The Derby Trail heads to Oaklawn Park in a contentious, intriguing and delayed renewal of the Southwest Stakes. California shippers look to test their mettle on real dirt; the locals get to prove that they’re not just the kings of their own block; Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds send a few in for a shot at graded stakes money; and a talented 2yo looks to reassert himself at the top of the division. Let’s take a look.
Oaklawn Park: The Grade III, $250,000 Southwest Stakes at 1-mile.
1. Kitty’s Turn: Didn’t run poorly from this post in the Smarty Jones, the local prep, and was closing on the winner and Southwest rival Dryfly as well. But he was well beaten that day and meets a much, much tougher cast in his second local start. Should have ample speed to set up his late rally, but thinking it falls short again; minor award most likely.
2. Pleasant Storm: Oklahoma-bred was gaining late on Dryfly in the Smarty Jones after racing last of 12 early, and that was a huge run considering he entered off two state-bred scores at Remington Park. Drew poorly again but with his deep closing style, it really doesn’t matter as he’s simply going to drop back and over to the rail and look to run them down late. The mile run at OP isn’t ideal for a deep closer because of the short run to the wire, but we’ve already mentioned the pace figures to be hot throughout; expecting a huge run.
3. Dublin: Just loved this colt last summer at the Spa; his maiden score was a beauty and his GI Hopeful win, where he rallied wide into a torrid pace then drew clear was a real sight to behold. The wheels came off after that, but not without excuses. He was a disappointing but close fifth in the GI Champagne at Belmont, then an awful seventh in the Iroquois at CD to complete his 2yo season. Well, he displaced that day, so you can draw a line through that race and after a minor surgery D. Wayne’s got him breathing fire again. The redraw really helped him a ton (he was in the 10-hole when the race was first scheduled on Monday), but you’ve got to remember that the itty bitty Southwest on 2/20 is the least of Lukas’ concerns. Still, sometimes when you’re the most talented horse in the field, none of that other stuff really matters; kicks off what could be a very special year with a win in the Southwest.
4. Dryfly: Passed the acid test in the Smarty Jones when he made every pole a winning one, but we’ve already cautioned about that strategy here. Can he stalk and win? It remains to be seen, but you don’t really get the impression that he’s a speed crazy sort, so it’s seems possible. Having a win over the track and distance is a big deal, and you got the impression that they could have gone around a few more times and he wasn’t getting caught in the Smarty Jones; the horse to beat, but the race flow is playing against him this time.
5. Cardiff Giant: The first of a trio of California runners exiting the 1-mile, GIII San Rafael chased race winner and Southwest rival Conveyance home in a commendable effort, but one that doesn’t really get the pulse racing either. That was his first two-turn try, though, so maybe he can build on it as he too tries the main track for the first time. His sprint speed should ensure a good trip right off of Conveyance and you know a mile is within his realm, so if that rival is for you, there’s no reason to discount this gelding’s chances; price players will probably be looking this way.
6. Cool Bullet: Liked his chances in the LeComte at Fair Grounds, but he never made the front and settled for an OK fourth. The positive from that run is that he showed he can settle and pass horses going long, and it’s nice to see Margolis forge ahead and try some more toughies. Looking for him to set up shop on or just off the lead, and that doesn’t seem like the spot to be today; passing today.
7. Crider: Fourth to Dryfly in the Smarty Jones and that wasn’t a terrible effort by any means. He’s got to improve a ton to factor today but that was only his fourth lifetime start and first at two turns, so it’s entirely possible he does move forward. Has a nice stalk-and-pounce style that will work well in here, but we need to see a little more before backing; midpack finish most likely.
8. Domonation: Finished a decent third in the San Rafael but he seems a cut below the two in front of him that day. He did finish a decent second to Tiz Chrome sprinting two-back, but that colt got exposed a bit in the Robert Lewis at SA on Saturday, so you have to wonder just where this guy fits in and just how good the Californians really are. The good news is that his closing style should be flattered by the pace complexion and you know Sadler’s not here just for the hot springs; longshot possibility.
9. Conveyance: The San Rafael winner made it 3-for-3, but he went from the inside to the outside on the redraw and that’s going to hurt his chances because he brings an abundance of speed to the party. Makes his first start over conventional dirt, but loses his regular jockey Gomez because of a scheduling conflict. You have to figure he’ll take them as far as he can on the engine, and over the past few years we’ve seen a number of synthetic 3yo’s run huge in their main track debut, so you better look out to be sure. But it’s worth noting that there’s plenty of other speed signed on, and though he’s undefeated, he’s been beating up on five-horse fields out west; respecting but trying to beat on top.
10. Mission Impazible: Pletcher ships in from GP with a colt who just missed sprinting over a sloppy track in his first start in over eight months, so you’re allowed to think he can build off that run. Well-bred runner gets his first chance at two turns and the mile trip should suit him just fine, but the draw really hurts him because he needs to go from out here. And that means he’s either used to get to the front or ends up wide and pressing Conveyance into the first turn, and neither of those scenarios is very appealing; seems destined to be a pace casualty.
2. Pleasant Storm
You can check out Brian’s handicapping for NYRA races at horseplayernow.com. He’ll be participating in “Countdown to the Crown” live chats every Friday at 2 pm, accessible from the main page of the site, chatting for an hour about anything and everything for three year olds.