight, but good form is good form.
Race 5: The Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap:
The headline in this race is the 2021 Apple Blossom winner, Letruska (#2) squaring off with the 2020 Apple Blossom winner, Ce Ce (#5) for the first time. Both six year old mares are multiple Grade 1 winners that seem to continue to get better as they age. Letruska had a tremendous campaign in 2021, winning four Grade 1 races en route to being named Champion Older Dirt Female. Ce Ce spent most of 2021 sprinting, and won three graded stakes races including the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, on her way to being named the Champion Female Sprinter last year. While both horses have won at this distance, I think the pace and the class advantage goes to Letruska in this compact field. She recovered from her Breeders’ Cup debacle at Del Mar by winning the Royal Delta at Gulfstream in her 2022 debut. During last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff she attended a sprinter’s pace in that nine furlong race. The 44:4 half mile time was the same half mile time that was recorded in the Breeders’ Cup FIlly and Mare Sprint. Letruska couldn’t keep up as the closers came with a rush, and she wilted to the back of the pace. When she was able to set moderate fractions, she was unstoppable last year. She defeated Monomoy Girl and Swiss Skydiver in a deeper version of this race last year and I think she has the pace advantage to repeat. She’ll be a single on most tickets for me, despite likely going off at sub even money odds. Clairiere (#3) would be the filly I’d use as a backup, as I think she’s developing into a very nice filly that will be tough to beat in some of these races in this loaded division this year. She ran a strong race in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last fall, rallying from last place to finish 4th, less than a length behind Marche Lorriane in what was a wild finish. She came from last to first to easily dominate an optional claiming/N3X allowance field in her seasonal debut at the Fair Grounds. She was bred to be a good one and I predict she’ll win some big races this year, however, I worry about her being pace compromised with this group today.
Ten of the eleven entered in this $12,500 starter allowance race were claimed out of one of their last two starts. It’s hard to ignore the current form that Verrazano First (#1) is in. He won at this level going one mile last month, when making his first start for Chris Hartman. He’s won two straight and he has good speed from his rail post. He stands as the one to beat and the top pick here. However, if he is pushed too hard on the front end, I’m looking to cover with some prices that could be getting involved late. I’m willing to give Buxterhooter (#6) one more shot after getting a run over the track last out. He’s a Delta based runner that came here two weeks ago and finished a dull 5th with $8K starter allowance company. He has a good record at this distance, and he’s scored on tracks with a mile oval as well. If you’re willing to forgive his last , he fits nicely with these. Slick Silver (#10) moves up in class for Diodoro after crushing $8K claimers two weeks ago. He’s a two-time winner at this meet running for a barn that has won a lot of races at this meet. The field is tougher, but he could have a forward move.
This is another six furlong maiden special weight, but this race is just for the three year olds. Plausible Denile (#9) cuts back to a six furlong sprint after a pair of stong efforts at two turns. I don’t love that move for him though. I would rather see him wait for a one turn mile race at Churchill as opposed to cutting all the way back to six furlongs. I’ll cover my bases with him on deeper tickets, but I think there’s value trying to beat him in this spot. I thought the debut from Acehigh Royal (#7) was a gutsy effort from a horse that had never raced before. He surged late after saving some ground on the turn and angling out. A big effort from Sinner’s Sin in the third race would definitely flatter him, as he narrowly defeated his stablemate last out. I like betting Moquett second time out and this one looks like he can run a bit. Raymond (#2) was purchased for $1 million at the Keeneland September Sale in 2020. He’s sired by Into Mischief out of the graded stakes winner mare, Teen Pauline. His debut at Saratoga was a disaster when he threw in the towel after sparring with next out graded stakes winner, Major General. He was gelded since his last start, which clearly wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly for a million dollar purchase. They do keep him in a protected spot, as opposed to dropping him for a tag, so there must be some things to like. Mean Jakey (#5) is his stablemate that is making his third start off the layoff after pairing his first two Beyers in 2022. His first two starts haven’t shown a ton of growth from his two year old season, so taking 3-1 on him, despite the presence of Rosario, feels too short. However, he will be forwardly placed, and has battled in his last two tries, so he’s worth covering on the horizontal wagers. Tonka Warrior (#1) draws the rail for his debut, which isn’t ideal, but he’s worked well in the morning for McLean Robertson. He’s a son of Cupid, whose value as a sire seems to be trending up. He’d be worth covering with as well.
Race 8: The $150K Oaklawn Stakes:
This race for three year olds, not to be confused with the Oaklawn Handicap later in the card, drew a field of seven. Six of them are eligible for the N1X condition, while only Home Brew (#4) has cleared that. He’ll be my top pick, making his first start since a dull effort in the slop in the Smarty Jones. He was coming into that race after clearing the N1X condition on the first Saturday of the meet, back in December. He had things his own way on the front end that day, but he struggled to get over the wet course in his next start. He came up empty after taking a lot of mud to the face and was given a few months off. Perhaps something was amiss after the race, or he could have bled, since he wasn’t eligible to receive Lasix in that race (Since it was a Derby Points Race). He gets it today and he’ll get the services of Jose Ortiz, who could be sitting on a big afternoon. Stellar Tap (#2) is the logical alternative, trying to live up to the potential he showed when dominating in his debut at Saratoga this summer. His last was his best effort since then, finishing a traffic-filled second behind Ruggs. This is not the deepest field, but he’s lost his last five starts, so it’s hard to take a short price on him here. The Skipper Too (#6) is a Florida bred that has moved to the John Ortiz barn after a solid second place finish behind We The People in his last start last month. He’s been gradually improving and certainly could take another step forward here.
This is a brutally tough $25K starter allowance to start the Late Pick-4. I’m going to use four and hope to get out of this leg alive. I’ll try the newcomer, Sea to Success (#4) on top. He’s moving into McLean Robertson’s barn after going off form a bit in his last two races in Southern California. He form from the fall would fit very well with this group, and this barn excels with new acquisitions. Town Champ (#5) and Admirably (#6)were right there together on the wire with Admirably getting the job done for the second straight time. Neither runner has turned in a bad performance in a while. Town Champ at 6-1 on the morning line has been knocking on the door and might offer better value. Admirably has moved to the barn of Melton Wilson during the Wayne Potts suspensions. Wilson won the nightcap yesterday with Kershaw, so the horses that were in good form for Potts, seem to be keeping their form for him. Don’t Forget (#7) is another one coming in hot. He’s been on the board in his last four starts, winning with $20K starter allowance company in his most recent try for Aaron Shorter. Ramon Vazquez gets the return call today.
Eastside Cool (#3) looks very tough to beat in this race, coming in off three straight races where he crossed the finish line first. He was an easy winner at this level two back, but was disqualified and placed second. He dropped to starter allowance company, which I thought was an odd decision a few weeks ago, however he was a much the best winner at short odds. I don’t think anyone in here has been as good as he’s been lately. I’ll use his former stablemate, Calibrate (#4) as a backup. He kind of feels like the 2020 version of Stellar Tap, who runs in the 8th race. In 2020, he was a strong winner on debut at Saratoga, but has not been able to match that success in any of his subsequent efforts (much like Stellar Tap when breaking his maiden in 2021 at the Spa). He was claimed for $50K and returns to allowance company today. Perhaps the barn change will be enough to rekindle his spirit.
Race 11: The Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap:
Many of these rivals have gotten familiar with each other in the races in this division during this meet. The Essex last month was won by the nine year old, Rated R Superstar (#5), who also won the Fifth Season Stakes earlier in the meet. In between those races, Plainsman (#6) took home the trophy in the Razorback Stakes back in February. One thing that is noticeably different from this race and the Essex is that two of the horses that didn’t come back, Warrior’s Charge and Popular Kid, were replaced by two classy newcomers, Idol (#4) and Fearless (#8). While they add a lot of depth to the field, neither has much early speed, which should create less pace pressure on the front end. Thomas Shelby (#2) and Plainsman ended up going hard on the front end in the Essex, in part because Thomas Shelby, who is usually a very sharp gate horse, missed the break. That changed the complexion of the race, when he rushed up to secure early position from his rail draw. Plainsman engaged early as a result, and they set the table for Rated R Superstar to come over the top. I don’t see anyone pushing them as hard as Warrior’s Charge and Popular Kid last time. I do think we could be headed for a repeat of the Razorback, where the pace was more moderate. Rosario kept Thomas Shelby in striking distance the whole race and nailed him on the wire. I think both could rebound here. Fearless and Idol are the X factors here. Fearless was a close second in this race in 2021, and he’s coming in this race in very good form. His last two races at two turns have been open lengths victories. It’s very possible that Jose Ortiz sweeps the stakes races today. Idol is over a year removed from his triumph in the Big Cap at Santa Anita in 2021. He’s only had one start since that race, which was a dull effort in the Awesome Again Stakes in October. If he’s right, he’s definitely a player.
Arkansas bred optional $25K claimers/N1X allowance runners take the spotlight in the nightcap on this big card. There’s a lot of early speed signed on, but there isn’t a strong closer. I’m going to try Heritage Park (#4) on top, while hopefully getting an aggressive ride from Isaac Castillo. Toss his two flops in the mud and he is the speed of the speed here. Others want to go early, but I think he’s quicker than they are. He makes his first start of the claim for Timothy Martin in this wide open race. Blame J D (#5) showed a new dimension when coming from off the pace in his last start at that level. He was on the losing end of s three horse photo that day. He was the winner of the Rainbow Stakes last year as a three year old so that effort my get him back on track at the end of this meet. Mahomey (#3) took care of business when stalking a hot pace from the outside post. Both of his career wins have come when starting in an outside gate, so drawing post 3 in a full field might not be ideal. However, he’s shown enough ability to use him in this spot as well. J.E.’s Handmedown (#10) could also be considered a closer in this contest today. He was claimed by Asmussen after finishing 4th behind both Ima Bling Cat (#9) and Macho Rocco (#2). 4-1 doesn’t feel like great value though, on a horse that has not won a race since 2019.
Favorite Bet Today: Race 9, Late Pick-4 ($48 Ticket, $0.50 Base Wager)
I think there’s a lot of hidden value on this ticket, especially in the first and last legs. Sea To Success (#4) and Town Champ (#5) could both be overlooked in the 9th and the same could be said for Heritage Park (#4) and Blame J D (#5) in the 12th. I’m thinking that Eastside Cool (#3) in the 10th is the most likely winner in the sequence, but I’ll cover with Calibrate (#4) to try to get a price. In the 11th, I’m taking both frontrunners and both shippers to try to cover all the right bases there.
Race 9: 4,5,6,7
Race 10: 3,4
Race 11: 2,4,6,8
Race 12: 3,4,5