Oaklawn Park: The GIII, $500,000 Southwest at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 10-4-2-1)
#3 Collected (5-2): Son of City Zip represents another Santa Anita invader for Baffert, who has won about 15 of these OP 3yo prep over the past decade or so, including a pair last year with Triple Crown hero American Pharoah. And he’ll take a ton of support off that GIII win in the Sham at SA last month, especially since it was his first dirt start, he drew perfectly here, and he has a stalking gear in a race loaded with speed, but there are a few issues in this corner, too. First, his win last time came over a very weak field, as runner-up and stablemate Let’s Meet in Rio was fifth, beaten 16 1/2 in SA’s GIII Robert Lewis last weekend, and third-place finisher Laoban is still a maiden. Second, it was run in painfully slow time, and the winning Beyer (81), if that’s your thing, makes him no faster than anyone else in this field. And it’s also worth nothing this is Baffert’s Plan B, as Toews On Ice bombed at odds-on in the local prep, the Smarty Jones, last month. So the question is, do you want to take a short price on a horse who has zero margin for error, meets much tougher and may have to improve to crack the super, let alone win? Willing to make him prove it on top.
#4 Whitmore (5-1): Lightly raced son of Pleasantly Perfect really presents a tough dilemma for handicappers because his two sprint wins have been dazzlers and his route try was dismal. But the latter came in the mud at Delta Downs, so you can be a bit forgiving, and he sure looked like his old self when blinkers were added and he blew away a local optional claimer last month, which also tells you that he likes the Oaklawn strip, too. It’s also great to see Moquett and owners LaPenta and Rosenblum reach out for Smith again, as they teamed up to win a pair of preps here last year with Far Right, including this very race, but unlike that deep closer, this gelding has a ton of tactical speed and seems destined to trip out nicely about 3-5 lengths off the early leaders. His class is surely in question, but they all have to step up at some point, and he gives every indication that this could be his day; expecting a big run.
#1 American Dubai (6-1): Pace player sped off early to an uncontested lead, then blew a big one in deep stretch when second (and DQ’d to third for ducking in late) to Cutacorner, one of today’s rivals, in a local optional claimer last month, and he’s another who will be part of what is shaping up as a very crowded car on the engine. Son of E Dubai has done little wrong in two starts for Richards and that last—his first at two turns—came off a nine-week layoff and was his first outing against winners, so there’s no reason he can’t improve and move forward today. The problem is race flow, which doesn’t flatter his style at all, so ding-donging early and then holding the stalker/closers off late seems like a mighty big ask; tough to tout.
#1a Torrontes (6-1): ‘Dubai’s entrymate adds blinkers after he stalked his buddy early in second then lost one spot late to be third last month, only to be moved back up to second, but make no mistake, he wasn’t going by late if the former didn’t veer in sharply nearing the line. Gorder has enjoyed a stellar meet so far, which is a positive, but blinkers-on is an 0-for-14 move for him and he’s also 0-for-12 in graded stakes, so there are no doubt some hurdles to be cleared. Sire Macho Uno loved it going long and there’s upside here, with just three starts, but the 2-for-1 deal hurts your price, and if he’s looking up at Cutacorner and American Dubai, he’s certainly looking up at a lot of the sexier new shooters, too; needs to hurry.
#5 Bird of Trey (10-1): Likely longshot almost has to be twice this ML price, if not more, since his foray into the graded ranks and first try at two turns was a disappointing fourth, beaten 16 ½ lengths, in Aqueduct’s GIII Jerome in January. And that’s before we mention that he’s won his two races over fellow Pennsylvania-breds going one-turn at Parx, so while Servis is as sharp as they come and he probably didn’t ship here for the spas, this son of Birdstone seems a little out of his element. There’s plenty of speed in this corner, which would normally be a good thing, but today that just makes him another who is pouring gasoline on a fire that seems like it’s already raging on the front end; pop and stop seems likely.
#2 Synchrony (6-1): Stretch runner impressed when he closed late to be third in last month’s local prep, the Smarty Jones, behind a pair of today’s rivals who were 2-3 throughout, and has the look of an up-and-comer in a race begging for someone to step up and take charge. Long-striding son of Tapit did that off a two-month layoff while trying two turns for the first time, too, so there’s a ton of upside, and you know you can’t hold Von Hemel down for long in these parts and that his slow start to the meet is much more the exception than the rule. On paper this homebred is no faster than anyone else, but when the race flow figures to hit you right between the eyes and you bring a ton of upside to the table, too, the speed figures can be tossed out the window because you’re getting all the best of it; mows them all down in the lane.
#6 Z Royal (20-1): It’s a little implausible to think you’re getting 20-1 on a Zayat homebred trained by Lukas and ridden by Stevens, especially since the Coach has been talking him up quite a bit in the papers and says he should only improve off his fifth-place run when blinkers were added in Fair Grounds’ GIII Lecomte last month. That was also this son of Eskendereya’s two-turn debut ,too, so there’s no reason he can’t improve, not to mention that that field was eons ahead of this one, as winner Mo Tom is comfortably in most people’s top-10 Derby list at this point and runner-up Tom’s Ready is no slouch himself. So, point being, to be beaten just 7 3/4 lengths after speeding off early, in your first start in two months and at two turns, and against winners, too, is heady stuff. But yet again we see another runner who wants to mix it up early, and he’s sure not clearing and setting the pace by himself like last time, which means he’s got to duel or press early and hold them all off late, which doesn’t really enhance his chances, at expected underlaid odds to boot; making him prove it.
#7 Gordy Florida (12-1): Ultra game runner stepped up and ran a smasher when he was second, beaten just a neck by fellow rival Discreetness in the Smarty Jones, and he gets a lot of extra bonus points, too, as that was his first start past six furlongs and he dueled Baffert’s Toews On Ice into the ground, too. But at the risk of completely breaking the record, this son of Cactus Ridge is another who seems destined to get caught up in the hot and contested pace, so he’s not only got to prove it right back, but he has to do it without bouncing and without succumbing to a terrible race flow. Smith has had a quiet meet thus far, but it’s obvious that he’s pulling all the right strings with this colt, though if you didn’t go to the wedding at 21-1, it’s never any fun taking half that price on the other side; playing against.
#8 War Stroll (30-1): Local track and distance MSW winner improved in a big way last month, when he dueled early then pulled clear late in what was a clear breakthrough for McPeek. And it came in his first start at two turns, too, so you have to think that this son of Stroll is finally getting to do what he’s wanted to do all along. Of course, he benefitted from a cozy inside draw that day, and he’s not making the lead here, unless he catches a flier at the start and no one else goes, which seems pretty improbable. If you’re a fan of this barn, you could do worse than taking a huge price on a horse who is a track/distance winner and may be coming into his own, but you better make sure he’s a big number because this has a “too much, too soon” feel to it; know him early.
#9 Cutacorner (12-1): The most experienced member of the field has a lot of things going for him, as he’s also started five times going two turns on dirt and looked good stalking and pouncing in the aforementioned optional claiming win over a few of these last month. You also get a Van Berg barn that has done little wrong all meet and a son of Even the Score who has the right running style to take advantage of the hot pace that is shaping up. The question you have to ask is whether his last was a sign of things to come or was a blip on the radar, as it was by far the fastest he’s ever run. So if he improves, there’s no reason he can’t be right there on the line, but if he regresses and reverts back to his prior form, he’ll be lucky to split the field; mixed signals in this corner.
#10 Siding Spring (15-1): Lightly raced runner gets thrown to the wolves a bit by Casse, as this is his first start since he was 10th, though beaten just five lengths, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to end October. That was also his first dirt start, though, and with a chart comment that reads “through after half inside,” did he really run all that poorly when he was beaten only five lengths (and 2 1/4 lengths for third) by an undefeated 2yo champion in Nyquist? Son of Warrior’s Reward has the right running style to make a dent here, adds blinkers to get a bit more focus early, has trained very sharply over the local oval, and gets a big vote of confidence by his trainer’s placing, so in a race begging for a fresh new face, here’s hoping that he’s one of the ones that announces his presence; look out.
#11 Luna de Loco (20-1): It’s a little hard to believe you’re getting 20-1 on an Asmussen runner who was just fourth, beaten 2 3/4 lengths, in the Smarty Jones, in what was his first start in two months, first start against winners, and first start at two turns, especially since he’s one of the few in here that haven’t shown they want to mix it up early. Malibu Moon colt dueled on the lead then pulled clear late in his debut sprint win at Aqueduct in November, and he certainly stepped up and bridged the gap when he was asked to do an awful lot last month. Yes, he’s got to make up a few lengths on three rivals he just lost to, as well as deal with a few solid new shooters, too, but this barn is aces in these 3yo Midwest preps, and we’ve seen these lightly race 3yos improve open lengths overnight, so at fair odds, there’s no reason he can’t make his presence felt; don’t ignore.
#2x Suddenbreakingnews (6-1): Synchrony’s entrymate has a lot of the same attributes his stablemate does, as he’s got a strong stretch kick that will be able to take advantage of the hot splits in the lane. That also helps negate this wide draw, as he figures to drop back, drop over, and make a late run anyway, and as a son of Mineshaft he’s going to relish the added distance he gets to work with. He’ll get the acid test here, since he was second, though beaten just a nose by Discreetness, when last seen in Remington Park’s Springboard Mile in December, but as we’ve mentioned before, his running style, coupled with the positive the race flow, might help even out any class concerns there are in this corner; adds strength to a rock-solid entry.
#12 Discreetness (6-1): The Smarty Jones hero benefitted from a pace duel, as he was able to stalk it early then prove resolute late, and if nothing else, you know he likes the track and doesn’t need the lead to win, either. Son of Discreet Cat goes for a Fires barn that is having an epic meet, and to his credit, this colt has answered every question they’ve asked and has twice as many wins (4) than anyone else in here and has more starts (6) than all but two rivals, and experience goes a long way in these early season preps. But the rub is this draw, which could not be worse, especially with the short run to the first turn, and like the favorite on the rail, as accomplished as he is, he also doesn’t own an edge on paper, which makes taking an underlaid price a mighty dicey proposition; midpack finish today.
#10 Siding Spring