Finally! After weeks of delay, we are set for a fantastic weekend of racing at Oaklawn Park. Among the many racing stars we will see, two of them are returning Breeder's Cup Champions MONOMOY GIRL and ESSENTIAL QUALITY.
Here's the schedule:
Saturday, February 27th:
The $750K Southwest Stakes (G3)
The $600K Razorback Handicap (G3)
The $200K SpringFever Stakes
Sunday, February 28th:
The weather forecast projects a rainy weekend. Actually, we can expect rain as early as Thursday through Sunday. For the handicappers, it's anyone's guess what surface conditions we will get. Perhaps adjust your handicapping for the mud lovers, the turfers who dirt just as well, and the longshots who emerge from off track conditions. (To learn about betting strategies, you might check out our Wagering Guide at Guaranteed Tipsheets)
Let's take a closer look at the stakes races at hand, starting with the premier event of the weekend: The $750K Southwest Stakes.
It is a grade 3 event for three year olds going one mile and one-sixteenth on the dirt. The winner of this race will be awarded 10 points for his Road to the Kentucky Derby. It is a small but competitive field of seven horses:
Interesting to note that our top two heavy hitters, ESSENTIAL QUALITY and JACKIE'S REVENGE, both have not raced since last Fall's BC Juvenile, and due to the postponement of Oaklawn's racing schedule, they both have been away for almost four months! Yes, they are the class of the field and the race runs through them, but if they prove to be a little rusty and "in need of a race", then look out for potential upsetters.
ESSENTIAL QUALITY is our BC Juvenile Hero and the likely betting favorite of the race. His current odds to win the KY Derby is 8-1 per Future Pool 2.
SANTA CRUISER is the opposite case. He just ran two weeks ago at Fair Grounds and has been wheeled back for this event. He showed speed in that last effort but faded to seventh.
Trainer Bob Baffert ships SPIELBERG, the $1 million colt by Union Rags. SPIELBERG disappointed in the Robert Beverly Lewis Stakes last time out. But he might bounce back with a big effort this time, which is characteristic of him after a clunker. SPIELDBERG has run high enough figures to be a serious competitor in this race. Bob Baffert has won this race four times in the last decade.
Next is the $600K Razorback Handicap, a grade 3 event for four-year-olds and up, going one mile and one-sixteenth on the dirt. Seven competitors take the stage:
HUNKA BURNING LOVE
RATED R SUPERSTAR
LONG RANGE TODDY
OWENDALE appears to be the class of this field for trainer Brad Cox. We last saw him running in the Clark Stakes back in November, where he ran his career best speed figure. In preparation for this event, he worked a 5F bullet on Feb. 20th, the best of 41 workouts that day.
MYSTIC GUIDE from the outside post is a serious win contender. We last saw him in October running a game second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup where he posted his own best speed figure, a 102 Beyer Figure, which is two points higher than OWENDALE's best Beyer figure. Mystic Guide is lightly raced with just six career starts.
Looking for a deep closer who may relish an off track while offerring plenty value? Then you might consider RATED R SUPERSTAR's wherewithal. If things get muddy and wet, know that he's got 2 wins, 1 second, and 1 third out of 12 starts over such conditions. In fact, his last win was over the mud. He also carries five pounds less than OWENDALE and MYSTIC GUIDE, which should enhance that late kick of his in the stretch.
In the $200K SpringFever Stakes, the ladies take the spotlight. It is a five and a half furlong dash on the dirt for fillies and mares, four years and upward. Nine of them are set to compete:
AIN'T NO ELMERS
KIMARI looks ultra tough in this field for trainer Wesley Ward. She won at Oaklawn back in April in a six furlong race, beating the talented FRANK'S ROCKETTE. Incidentally, FRANK'S ROCKETTE just won a stakes race at Oaklawn Park three weeks ago, beating one of the top competitors in this very race: AMY'S CHALLENGE. KIMARI worked a five furlong bullet on Feb 14th, the best of 23 workouts that day, indicating her readiness.
AMY'S CHALLENGE, for trainer Robertson McLean, has been a mare of consistency. Out of 20 starts, she's hit the board 15 times. She's done most of her running at Oaklawn Park, so this track is a backyard to her. In her last race, she finished a game second to the talented sprinter alluded to earlier — but that was only AMY'S CHALLENGE's first start in four months. Now she's ready; the fitness prep is behind her. Note that AMY'S CHALLENGE won the 2019 edition of the SpringFever Stakes, where she earned her highest speed figure of her career.
So much for Saturday's stakes action! Let's look at Sunday's.
The $250K Bayakoa Stakes marks the return of MONOMOY GIRL for trainer Brad Cox. She finds herself amongst a small but testy group for her come back race. She was last seen winning the Breeder's Cup Distaff at Keeneland.
It is a one mile and one-sixteenth race on the dirt. The probables are: MONOMOY GIRL, FINITE, ANOTHER BROAD, OUR SUPER FREAK, and INSTAN COUNCIL.
MONOMOY GIRL's resume is just out of this world relative to this field. The race goes through her. The BC Distaff heroine achieved 13 wins, 2 seconds, from 15 career starts. She's earned $4.4 million. She's faced injuries and setbacks, but returns to the track and dominates every time. With nothing left to prove, she's expected to make short work of this field and will be the heavy favorite. She's been working out at Fair Grounds, and hasn't missed a work-week dating back to December. She registered a 5F bullet last month, the best of 74 works that day. If she shows up with her A game and gets a clean trip, she'll win her sixth race in a row.
FINITE is a probable who looks to give the above favorite a run for her money. FINITE is trained by Steve Asmussen, she's achieved 6 wins and 3 seconds out of 12 starts. She was last seen shipping to the West for the La Brea Stakes, where she finished fourth. It might have been a tall task to travel across the country and step up in company, especially at the end of a long season. Well, this is an even taller task now; stepping up to the above mare who is arguably Horse-of-the-Year calibur. FINITE will need to run a huge race to score the upset win.
The next Sunday stakes race is $150K Dixie Belle, for three-year-old fillies going six furlongs over the dirt. Six probables are listed for this event: AVA'S GRACE, MISS TWENTY, MARIAH'S PRINCESS, ABROGATE, WINDMILL, GOIN' GOOD.
This field looks quite evenly matched; the whole of them falls between the 4.34 to 4.84 rating per the HorseRacingNation's scale. Let's see what each brings to the table.
WINDMILL is making just her second start after breaking her maiden here at Oaklawn Park last month for trainer Larry Jones.
GOIN' GOOD is two for two for trainer Brad Cox. Same with ABROGATE who is two for two for trainer Steve Asmussen.
AVA's GRACE broke her maiden at Ellis Park, then traveled to Saratoga for the grade 2 Adirondack Stakes, where she finished third. This was back in August so she's fresh off a 7 month layoff for trainer Robertino Diodoro. It was a strong race she came out of; the second-placer of that race, MAKE MISCHIEF is a winner of her last two starts at Aqueduct.
MISS TWENTY comes in hoping to turn things completely around. She finished third and fourth in her last two races for trainer Michael E. Lauer.
MARIAH'S PRINCESS ran her last two races at Fair Grounds for trainer Philip Bauer. Her most recent race was the Letellier Memorial Stakes where she finished a respectable second. But also note that she finished ahead of CHARLIE'S PENNY who ran third. We've seen CHARLIE'S PENNY come back and win the Silverbulletday stakes in dominant fashion.
The $150K Downthedustryroad will cap the stakes action for the weekend at Oaklawn Park. It is a six furlong race on the dirt for fillies and mares of four years and upward. But at this time there are no probables listed for the race. Oaklawn Park should be offering entries and morning line odds as we move closer to the weekend.