Closing week is upon us in Hot Springs, Arkansas as this 23 week meet prepares to come to a close on Sunday. There are three days left and Francisco Arrieta and Ricardo Santana Jr. are nipping at the heels of the injured David Cabrera in the race for the leading jockey of the meet. Santana is in Kentucky this weekend and isn’t named to ride any of the three days. Arrieta will have every opportunity to take the lead this weekend, needing 5 wins to tie and 6 wins to win the title outright. Steve Asmussen will be the leading trainer for the 12th time at this meet. There is a stakes race on the expanded 10 race program. Race 8 is the $150K Natural State Breeders Stakes for Arkansas bred fillies and mares, going one mile. First post on this Friday afternoon is 12:15 CT/1:15 ET.
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!
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Fillies and mares, three and up, who have never won three races, sprint six furlongs in the opener. It took Aidanike (#4) 12 tries before she broke her maiden in lucky start number 13, and now she comes in this race on a two race win streak. She’s at her best when she’s on the front end, and while there are some others that want to be closer here, I think she can set the pace. When she went off form over the fall, she wasn’t sharp early on, and when she started going better again, it was when she was put into the race early. Asmussen continues to roll at this meet and I think he’ll start off the final Friday with another one. Airborne Gal (#3) is the logical alternative in this race for Chris Hartman. She’s capable of running some big efforts, but she’s also run some races her connections would rather forget. She faltered as the favorite in starter allowance company last out where she had some issues at the start. Watching it back, she broke out and then had another horse inside of her come out and cause a chain reaction bump. She traveled well and looked like she was going to blow by the field before going absolutely flat. The drop will help her and a horse that finished in front of that day, Chakra, has gone on to win her next two starts. There’s definite pros and cons, but it’s her lack of consistency which is a little unsettling for a short priced runner.
Last week, it seems like the kind of horse that Steve Asmussen was winning with was the horse that has been gradually improving throughout the meet. Stainless Steel (#7) fits that description in this $30K-$25K maiden claiming contest. His last race was his first time at this level and he was pressing the lead when facing a better field for the condition. Isaac Castillo has hit with 25% of the horses he’s ridden for Asmussen at this meet, and he gets the call over Alex Canchari, who has been struggling here. Take No Prisoners (#6) makes his first start after being claimed for $16K by the second place trainer at the meet, Robertino Diodoro, who is frequently sharp off the claim. He took a sizable drop in his second start and he ran a solid second, improving off his debut. This duo feels like the two that are going to be there at the end.
This is a $50K starter allowance for three year olds and upward that have never won two races. Some of the other $50K starter allowance races in the condition book here are for horses that have not cleared the N1X condition, and others are just a straight starter allowance. As a result, this is a softer field than many of the other $50K starter allowances from Oaklawn, which will be important to note as these horses are likely to show up on different circuits soon. Both Miniconjou (#4) and Rare Stripe (#6) are coming off big wins in maiden claiming races last out. I worry both are candidates to bounce off those efforts while facing winners for the first time. I’m going to try to beat that pair with Windcracker (#5). You know what you’re getting with a horse that has one win in 18 career starts, however, he’s definitely consistent. He’s met some decent fields when facing N2L claiming company, and I’d argue that some of those fields had more depth than this group. Arrieta gets the call for Greg Compton off the claim. I can forgive the the poor effort out of Swift Tap (#3) when he was up against Cairama last out in an optional claiming/N1X allowance race. His three prior efforts with starter allowance or N2L claiming company were much better. This is definite class relief for him. On deeper tickets, give a look to Ridgepointe (#1) in his second start off the layoff for Donnie Von Hemel. Von Hemel got off the duck for the meet with a winner last week. This son of Carpe Diem broke his maiden on debut at Churchill back in November. He resurfaced in a contentious $50K N2L claiming race where he showed some interest early before backing out late. I expect him to be more fit after that start and I think he could move forward in this spot.
Arkansas bred fillies and mares run in this $20K maiden claiming contest. There are a lot of warts that you’re going to have to accept when playing a horse in this race. Several in here are making their first start at two turns, including the one that I ended up on, Fibrillator (#2). She’s bred to handle the two turn distance, being sired by Cross Traffic out of a Broken Vow mare. She’s passed some tiring horses in her two career starts in sprints, so she may be gaining some ground on some leg weary rivals here. Sweetness Too (#7) showed some interest in her only two turn race, which came on a muddy course back in February. Her last few starts in maiden special weight company were not encouraging, but her race two back at this level was solid. Calvin Borel, who had his first win of the meet on Sunday, gets the assignment today. On deeper tickets, Tallandlong (#10) could wind up as the pacesetter in this race if she doesn’t have to be used too hard to make the front end. She’s been a far cry from the 2021 version of herself in her two starts this season, so perhaps the stretch out will help her regain her form.
The Early Pick-5 sequence concludes with a $12,500 N2L claiming race for fillies and mares going six furlongs. This is another race that feels like it could wind up being on the chalky side. Rattaprante (#9) has been sharp in her two local races since shipping in from Southern California. She faced a strong $20K maiden claiming field in February that produced multiple next out winners. She came back in March and added her name to that list by handily beating $10K maiden cliamers. He’s been away since and faces winners for the first time in a race where she figures to be a short price. Consistency was her issue out west, so we’ll see if Jerry Hollendorfer has been able to right that ship. I do think that she’s better than these. Itsy Bitsy Betty (#8) has been claimed three times already at the current meet, and makes her first start for Rene Amescua. She wants to be in the mix early, but she’ll likely have company from Rattaprante and Olivian (#5). She’s been fading in her last few starts, but outside of the top pick, this is a subpar bunch. On deeper tickets, Flirtatious Smile (#10) is coming off a career best race where she closed into a hot pace to get up for third when facing state bred $16K N2L claimers last out. She might get a similar setup today, and maybe being a closing sprinter is going to be where she runs her best races. Edwin Gonzalez, who was riding very well over the weekend, gets the call.
We have another $50K starter allowance on tap here, this one for fillies and mares going 1 mile and 1/16. Other than the fact that the horse had to have run for a $50K claiming tag or less since 2021, there are no other restrictions here, allowing for a deeper field for this type of race. Misty Veil (#2) has been a productive claim for Tom Amoss, who took her for $30K last May at Churchill. She crushed older fillies and mares as three year old last season when winning at this level at Saratoga in July. She’s run nine times in that span, winning three races and hitting the board in the other six. She cleared the N1X and N2X conditions at the Fair Grounds this winter and she was most recently second to The Mary Rose here in February, who ran a monster race that afternoon. W W Fitzy (#1) was about three lengths behind Misty Veil two starts back in February, and she ended up not finishing her last race when she encountered the Grade 1 winning filly, Maracuja in allowance company. She appeared no worse for wear as she’s worked twice for Diodoro since. Her best races have been on the front end, but I don’t think she’s fast enough to outsprint Misty Veil to the lead, despite her inside position. She has run well when pressing the pace though, and if the top pick isn’t as sharp after two and a half months away, Isaac Castillo might be able to take advantage of that. These two seem to be classier than the other five runners, but with Misty Veil off a little layoff and W W Fitzy not finishing her last race, I’d want to back up with at least one other runner here on a deeper ticket. Bow Bow Girl (#4) would be the most likely beneficiary of a pace meltdown in this spot. If some combination of W W Fitzy, A Real Jewel (#5), and Miss Imperial (#7) decides they want to try to take it to Misty Veil in the early stages of this race, the table might be set for a closer. Bow Bow Girl was Chris Richard’s only winner of this meet thus far, scoring in a N4L allowance race two weeks ago. She’s likely a cut below the top two on normal days, but she’s a hard trying filly that rarely runs a bad race. If she gets the right scenario, she could pull off another upset.
The Late Pick-4 starts with an optional $25K claiming/N1X allowance race for Arkansas bred fillies and mares going 5 and ½ furlongs. Several runners ran in a race at a similar condition last week. Dutch Treat (#9) figures to be very tough with this group this afternoon, while coming from off the pace. She narrowly missed at this distance back in December. She won her last start when she raced for Diodoro, who reclaimed her last out. She’s had a pattern of running a subpar after a good race, and then rebounding again, so if that continues, she’s likely sitting on one of her better efforts. Closers struggled to get home last week, but if the track is playing fair, she should have plenty of pace to run at in this contest. There’s a decent number of need the lead type horses in here, and I’m trying to find horses that have had success, rating just off the pace. Dolly Dimple (#7) was that horse in 2021, but her last few starts have not been encouraging. Her last race was her first for John Ortiz, who might have put an exclamation mark on his excellent meet last week when his Arkansas bred colt, Whelen Springs, beat open company in the Bachelor Stakes. I am expecting an improved run from her, hoping she is a little less aggressive than she was last out. Tapit Right (#12) might have been a little too close to a hot pace last week from her outside post. Arrieta takes over for the apprentice, Hiraldo, and he had more success aboard her this winter. She may be rounding back into better form after running a few poor efforts in March. On deeper tickets, I’ll cover with both Sulwe (#8) and Mocha Kiss (#10), both who are likely to get some attention at the windows. I thought this distance was going to be too short for Sulwe two starts back, however, she ran her race and broke her maiden that afternoon. She came away slow but rallied with a wide move at this level last week to get into 4th when facing winners for the first time. I could consider upgrading her if closers are getting home earlier in the card. Mocha Kiss is consistent, but I prefer her underneath as opposed to a win candidate with this large field. She’s hit the board in her last four starts, but she never felt like a winner in any of those sprint races.
Race 8: The $150K Natural State Breeders Stakes:
A field of 11 Arkansas bred fillies and mares are assembled for this one mile stakes contest. I wonder if John Ortiz has any regrets about sending The Mary Rose (#1) out of town on two separate occasions at this meet. In fairness, both of those starts where she left Arkansas were in stakes company at Sam Houston and at Turfway, and both of those races came after monstrous victories on this oval. She decimated a nice field in an optional $50K/N2X allowance race here on New Year’s Eve. That performance earned her a spot in the starting gate in the Grade 3 Houston Ladies Classic, where she was no match for Pauline’s Pearl. She came back here and crushed another well-meant allowance field in February, which earned her a trip to Turfway Park, where she ran in the $200K Latonia Stakes. Again, she was no match for the likes of Crazy Beautiful on the synthetic course there. She returns to face Arkansas breds for the first time since the very start of this meet. She won the Downthedustyroad Breeders Stakes last year going six furlongs and she was third against in the boys in the Arkansas Breeders Challenge Stakes. If she runs back to her allowance efforts in open company. If The Mary Rose doesn’t run her race, the two logical contenders to take the top prize would be the four year old fillies, Summer Shoes (#5) and Connie K (#6). Both fillies are being asked to go two turns for the first time in this race, but both have shown a lot of ability in their races so far. Summer Shoes was the most impressive state bred maiden winner of the meet this season, crushing her rivals two starts back by over 12 lengths. Her speed figure dropped significantly in her next start, but she still easily cleared the N1X allowance condition after surviving a duel with some more experienced runners. She has the pedigree to get two turns as her grand sire is Deputy Commander and the dam sire is Summer Squall (a name that we don’t see much in pedigrees anymore). I’m not sure she’s ready to beat a horse as accomplished as The Mary Rose, with only three career starts on her resume, but this will serve as a good litmus test at the end of the Arkansas bred racing season. Connie K has more of a foundation than Summer Shoes, and she has run some good races sprinting with open company. She won with $50K starter allowance company at Churchill last year, and she was second to Southern Grayce in open N2X allowance company three weeks ago. That one came back to beat an impressive field in allowance company last weekend. Connie K won the Downthedustyroad Breeders Stakes this year and has been very good in three tries in 2022. She’s only been sprinting though, so I’m not sure how confident her connections are that she’ll perform as well at two turns.
This is a nice N3L allowance race at one mile that has Steve Asmussen’s fingerprints all over it. He sends out two runners, Lightning Struck (#4) and Kingmeister (#5), and there are two runners that were recently claimed away from him, Caerus (#2) and Calibrate (#9). I like both Caerus and Lightning Struck quite a bit in this race. Caerus cleared the N1X condition with an allowance win at Sam Houston two starts back. Asmussen entered him for a tag in a very good optional claiming/N1X field last month where he finished second, in front of his stablemate Alejandro. Melton Wilson claimed him for $25K that day, and brings him back in this protected spot. Wilson’s horses have run well since he took over for Potts and can sometimes be overlooked in the wagering. Lightning Struck broke a bit slow in a loaded optional claiming/N3L allowance sprint two weeks ago, where he was defeated by Greeley and Ben, who is a win machine. I liked his two turn efforts at seven furlongs at Delta, so I think the added distance is a sneaky plus for him. Quinonez has not won when teaming up with Asmussen, but I think this three year old son of Practical Joke has some upside while taking on older horses for the first time. I think Kingmeister is better on grass and, even though Calibrate ran a big race last out first off the claim, he has struggled to put two good races back to back in his career. Post nine also does that one no favors in this race. I’ll use Notary (#3) on deeper tickets though, who has been a consistent runner in starter allowance company. Elvin Gonzalez has been riding with much more confidence on this oval over the last few weeks compared to earlier in the meet. He gets the return call after a pair of respectable third place finishes since he was claimed by Ingrid Mason.
The nightcap today is a $35K-$30K maiden claiming race for fillies and mares, three and up, going six furlongs. There’s a lot of ways to go in this race where Ernie Witt, Chris Hartman, and McLean Robertson all send out a pair of runners. I see a lot of speed signed on, which makes me think that the more experienced, Burrow Down (#7) could have a stamina edge on the cut back in distance. She was claimed out of her last race by Chris Hartman, when she finished a game second with $30K maiden claimers at two turns. She’s had eight chances so far to break her maiden, and her last six tries have all been routes. Arrieta, who has been riding several of Hartman’s horses at this meet, winds up riding her instead of her stablemate, Outlaw Queen (#8). Que Pasa Mufasa (#5) ended up dueling with her stablemate, Middie (#9) when they debuted together on April first. Que Pasa Mufasa broke out, and then rushed before fading at the top of the stretch. Alex Canchari has struggled at this meet, but he rides a lot of horses for Robertson at Canterbury, and his percentages are higher on this course when riding for him. I think the addition of blinkers will be a plus for her in her second start. Middie was dead game when just missing in her debut. She survived a duel on the front end, and grudgingly gave way in the final steps when the more experienced, Zmuda got through on the inside late. Her last wasn’t her best, but that was a tougher group than what she’s seeing here. I think both runners are live in this wide open field. On deeper tickets, Asmussen sends out Late Night Music (#4) who is the lukewarm favorite. His barn has been winning all year long, but they’ve been hot lately here. She ran a credible race in her local debut in March. Asmussen waited a bit on her and brings her back now. She’ll likely be in the thick of things early, and if horses on the front end are performing like they did last week, I’d likely upgrade her here.