You’ve got to start somewhere—and therein lies the rub. There are two listed stakes Saturday at Oaklawn Park.
Two of the eight starters in the Bachelor Stakes for three-year-olds are graded stakes winners or placed, and half of the eight older fillies and mares in the Carousel Stakes are either graded winners or placed, some at the Grade 1 level.
An argument can be made that these are lower-level graded events masquerading as listed stakes which, by definition, are intended as jump-start spots for top horses with higher mountains to climb.
Accordingly, what is one to think of Grade 1 winning Bellafina at 8-5? Is she good enough to beat the competition if she’s 80 percent of her best Bellafina? And this can’t be a target but a run to get ready for when and if Santa Anita or New York or Kentucky resumes racing.
Other negatives include unfamiliarity with the Hot Springs surface and the rail slot going six furlongs that requires quarter-horsing away from the gate. But then class overcomes a lot, what to do?
Since finishing second in the G1 La Brea on DEC 28, the newly turned four year old has worked seven times, once at Los Alamitos, five at Santa Anita, including a best of 89 bullet half-mile but shipper in flowing her last west coast move to breeze a half-mile over the surface, which shows some intent.
She’s 1-for-1 lifetime at this trip, trainer Simon Callahan is on the record as saying his filly acts best as a sprinter, but the fact remains that she has had three starts outside California and failed to hit the board in any of them. And as Callahan said this week, “this isn’t an easy spot.”
At first glance four of her rivals hold an upset chance with Amy’s Challenge (4-1) and Mia Mischief (9-2) having the best chances. We’ll take a closer look and try to drill down on a possible upset winner tomorrow.
The lead into the Carousel is interesting as the connections are on the road to find out just how good their sophomores are and what is the most prudent path forward.
The sharpest of five solid contenders on current form is Echo Town (9-2), one of two uncoupled starters from the Asmussen barn, and Long Weekend (3-1), who exploded in his recent Oaklawn debut for Tom Amoss.
But the race most likely goes through a newly turned three-year-old making his season’s debut for Bob Baffert, Grade 1 winning Eight Rings (5-2), an uncommonly disappointed sixth at 3-2 when last seen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Baffert is 31% effective when shipping into Hot Springs and Eight Rings will not be short of condition. The Empire Maker colt has had nine works since FEB 13 for his sophomore debut, four of the bullet variety including his last at Oaklawn, a blazing 59-flat from the gate, APR 17.
While this obviously is not the spot to end all spots given its timing and dynamics, it’s useful to recall that he broke his maiden on debut going 5-1/2 furlongs. Well drawn outside with Joel Rosario for the first time, this speedy colt will have lots of options.
At Gulfstream Park there are two races of import, the first is a very interesting 1-1/16th miles listed Unbridled Stakes in which the early line favorites, Dr Post (8-5) and Attachment Rate (3-1), are making their two turn debuts. But this is no two-horse affair, as you will note in Saturday’s breakdown.
Two races later in a N3X–a condition one rarely sees anymore—for older horses sprinting seven furlongs, eight of the nine entrants are graded stakes placed. The favorites are both Todd Pletcher trainee, favorite Soldato (2-1), seeking his third straight and fourth local win, and returning Spinoff (7-2).
The latter is making his four-year-old debut just as Irad Ortiz Jr., is making his return from a cautionary layoff. Spinoff was second in the 2019 Louisiana Derby and last seen romping by nearly six in a Saratoga allowances after adding blinkers.
Spinoff shows six workouts over a deepish training track surface which doesn’t seem like much even if half were a five furlongs including one bullet move. But considering that Pletcher is 30% effective with 90-days+ layups, which factor is the more critical?
For more, see Saturday’s wagering grid