Derby Day is also the last Saturday of the season for Oaklawn Park’s historic meet. There’s a solid 12 race card, highlighted by a full field of 14 Arkansas breds in the Arkansas Breeders’ Championship, which goes off as Race 11 on this large program. First post today is scheduled for 12:05 CT/1:05 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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The day starts off with $20K Arkansas bred maiden claimers going 1 mile and 1/16. Only three of the nine entered have route experience, and the experience that they have isn’t very good. Dudley (#5) looks like a solid favorite in his third start. He’s faced Morning Drive (#3) in both of his two career starts, and finished in front of him both times. The turnaround is quick, and the added distance, while I don’t anticipate it being a problem, is also an unknown. He’ll likely be a short price, and he makes more sense than any of the other eight, however, I will cover with a few others here. Morning Drive has improved in his two starts, so maybe the added distance will level the playing field between him and Dudley. He’s drawn well, and his pedigree suggests he should improve with added distance. Backgate Red (#2) was sharp with $16K maiden claimers two back in a sprint. He didn’t fare as well in the slop last out. His inside draw might help him save some ground in a race where that may be a critical factor.
$12,500 N2L claimers go 1 mile and 1/16 here. Knievel (#1) figures to be tough in this race, coming off a respectable third place finish in a nine furlong $10K N2L contest last month. Graves Mill Road flattered him by winning handily last week in a similar kind of race. Kylee Jordan, who has been winning races in bunches this season at Will Rogers Downs, gets the call today with Ricardo Santana Jr. in Kentucky. Bumper Pool (#4) is a new face at this level, as he’s been facing Arkansas breds in recent races. His figures are a little light for this level, but he is trending up. He tries two turns for the first time while adding blinkers, both of which might put him in the race a little bit sooner. I don’t love the current form for many of these, so I think he’s interesting at a price. On deeper tickets, the Asmussen trainee, Heliochrome (#8) is likely worth covering on deeper tickets. I think he’s more effective on turf, but he’s run well enough on dirt to contend at this level. He takes a significant drop in class for his second start off the layoff. I don’t love the post, so Castillo will have to try to keep from using him too hard to get early position. He was excellent in an off the turf maiden claiming race at Lone Star last season when earning his only win.
We have a $20K maiden claimer for three year olds going six furlongs here. I liked the way Goblin (#9) was moving in the final furlong in a race where he was left behind at the break. He was making his debut, and like many in here, he didn’t have a clean start in his first race day experience. He was asked to rush up after bobbling and spotting the field several lengths in the first furlong. He was asked for some run late, while sweeping widest of all to eventually split the 11 horse field. I expect Hiraldo to be more aggressive today after getting a race under his belt. Loyal to the Game (#2) is logical while returning to this level after trying two turns with a significantly deeper field last out when running with a $62,500 tag. He’s another steadily improving Asmussen runner, the kind that was winning for him last weekend. He outran his long odds in that one mile contest, so I can see him succeeding here. Bon Deux (#1) is another runner that got away slow but finished with interest in his debut. That race was with a softer $10K maiden claiming field, so the rise in class is a bit of a concern. I also am not in love with the rail draw, but he’s another one that could figure with this group.
Open $8K claimers go six furlongs here. Verrazano First (#7) got a questionable ride last out when going to post as the heavy 6-5 favorite in a $12,500 starter allowance race two weeks ago. He was a bit flat-footed at the start, and then apprentice Hiraldo panicked a bit and rode him aggressively to take the lead, in a race where there really wasn’t any pace signed on. He quickly opened up four or more lengths before settling down, but the energy that was exerted early took its toll as he had nothing for the stretch drive. Arrieta takes over for the first time today. He drops in class and cuts back to his preferred distance. He’s 5 of 10 at six furlongs, accounting for 62.5% of his career wins. M and M Racing sends out an entry of Replete (#1) and Lonely Private (#1A). Replete is the one I prefer, after improving under Karl Broberg. Aidan Green has struggled at this meet, but his numbers with his starters in their first starts off the claim are solid. Lonely Private wasn’t great last out when facing $16K claimers. Diodoro, who trains most of M and M Racing’s horses, does his claim and drop move, which I love so much. Ultimately, he probably should have been running in a $16K claimer, so this drop, which would pay $18K in purses to the winner isn’t as questionable as some of the other ones that we’ve seen. Asmussen acquired Horse Greedy (#2) at this level last out when rebounded for a disastrous effort two back to finish 4th. He’s a nine year old that has a win at the meet to his credit. He’s better when he’s closer to the early pace and there’s not as much early speed signed on in this contest as there was last time.
The end of the first Pick-5 is also the beginning of the Mid-Card Pick-5 on these super-sized twelve race programs. This race is a state bred $20K maiden claiming contest, which is the second division of this race with the first race being the first division. Jacks Spring Break (#7) appears to be due to graduate after three straight second place finishesHe’s been knocking on the door, and running his races lately, he’s just run into a horse that ran slightly better. I’m not sure I’m seeing that scenario play out, as there aren’t many viable candidates to step up and run the kind of race that I’ll take to beat this improving three year old. I don’t love the three professional maidens on the inside and most of the others just don’t appear fast enough. The one that I could back up with is Mo Vodka (#5), who was away slow last week with $16K maidens in a sprint. A runaway winner, Macho Ronnie, dominated that race, so his 6th place finish wasn’t awful. He looks like a horse that could handle two turns, so a move forward isn’t out of the question.
Fillies and mares go six furlongs in this conditioned $8K claimer. Beauty Day (#3) has been knocking on the door with better fields, finishing second in her last two. She’s consistent and she gets a rider upgrade to Elvin Gonzalez. Leading trainer, Steven Asmussen, claimed Honey Parade (#9) from her last start with $6,250 claimers last out. She’s hit the board in her last three races, most recently finishing behind her stablemate taking a massive drop in class. Isaac Castillo has ridden very well here over the last month, and he keeps earning more and more mounts for Asmussen, which may bode well for his business if he returns to Monmouth Park this year. Diodoro sends out an entry that will likely be well-backed, but I’m not crazy about taking a short price on either Living for Today (#1) or Boathouse View (#1A). I prefer Boathouse View, making her second start after almost a three month break. She’s been consistently facing tougher, but she is 0-15 on this oval. Living for Today improved at two turns since coming here over the winter. She was claimed by Diodoro in February, and he brings her back two and a half months later in a sprint, which feels a bit concerning to me, especially considering she’s won two straight routes.
This is another race that feels like the heavy favorite has a considerable edge over the rest of the field. Plane Talk (#3) makes a ton of sense in this conditioned $12,500 claiming race. He ended his season last year in an optional claiming/N1X allowance at Canterbury, where he was a voided claim. Since he was entered for the claim, he’s been able to run with the waiver in this start and his last start at this level for the nice claiming purses at this Oaklawn meet. He came up short last out when Verrazano First ran a big time race. There are other speed threats, but he appears to be the class of this field. If there is a horse that can run them down late, perhaps give a look to Sacred Oath (#7). He was very good here in his first start of the meet and hasn;t been anywhere close to that effort in his last four tries. He’s typically been facing saltier fields, and if there is an earnest duel, he may be able to crank it up late.
My hope is that this maiden special weight contest is as easy as 1-2-3. I’m not feeling the trio of first time starters here. They’ve been working for quite some time and are just making their debut at the end of the meet. Maybe I’m way off base, but it feels a bit forced here. Mean Jakey (#2) is one of two Asmussen runners that appear to have a fighting chance in here. He’s improved in his three starts at this meet, finishing second two weeks ago in a race at this level. If he can duplicate that effort, he’s going to be tough. Isaac Castillo has been getting the prime mounts for Asmussen over the last few weeks, so it’s interesting that he’s riding General Strike (#1) instead of the top pick here. He returned in a two turn contest and looked like he desperately needed that race. I think the decision to cut him back makes sense here as well. Blinkers are added in his second race off the layoff. Diodoro claimed Awesome Charge (#3) for $50K over a year ago, so it’s interesting that he’s making his return to the races in a maiden allowance race, instead of a $50K maiden claimer, where he could have been entered with the waiver. Perhaps the timing was off, but I think moving him up in class shows that Diodoro sees something in this horse to run him in a protected spot off the long break.
We have another conditioned $8K claiming race, this one open to males though. The collective form is not great in this race, so I’m looking for horses that are coming out of some tougher races. There’s a big difference between the level of quality in the open $8K claiming races here and the conditioned $8K claimers, so the class relief that MIne My Time (#6) is getting in this race might not be as obvious. His race two back in a sprint where he finished 4th wasn’t awful, seeing as how the top three finishers would likely be heavy favorites in this race. He was re-claimed by Timothy Martin, which is always a positive sign to me. His recent form isn’t great, but if he can get back to some of the races he was running in the fall, he’s going to be tough. Riverboat Gambler (#8) finds the softest field he’s seen in Arkansas this meet today. He’s another re-claimed horse, as Karl Broberg has had him two different times. He’s run many races at this meet that would likely beat this field. Kevin Witte (#2) ran a credible race against softer horses last out when making his first start of 2022. He ran some competitive races in the Mid-Atlantic region in 2021, and if he can make a forward move off his last effort, for his new connections, he could have an impact here. On deeper tickets, the part of the Diodoro entry that I prefer is Tiz Showbiz (#1A), on the drop in class. This barn has sent out a lot of runners over the last week, but hasn’t been winning much. His recent form isn’t the best, but this 11 year old gelding can still win races, as he was a three time winner at the Remington Park meet this past fall. I’ll save him for deeper tickets, because I don;t think the value will be as good as it will be on some of the others.
The final Pick-3 of the day starts with an Arkansas bred optional $25K claiming/N1X allowance race going 5 and ½ furlongs. The 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th place finishers for the Rainbow Stakes for three year olds are all back in this race, and that race looks very live after seeing Whelen Springs throw down with open company last weekend and win the Bachelor Stakes. Bettys Cash (#13) ran on the same day, and broke his maiden last week in gate to wire fashion, which adds to the depth of the Rainbow. Those horses are interesting to me in this race, where they are taking some older, more seasoned runners. Citrus Bay (#7) has the look of a horse that is starting to figure things out, and he could offer some nice value in this race if he goes off near his 15-1 morning line figure. When you draw a line through his race two back where he was pretty much eliminated at the break, he’s been progressing nicely at this meet, despite not hitting the board in four starts. Arrieta opts for the more seasoned Top Road Rules (#3) on the cutback in distance, and that’s a runner I’ll be trying to beat. Bettys Cash might be the speed of the speed if he’s able to draw in. From the twelve hole, he’ll need to flash that speed to have his best shot. Whelen Springs got the best of him in his previous two tries, but those efforts certainly are looking better. Ima Bling Cat (#12) and Captain Don (#2) are both live. Ima Bling Cat beat Captain Don on the square three back, but hasn’t come back as strong in his last two. Captain Don improved off his second place finish to come back to beat open $20K N3L claimers last out, while rating. If he can work out a similar trip in this race, I think he can contend.
Race 11: The $200K Arkansas Breeders Championship
The signature race for Arkansas breds drew a full field of 14 in this 1 mile and 1/16 contest, which is also the final stakes race of the meet. There’s a lot of talent in some tricky post positions in this race. Many of these rivals are very familiar with each other, so the trip is going to tell the story. This is the kind of race that is wide open, and many players might try to spread here. I think the previous races are wide open as well, but I have a stronger opinion in this race than some of the others, so I’m going to roll the dice and use the eight year old gelding, K J’s Nobility (#12) as a single here on most tickets. He nearly won this race with a furious late charge back in 2020 when he was a heavy favorite who couldn’t quite get to Man in the Can (#14) that day. He hasn’t quite been the same horse since then, but he also hasn’t been running consistently with a lot of stops and starts in his training. He started to look more like his old self last time out, when rallying into third. He had some traffic troubles that likely hindered him from winning. He runs his best race at two turns when sitting toward the back of the field and making one run late. With the amount of speed that is signed on, especially in the outer half of the starting gate, I think he’s going to get that trip today, and I think at 10-1 or higher, I think he offers great value here. On deeper tickets, the duo that I’ll cover with will be Implicator (#7) and Siouxper Charger (#11). Implicator ships in from open company at Sam Houston, making himself a new face in this division. Three of his last four races have been sharp, and the last two have been two of his best races in his career. I think that he’s another one that could sit the right trip in this race. Siouxper Charger has one way and it’s on the front end. From post eleven, I expect to see him on the engine from the get go, and he may be fast enough to clear this group. If closers are struggling to get home throughout the afternoon, I’d consider upgrading him.
The Saturday finale is an optional $32K claiming/N1X allowance for fillies and mares going six furlongs. There’s a good amount of speed signed on, so I’m looking for some orders that don’t have to be on the front end to win. Kasserine Pass (#5) looks like she could be tough in here off the claim. She’s very consistent, hitting the board in 10 of her last 13 starts, and in all seven career starts on this oval. She cleared this condition in her third career start, so she’s in for the tag in this race. She can come from off the pace and I believe that she has done enough in her career to prove that she can handle the rise in class. I always like when a trainer personally re-claims a horse, which is what Steve Asmussen did with Cherished (#10) back in February. She was a winner in claimers company that day, and hasn’t been seen since. I don’t typically love the layoff after the claim, but I don’t mind it as much when the horse comes back in a protected spot. She is a candidate to rally from off the pace today. I’m not sure how well Parkin’ in the Rear (#11), fits from a pace perspective, but I do think she’ll run an improved race from her last effort. She was really good two back taking $30K N3L claimers all the way. She bounced last out, but was competitive. I think she could run a race somewhere in between those races here, assuming she can avoid getting cooked in a duel. Rock Star Parking (#9) ran two huge races, seemingly out of nowhere, ten days apart. She’ll likely be favored in this spot because of that. If those races are her new normal, I think she wins, but at short odds, she doesn’t feel like the best wager here, knowing that most of her other efforts weren’t that good, and now she’s coming after four weeks of rest as opposed to ten days.