We’re down to one final day of racing at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas. There’s still some suspense with the race for leading jockey. Francisco Arrieta had a strong day on Friday, but he was shut out Saturday afternoon. He remains two wins behind David Cabrera, who is still sidelined with an injury. It will take two wins to tie and three to take home the title. Steve Asmussen, who trained Epicenter to a valiant second place finish in yesterday’s Kentucky Derby, had three winners yesterday to put an exclamation point on his meet where he nearly averaged one winner a day. There’s some nice allowance races and the traditional 14 furlong starter allowance that puts on bow on the 21-22 meet. First post for the 10 race card is 12:15 local time (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!
|Race||Top Pick||A||B||C||Exotics Menu|
|2||3||3,6,9||DBL, PK3, PK4|
|6||12||9,12||6||DBL, PK3, PK5|
|7||11||11||8,10||DBL, PK3, PK4|
The closing day card starts with a $30K-$25K maiden claiming race for fillies and mares, three and up, going one mile. Quality Chrome (#3) gets top billing for me after running a pair of decent efforts in her first two tries at two turns on the main track. She debuted on the turf at two turns and was claimed in her second start for $10K. She sprinted on the main track four times, but started to run much sharper races in her last two when routing on dirt. She drops in class after finishing a distant third in her most recent start in maiden allowance company. Makemebelieve (#7) has only started twice, and there are definite gaps in her running lines. However, she did run a better race with $50K maiden claimers in her first two turn try, which was also her first start in over four months. She’s been off for two months now and gears up for her third career, where I think she could outrun her odds. Burrow Down (#2) was a horse that I liked in a maiden claiming sprint race here on Friday. This appears to be the better option for her, as she was scratched out of that race in favor of this route. She likes being on the front end, but the presence of Distorted Secrets (#6) on the stretch out, might throw a wrinkle into her plans.
$12,500 N2L claimers sprint six furlongs in the back half of the early daily double. This is a tricky race because Violent Pass (#6) is likely to be a heavy favorite in this contest, and it’s hard to find a viable alternative to beat him. However, I really am not interested in taking a short price on a horse that hasn’t won a race in over two years. He’s never won when sprinting, and despite his advantage in speed figures, he’s been a beaten favorite several times since breaking his maiden back in 2020. I fear that he’s the kind of horse that runs down to his competition. Perhaps there’s no one good enough to catch him here, and I do expect that he’ll be on or near the lead. I’ll use him on the A line because of the soft competition, but I’ll make Brady Boucher (#3) the pick. He broke his maiden on this course two starts ago, showing vast improvement when beating $10K maiden claimers. He ran last week against winners for the first time and paired his last Beyer, finishing 6th, about five lengths behind Violent Pass. I could see him taking a small step forward, while the other one regresses a bit here to make up that gap. Bold Minister (#9) finished just in front of Brady Boucher in that same race. He was cutting back in distance from a nine furlong race in his previous start. His effort wasn’t awful, and this is a softer group. I can see him running back to that race with this group a week later.
We’ll move to a conditioned $25K claiming race, where everyone is entered under the N3L claiming condition. This is quite the mix of horses taking deep drops, horses that have been facing similar, and horses stepping up in class. I like Espionage (#9) a good bit in here, making his first start of the Diodoro claim. His only bad race came in a race where he was a voided claim, and clearly there was something amiss. Every other start, he’s hit the board, winning twice in seven starts. He hit the front two weeks ago, but got a little leg weary late, finishing third in that race. He seems to run well on this course and he’s been claimed by some sharp claiming trainers over his last few starts. This is a stout drop for Happymac (#4) who hasn’t been the same horse at this meet after several impressive efforts last season. Perhaps he’s tailing off, and the drop in class won’t matter. However, if he’s going to start to regain his better stride, it would be with a field like this. 4-1 on the morning line feels like a fair proposition, but I suspect he’ll go to post at lower odds, which feels like it would be less than ideal value. The Feature (#3) takes a decent step up in class after the Chris Hartman claim, and he’ be worth using on deeper tickets. His big figure could have been aided by the slop that afternoon, but he’s been competitive on fast tracks as well. He’ll be forwardly placed, which has been a plus late in the meet.
A field of eight four year olds and up, run in this $50K starter allowance. I’ve written about the different caveats that sometimes come with these conditions at Oaklawn, however, this race doesn’t have any of them. It is simply open to any horse that has started one time or more for a claiming price of $50K or less in 2021 or 2022. As a result, this one of the stronger starter allowance races at this meet. Several horses are coming out $40K starter allowance races where the field was also restricted to horses that haven’t won two races in a three month span. That stipulation excluded Decision Maker (#6), who beat some of these runners back in March, from the 4/22 race at that condition that was won by Kershaw (#3). In addition, Market Analysis (#2) qualified for this race by running in an optional $50K/N2X allowance race where he was entered with the tag. When all is said and done, there are four that I’m considering from this race. Decision Maker is the top pick, trying to win three straight starts and four straight races on dirt. He’s rallied with a well-timed run in both of those starter allowance races, and with prominent speed inside and outside of him, there should be a decent pace to set up his late close. Kershaw could be a candidate to get first run on him. He laid close to the pace, despite running in last in his most recent start. He made a bold, four wide bid for the front, getting up in time for the score. He’s ripped off three straight wins here, but was eligible for his last race because one of those wins came with $20K claimers. Market Analysis was last seen in the Grade 3 Oaklawn Mile, which was won by Fulsome. That one went on to compete in the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes on the Kentucky Oaks undercard on Friday. He’s been facing classier horses, and beating them, finishing in front of Wells Bayou in his most recent start. He’s one of four that could be going out for the lead here. Another one that could be a front end threat is Bourbon Frontier (#1) ridden by ten pound apprentice, Jeremy Alicea. This will be his biggest opportunity yet, and he likely earned this mount with a very heads up ride last weekend to win his first career race. I’m expecting the horse to run better in his second start off a layoff after finishing a few lengths behind Kershaw last out. I’m going to be more conservative with how I use him though, to see how the apprentice handles the more difficult assignment here.
$20K Arkansas bred maiden claimers go six furlongs here. I’m on Mammoth Spring (#11), who would be a steal at 8-1. I suspect his odds will be about half of that come post time, and rightfully so. He’s been right there in all three starts, including a narrow loss when finishing third in his most recent start on March 31st. He was claimed by Norman McKnight out of that race, and he’ll make one start for him before liking heading North to Canada for the summer. He must have seen something that makes him think that he’ll do well on synthetics up there. However, his dirt form is good enough to win with this group and he’ll get a significant rider upgrade to Isaac Castillo this afternoon. Point Blank (#4) might be flying under the radar a bit in this race, but I think this gradually improving son of Moonshine Mullin could be sitting on a career best effort while cutting back from a route to a sprint. He came up just short two back, finishing inches behind Mammoth Spring. His first route attempt wasn’t awful, but his wide trip didn’t help his prospects. I think there’s a chance that there could be significant odds discrepancy between him and the top pick when they go into the gate, and if that happens, I’ll definitely be using him. Aux Arcs (#8) is the 5-2 morning line favorite, which feels a little bit low in this race. However, he’s another horse that shows a steady pattern of improvement. He was caught late when trying to take the field gate to wire in a $12,500 state bred maiden claiming race. I don’t think there’s a noticeable difference between this field and the field he faced last time. He’s a player, but I’d like to get better odds. On deeper tickets, Botany (#6) could be worth considering at long odds. He was well backed last out, but had a miserable trip in the slop. His form is up and down, so I’ll need to get every bit of the 15-1 or better to be in on him here. His debut and his race on April 1st puts him right in the conversation with the top contenders.
The final Pick-5 of the season starts with an optional $25K claiming/N1X allowance sprint at six furlongs. Seven of the twelve are entered for the $25K tag, and many of them are in good form in this race which offers a $107K purse. There’s an interesting dynamic with the pair of Asmussen runners here. Defender (#9) is the morning line favorite, coming in off a pair of wins with high priced, restricted claimers. He takes a step up in class, while runner for a lower claiming tag today. There’s over twice the amount in the purse pool though for this race than the last race that he won, making up for the difference in the claiming tag. Luis Quinonez, who was 0-11 when riding for Asmussen over the last year ( they did connect with a winner yesterday), picks up the mount from Isaac Castillo, who ends up on Asmussen’s Louisiana bred three year old, Charco (#6). He was third to his stablemate Cairama, who dominated an optional claiming race/allowance race for three year olds last month. He has two wins in nine starts and has never finished off the board. He cleared the state bred N1X condition in March, but is still eligible for the open N1X condition. I think both of these horses are live in this race, but I have questions about both. Cave Run (#12) on the outside is the top pick, making his first start off the Broberg claim. His last wasn’t very good, but he’s a consistent six year old gelding that has a win at the current meet and looks like the kind of horse that can improve while moving to higher percentage claiming barn.
The Late Pick-4 starts with a conditioned $25K claiming race at 1 mile and 1/16. If Southerner (#11) is able to work out a trip from Post 11, I think he’s very dangerous in this race. Bret Calhoun doesn’t claim a ton of horses, but he re-claimed this one for $12,500 after losing him for $10K two starts ago. This is a step up in class, but this isn’t the most inspiring group, and the two shorter prices that make some sense, have some warts. I loved his effort to beat $10K N2L claimers here in February. Saqeel (#10) will also need to work out a trip, and I don’t love that he drops for a $25K tag after being claimed for $40K in his last start. His last three races have been sharp though, and Lindsay Schultz is starting to train more winners after a slow start at this meet. Manhattan Up (#8) is the 2-1 morning line favorite, but again a horse that was claimed for $50K just two starts ago. He was wide all the way around the track last out, which certainly didn’t help his cause. If he moves forward off that last race, he likely wins this race. However, I don’t love the drop in class from a barn that has struggled with that move over the last few weeks of this meet.
I’m going to continue to try to connect with V.I.P. Who (#4) at this optional $25K/N1X allowance level. He was a decent 4th with similar last out when making his first start off the Karl Broberg claim. He always seems to show up, despite continuing to climb the class ladder. I think there’s still more improvement to be had for this four year old son of Gone Astray. I like him at a price in this race. Go West (#8) was third in the same race two weeks ago. I thought that was a game effort in his first opportunity to face winners on the racetrack. He’s a four year old that is still figuring some things out. Palace Coup (#3) is entered for the tag after clearing the N1X condition last out via DQ. He’s typically a forwardly placed horse, but he had some trouble at the break and was near the back of the field. He was leading at first call in his previous four starts. His inside draw should help him get back to setting the pace. Pat’s Property (#2) inside of him also wants to go, so there is the potential for a duel to percolate. I’ll cover with him on deeper tickets, but I prefer the top two.
This is a very good conditioned allowance sprint race with a $110K purse. Home Base (#6) might offer some value if he’s able to rebound after a dull effort at this level last out. He was second at long odds in the King Cotton Stakes three starts ago, and he followed up that effort with a win in a similar race here at the beginning of March. He looked more like he was chasing as opposed to rating last time out. Emmanuel Esquivel has ridden well in his two weeks of racing here at the end of the meet, and he gets the call today. Long Weekend (#5) was the winner of the Bachelor Stakes on this course in 2020. He had one disastrous start here last year, but he appears to have overcome whatever was ailing him around that time. His three efforts at the Fair Grounds were strong this season, and apprentice Rene Diaz, who rode very well in limited opportunities this spring at Keeneland, has earned the confidence of Tom Amoss for this mount. Jalen Journey (#4) was well backed when making his seven year old debut, however, he was compromised by a bad break. As a result, he conceded inside position and was forced five wide on the far turn. He finished 5th, closing with interest, but looking a bit rusty off the six month break. The competition doesn’t get any easier here, but I expect him to be better than he was last time out.
Race 10: The $125K Trail’s End $10K Starter Allowance:
The traditional race that ends the racing season is a $10K starter allowance race called the Trail’s End, where 14 horses are signed up to travel 1 mile and ¾. This is always a fun race, where every runner entered has at least one start here during this meet. Determining who can and can’t get this unusual distance is usually a part of the challenge of this race. Original Intent (#4) won’t have to answer that question, as he was the dominating winner of this race in 2021. He hasn’t been nearly as sharp though in his three starts in 2022. He faced a solid field of starter allowance types when he was beaten by the resurgent Blewitt in the Stud Muffin at Aqueduct in his last start. He couldn’t compete two back with stakes types horses in an allowance race at 12 furlongs here in February. This is definite class relief, and the fact that he’s had success at this distance, makes him a contender. I’ll use him on the A line, but I’ll make Venture Forth (#8) my top pick trying to get a little value in this race. He’s won at 12 furlongs on the grass and he has a good record in four starts on this oval. He was second to Blueridge Mountain (#9) at this level going 1 mile and 3/16 last month. He’s a consistent horse, hitting the board in 18 of 22 career starts, with six victories. I think he’s a prime candidate to continue to find late where others might be struggling. Blueridge Mountain could be forwardly placed like he was last time, which is probably a decent thing for a race like this. He’s looking for his 4th consecutive win, so his current form is as good as anyone in this field. On deeper tickets, I’m getting mixed signals from Indian Gulch (#6). At seven years old, he ran a career top speed figure two weeks ago in starter allowance company at Keeneland. He returns here, but goes a longer distance. He was a winner at 2 miles against a softer group at Mountaineer in December. I could see him running another big race and striking while the iron is hot. I could also see him bouncing badly in a race like this. At 12-1 or better, I could take the chance that he’ll keep firing.