Oaklawn Park: The Grade III, $300,000 Southwest at 1 1/16 miles— by Brian Nadeau of HorsePlayer Now.
#2 Tapiture: Improving colt has always been held in high regard by Asmussen and broke his maiden when last seen in Churchill Downs’ GII Kentucky Jockey Club in November, which is no easy task for a juvenile. Of course, who he beat in that weak GII is anyone’s guess, but he’s certainly on the come and rates as one of the better prospect in Arkansas this winter. Son of Tapit drew perfectly for this and should be sitting right off the abundance of speed signed on while saving all the ground, which bodes well for his chances, but there are also a few questions to be answered, most notably how cranked is he for his first start in 11 weeks? The tote will tell you he’s one of the ones, but the gut says his form looks a bit better than it really is; using underneath only.
#3 Coastline: Highly regarded runner is one of four exiting the Smarty Jones, the local prep, and basically he ran in place to be third from a wide draw, which means he’s got a lot of improving to do to turn the tables on the pair that beat him, not to mention the new big shooters entered. Son of sprint champion Speightstown has built a pretty big reputation but really has done nothing but win a six-horse, one-turn route at CD in October, so his qualifications to win a race like this are highly questionable. Casse runner will likely improve off his last, did draw well and the price will be a lot better today, but on paper he’s looking up at several of these; not seeing it.
#1 Tanzanite Cat: Lightly raced and rapidly improving runner pulled the surprise in the Smarty Jones when he gamely sparred on the lead before pulling away late in a breakthrough run. Son of Graeme Hall (who won the local Arkansas Derby here a few years back for Pletcher) gets some bonus points for winning his two-turn debut last time, which was his first start past 5 1/2Fs, but the water gets much deeper today, and this time he might have to be the inside speed, as opposed to stalking from the outside. Autrey is off to a white-hot start at the meet, the price will be right once again if you believe, and owning a local two-turn win is not something to be taken lightly, but the gut says it’s time for regression today; strongly siding against.
#4 Louies Flower: Remington Park invader was last seen winning the two-turn Springboard Mile there in December and looks like one of several in here who wants to be on or near the early lead. Son of Flower Alley has been training well locally in the AM but did miss his last scheduled work because of the rotten weather, so that could be a worry, not to mention the horse he necked out in the Springboard—Noble Cornerstone—bombed in his 3yo debut in the GIII Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs earlier this month, so there are certainly some mixed signals here. Florida-bred is in the right hands with Calhoun, but he needs to prove he can play with a group like this before we jump on his back; passing.
#5 Kendall’s Boy: Lightly raced son of Sky Mesa has done little wrong in three career dirt starts and looked good wiring a 6F optional claimer at Fair Grounds to kick off sophomore season last month. Amoss trainee has never been past 6Fs on conventional dirt and did bomb in his lone route in Keeneland’s GI Breeders’ Futurity in October, but that was on the Polytrack, so you’re allowed to be a tad forgiving. There’s no doubt that there’s plenty of talent here, but the rub comes from his style, as he’s yet another who wants to be involved in the early pace, and that’s looking like a mighty crowded car today; know him early, not sure about late.
#1a Paganol: ‘Cat’s entrymate unleashed a powerful late run when he won his career debut going 6Fs here in January and enters as the real wildcard in this deep GIII. Son of Tiz Wonderful is bred to enjoy the additional ground and turn he gets today and gets an extra look because he’s also one of the few entered that has shown he can pass horses in the lane, which should come in handy in this speedy field. Sure, this is asking an awful lot after just one sprint MSW win, but he did beat a next-out winner and we see these 3yos jump up and improve open lengths all the time, so there’s no reason he can’t add his name to the list; expecting a big run.
#6 Walt: Underrated colt was the inside speed in the Smarty Jones and held well to be second after having ‘Cat lapped to his outside for much of the running in what was a big improvement off his fourth-place finish in the Springboard. Son of sprinter Run Away and Hide is probably already pushing his pedigree, but at least he drew outside the majority of the speed, which should help. Blue-collar runner goes for a Hartman barn that has enjoyed one heck of a meet so far and will offer a big price at the windows as well, but the thinking is the bloom is coming off his rose today; not seeing it.
#7 Strong Mandate: GI winning 2yo makes his long anticipated 3yo debut off a series of scintillating drills over the local oval and lures Rosario in for the ride, so you know Lukas has high hopes for this son of Tiznow. Long-striding colt is bred to relish two turns, as dad was a two-time BC Classic winner and mom Clear Mandate was herself a GI winning router, so there’s little doubt this trip is well within his scope. Tactical sort was forced to gun from the parking lot when third in the BC Juvenile when last seen in November but figures to be a bit more tractable from this better draw today, so expect to see him set up shop just off the speed to his inside. If there’s a blip on the radar, it’s that he was forced to miss a work last week because of the poor weather in Hot Springs, but those earlier AM runs look like they have him primed to announce his presence as the Coach’s strongest Derby contender in many a year; starts his path to Louisville with a win today.
#8 Ride On Curlin: Tricky read has done some good things in his career and enters this off a modest local allowance win at 6Fs to kick off his season, so at least you know he’s held his form from 2 to 3. On the face of it, he’s got some sharp route form from last year to fall back on, especially that third to heavyweights Havana and Honor Code in Belmont’s GI Champagne in October, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll notice that the only time he went two turns, he ran his slowest race to date in CD’s GIII Iroquois in September, so there are still some questions to be answered. Son of Curlin has a nice stalking style to take advantage of all the speed signed on and it’s a confident move that Gowan sends him in to tackle the big colt next door, but up to now he’s simply not fast enough to make a dent in a spot like this; making him prove it.
#9 Son Of Dixie: Decided longshot is the second for Calhoun, but unlike his stablemate ‘Flower, this son of Dixie Union doesn’t have a lot of upside and has never even run in a stakes. Versatile sort has shown he can run on or just off the lead, which helps, but at this point, this is biting off way too much more than he can chew; easy toss.
#10 Fire Starter: Son of Tapit got top billing in the Smarty Jones but didn’t fire in an even fifth, so needless to say, he’s got several lengths to improve to be a factor here. On the plus side, he’s bred for this and Hobby forges on, not to mention the price will be much better, and having a race over the track won’t hurt either, so there are at least a few things in his favor. His running style also helps, as he showed in his MSW win at Laurel that he can settle early and run by horses late. Of course, doing that in Maryland against a hapless group of maidens is one thing, and doing it against a legitimate Kentucky Derby threat is Arkansas is completely another; tread lightly if landing here.
#11 Bourbonize: Unbeaten and untested son of Tiz Wonderful got beat up by this wide draw but no doubt enters as an exciting talent for Gorder, who is a name 3yo away from being racing’s next big trainer. Loved his local two-turn win in a sloppy N1X allowance last month, where he settled early and just exploded in the lane to really stamp himself as a 3yo to watch. Clearly he meets much tougher today and is making his stakes debut under less than optimal circumstances, but they all have to start somewhere, so there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to climb the ladder and make a dent here; mighty intriguing.
#7 Strong Mandate