HALLANDALE BEACH, March 31, 2022 — The equine version of circus maximus is coming to a town near you, providing of course you live in, or are traveling to South Florida or Hot Springs, Arkansas.
How the Florida Derby and Arkansas Derby will play out is a tricky read at the moment. Weather handicappers indicate the chances of dry and fast dirt conditions in Hot Springs are good; Hallandale not so much.
Perhaps there’s a glimmer of hope in that the chances of rain in South Florida, projected at 90% all week, has been lowered to 50% on Thursday morning. But don’t remove the rubber band from your roll quite yet, since there’s a 50% chance of rain Friday. Who knows?
Handicappers hate when excuses are a prequel to an event. The only positive takeaway is that Kentucky Derby bettors might have a better understanding of how certain horses might handle a wet Louisville surface five weeks hence.
Since the Arkansas Derby card was drawn on Sunday, horseplayers and fans so inclined have been looking at Oaklawn past performances all week. Gulfstream stuck to the traditional 72-hour draw, leaving its fans a bit behind the handicapping eight ball.
Parenthetically, we’ve suggested for years that all tracks go to a 96-hour draw. While that may inconvenience horsemen and racing secretaries, an earlier draw would help a track’s bottom by giving bettors and fans more time to be better prepared. Fair Grounds draws a week out; proving it can be done.
Here’s an overview of the big three events from Oaklawn Park, Saturday:
G3 OAKLAWN MILE Race 9
This two-turner features a short stretch run–you’d think with the money Oaklawn rakes in they would have constructed a mile chute by now–and has drawn an interesting field of 10.
Of the four likely to attract the most play, three are ship-ins from California. Bob Baffert–remember him?–will have America’s best known head lad, Jimmy Barnes, saddle Cezanne, the 5-2 early line choice. Flavien Prat rides.
Fulsome (4-1) won his only start here at 3 and has been training with purpose at his Fair Grounds base for Brad Cox. He figures to be a handful. Half this field is toting highweight of 124 pounds and he’s one of them. Florent Geroux has the call.
Johnny Velazquez comes along with the package for Michael McCarthy’s Law Professor (8-1), who exits a live race. He will be in receipt of seven pounds at 117. Peter Eurton is the last but not least of the Californians with fast-working distance-specialist Dark Vader (12-1). Local star Ricardo Santana Jr. rides.
And this is not to slight Silver Prospector (8-1) who prefers going longer but was a very good second to current handicap sensation Olympiad in the G3 Mineshaft at Fair Grounds, or Market Analysis (12-1) who has earned high marks over the distance and trip, looking very sharp in blinkers last time out.
The turf to dirt angle has worked before for Michael McCarthy and his ship-in is exiting a live race. He’s won and placed in G2s and this is Grade 3. He likes the trip and has Johnny to aid in overcoming wide draw.
VALUE WIN PLAY: Law Professor (8-1) to win at 5-1 or greater.
EXOTICA: Exacta Box Law Professor, Silver Prospector(8-1) and Market Analysis (12-1). Trifecta Box using the exacta-box threesome plus Cezanne (5-2) and Dark Vader (12-1).
G3 FANTASY STAKES Race 10
One if by land; three if by plane. Bob Baffert–of course you remember him–will start another early line favorite, Eda (2-1), seeking her fifth straight score. Among her multiple graded wins is the G1 Starlet at 2. She recently won her sophomore comebacker at home in preparation for this.
Eda never has lost at 1-116 miles and Johnny rides. With serious research left to be done, this filly still appears a tough out. (note: that Eda has spiked a fever and will be withdrawn)
Dream Lith (8-1) and Yuugirl (4-1), exacta finishers in the 2021 G2 Golden Rod, will meet again. Yuugirl will benefit from her recent G3 Honeybee third, a good race to build on. Dream Lith shipped here in March and has worked thrice over the track, two of the bullet variety for Robertino Diodoro.
Bubble Rock (3-1) shares highweight of 122 pounds with three others and is making her dirt debut after four runs on grass and two on synth. Before you think 3-1 is too short to accept, realize that Brad Cox has a positive ROI after 322 starts in graded company, according to Equibase.
With the anticipated scratch of sure-to-have-been favorite Eda, this becomes an open scramble. There should be enough value for a straight play on Bubble Rock (3-1) because it’s her dirt debut. She’s worked well for this and exits a 2-for-2 key race. Yuugiri (4-1) was a willing third while likely needing a run and Dream Lith (8-1) has a back figure that could take this for the prodigious Diodoro.
VALUE WIN PLAY: Bubble Rock to win at 3-1 or greater or Dream Lith if 5-1 or more is available.
EXOTICA: Exacta Box Bubble Rock, Yuugiri and Dream Lith.
G1 ARKANSAS DERBY Race 12
When is a three-horse race on paper in reality a one-horse affair? When the fastest horse, a filly, is trained by Darrell Wayne Lukas. As The Coach is quick to remind us; “been there, done that.”
You won’t find many handicappers arguing that Secret Oath is not a special filly with her electric turn of foot, but is she special enough to beat the boys, can she do it like Althea did here 38 years ago, or Winning Colors near impossible feat on May’s first Saturday in 1988?
This is why races are run between fences and not on paper. Secret Oath is the 5-2 early line choice and the 2022 Arkansas Derby runs through her.
Those with the best chances to defend male entitlement are the early-line second and third choices; Doppelganger (3-1) and We The People (7-2). And perhaps even a fourth, Cyberknife (8-1)
Doppelganger, transferred to the barn of former Baffert assistant Tim Yakteen–what are the chances Bob also doesn’t know what burner phones are?–was a very good, hard-trying runnerup to dominating Forbidden Kingdom in the G2 San Felipe. He rates to move forward off that two-turn debut.
We the People makes his third career start after winning his first two by a combined 10-3/4 lengths. Both came over Saturday’s racetrack and around two turns. Pedigree says why not nine furlongs? Flavien Prat replaces Florent Geroux for Rodolphe Brisset.
Geroux opted to remain on Cyberknife, a most impressive allowance winner at Fair Grounds but he lacks Oaklawn experience. Surrounded at headstretch last out, Geroux rode with disdainful confidence in the lane. Drifting slightly late while well clear, he won with reserves. Certainly rates a puncher’s chance here.
All blanks will be filled in well before Saturday’s races, including the big three from Hallandale and more, including Turfway Park. The work will have begun shortly after you’ve read this. We will return with a brief analysis that includes probable winners, early-line value plays, and exotic possibilities. So please stay tuned.
And a fast filly shall lead them, providing she duplicates her most recent OP efforts and is competently handled from off the pace. Luis Contreras has been riding her with extreme confidence; this is not a spot in which to be cute. Given the Lukas story and ability, she likely will be over-bet.
VALUE WIN PLAY: Cyberknife (8-1) to win at 9-2 or greater.
EXOTICA: Key-Box Secret Oath (5-2) in Exactas with Cyberknife, We the People (7-2), Doppleganger (3-1) and Chasing Time (12-1). Also Superfecta Key Secret Oath on top of her four male rivals named above.
Per Usual, wagers are suggested at minimums available. Win bets are a $2 unit, or multiples thereof
GULFSTREAM PARK to follow
GI FLORIDA DERBY Race 14
The work is not nearly complete but we can provide a lightning-round overview of the field:
1- STRIKE HARD (20-1) can finish some and has shown improvement since adding blinkers. Alvarado knows what to do with ground-saving position. Outside chance for a deep money slot but would need things to go perfectly. Could use 4th at early line odds or greater.
2-CLASSIC CAUSEWAY (7-2) a little surprised he’s here given short rest, but has not be over-exerted sweeping Tampa’s three-year-old series–and this is a needed Grade 1 for $1 million. We get that. CC is a bullet away from the barrier–a subtle two-move-on-lead winner of the Tampa Derby. Irad didn’t get aggressive until the furlong grounds, then came a brief drive before easing up near wire. Good gallop-out.
3-SIMPLIFICATION (5-2) was our choice and bet in the Holy Bull and lost all chance at the break, then finished a remarkable second. He lost much ground looping the Fountain of Youth group for the victory, avoiding all the craziness. He drew out impressively but once again did not switch to his correct right lead. One of these days that’s going to catch up.
4-KING OF TRUTH (50-1) is seriously overmatched.
5-PAPPACAP (10-1) was a juvenile-to-watch into 2022 and his punch-less third in season’s debut was understandable given the layup. But I have no idea what his Risen Star was all about. Mark Casse horses have been known to rebound off poor efforts, and this one must be remain viable. Been training lights out at Casse’s Ocala Farm. He’s 1-for-1 at Gulfstream beneath Edwin Gonzalez. Inscrutably interesting.
6-CHARGE IT (7-2) goes from maiden allowances into a Grade 1 lacking two-turn experience. But the Pletcher barn has won five of these and this level of aggressive is rare for the newly minted Hall of Famer. His maiden win at a flat mile was overwhelmingly dominant. He owns figures that can compete with Simplification and has been working bullets at Palm Beach Downs. Classy with many things to like.
7-WHITE ABARRIO (3-1) is a serious colt with a nice blend of speed and stamina. He was devastating in the Holy Bull, his trainer doing the right thing by awaiting this spot but unlucky to have the colt spike a fever, missing a scheduled work. Joseph compensated with a sharp, very-short blowout Tuesday. Colt has more than enough talent but this is not a good time of year for hiccups to arise.
8-CAJUN MAGIC (30-1) is better than generally rated and like Strike Hard, could be a board hitter at a big price. The best tack to accomplish that might be to take back and try making one run to pick up some pieces.
9-O CAPTAIN (20-1) is by Carpe Diem, making him cleverly named, but that’s no substitute for the talent necessary to win at this level. Still, he was third in the listed Limehouse then third again in the G2 Fountain of Youth, avoiding the chaos and finishing up very nicely for show. With a switch to Rosario, he will have his backers looking for minor awards.
10-CLAPTON (30-1) is a nice Florida bred who would have been better suited staying with his own kind.
11-STEAL SUNSHINE (30-1) is one of two with nine furlong experience, finishing second in an optional-allowance here MAR 2. Breezed nicely from the gate going five-eighths since. But this field isn’t like the last one, and he was killed by the post draw. Stay tuned…
GULFSTREAM PARK LATE PICK 4
SANIBEL ISLAND STAKES Race 11
It appears that two of the fillies have an edge on the Thoro-Graph scale, Mischievous Kiss (2-1) and Beechnut Trophy (4-1), looming the most probable winners. The early line favorite is a tad faster and rates to move forward off her last and the second choice is 2-for-2 on the Hallandale lawn. Still, the race is deeper than that…
VALUE WIN PLAY: Beechnut Trophy to win at 3-1 or greater, especially if rescheduled to Tapeta.
EXOTICA: Exacta Box: Mischievous Kiss, Beechnut Trophy, Hail To (12-1) and Ambiteuse (6-1). Extra ticket with Mischievous Miss first. Trifecta Key Box Mischievous Kiss first and second with the three fillies named above.
G2 GULFSTREAM PARK OAKS Race 12
The two fillies on paper are Kathleen O (4-5) and close second favorite Goddess of Fire (9-5). The latter has two turn experience and has developed nicely at 3; the former is undefeated and has both nature and nurture in her corner.
VALUE WIN PLAY: None
EXOTICA: Exacta Box Kathleen O first and second with Goddess of Fire, Amani’s Image (20-1) and Catiche (6-1). Exacta Box Kathleen O, Goddess of Fire and Amani’s Image. Trifecta Key: Kathleen O first over the three rivals listed.
G3 APPLETON STAKES Race 13
Left a half-dozen of the nine entered open and am not totally comfortable with that. Numbers-wise you can throw a blanket over the six of them but have decided to go with a runner with speed, versatility, well posted, a top rider and seemingly well intended.
WIN VALUE PLAY: Wolfie’s Dynaghost (9-2) to win at 9-2 or greater. Exacta Key-Box Wolfie’s Dynaghost with Scarlett Sky (6-1), Order and Law (12-1), Gray’s Fable (5-1), Carpenter’s Call (10-1) and English Bee. Superfecta Key: Wolfie’s Dynaghost first with the five contenders listed. Superfecta Key: Wolfie’s Dynaghost third, with those five contenders first, second, and fourth.
G1 FLORIDA DERBY Race 14
VALUE WIN PLAY: Classic Causeway (7-2) to win at 5-2 or greater and/or Pappacap (10-1) to win at 9-1 or greater
EXOTICA: Exacta Box Classic Causeway, Simplification (5-2), Pappacap and Charge It (7-2). Trifecta Key-Box Classic Causeway first and second with his three rivals above. Superfecta Key: Classic Causeway over the same three, adding White Abarrio (3-1) and Strike Hard (20-1) to the mix.
this is a live column that will be updated throughout the weekend in the runup to Saturday’s signature events