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Fifth Season Stakes Preview: Oaklawn 2017 Has Arrived

DISCREETNESS - The Smarty Jones - 9th Running - 01-18-16 - R08 - OP - Finish - Photo Credit: Coady Photography
Coady Photography

A wide-open field of 10 is entered Friday at Oaklawn in the $125,000 Fifth Season Stakes, a 1 1/16-mile event for older horses that highlights a nine-race opening-day program. Probable post time for the Fifth Season, which goes as race 8, is 3:49 p.m.(Central). Racing is scheduled to begin at 12:35 p.m.

Multiple stakes winner Smack Smack is the 3-1 program favorite for trainer Don Von Hemel of Hot Springs and country music star Toby Keith, who bred and owns the 6-year-old Closing Argument gelding.

The Fifth Season would be a milestone victory in the 60-plus year training career of Von Hemel, who topped the Oaklawn standings in 1981. Von Hemel, 82, is credited with 2,516 victories since 1956, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, but has never trained a millionaire.

Smack Smack ($930,430) would reach seven figures with a victory Friday.

“He’s training good,” Von Hemel said. “That’s my objective – get him over $1 million at this meet, plus win some other races, too.”

Regular rider Shane Laviolette has the call on Smack Smack, who is scheduled to break from post 6 and carry equal top weight of 122 pounds. Laviolette guided Smack Smack to his biggest career victory to date in the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (G3) July 2 at Prairie Meadows.

Smack Smack is coming off a runner-up finish behind Code West in the $150,000 Zia Park Championship Handicap Nov. 23 at Zia Park. Code West, a front-running 1 ½-length winner of the Zia Park Championship Handicap, is the early 5-1 third choice for the Fifth Season.

Trained by Boyd Caster, Code West finished fifth, beaten 2 ¼ lengths by Smack Smack, in the Cornhusker Handicap. Code West ran second in the 2015 Fifth Season.

“Very competitive field,” Caster said of Friday’s running. “There’s five or six horses in there that, whoever has a clean trip, is going to win the race.”

Code West is scheduled to break from post 3 under Luis Quinonez and carry 122 pounds.

Also entered are Discreetness, Cutacorner, Pinson, For Greater Glory, Inside Straight, Chief of Staff, Domain’s Rap and millionaire Mr. Z.

Mr. Z was one of Oaklawn’s leading 3-year-olds in 2015 – third-place finishes in the $150,000 Smarty Jones, $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) – but is winless in his last eight starts for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

“He’s training pretty darn good here,” Lukas said. “He likes this surface. I look for him to run really well.”

Top Choice

#6 Smack Smack – It’s almost impossible to believe trainer Don Von Hemel has never trained a millionaire horse in his long and illustrious career, but that statement is true.  However, Smack Smack can become his first with a win on opening day in the  Fifth Season Stakes.  Smack Smack has finished first or second in five straight races heading into today contest, and also picked up his first Graded stakes win in the Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows.  He’s been training beautifully on this Oaklawn oval leading up to the race, and the race drew a field that is not all that strong.  It would be a great story on opening day for Don Von Hemel to get his first millionaire horse.

Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers

#3 Code West – It’s hard to believe this horse is still running at age seven, and really he might be running just as good as ever heading into the 2017 season.  He comes into the the Fifth Season Stakes off a win last time out in the Zia Park Championship Handicap over one of his main rivals today in Smack Smack.  Code West and Smack Smack have been beating up on each other for awhile now, and this race could turn into another battle between these two rivals.  The old war horse enters this race with a big chance to pull off what would be another nice stakes win to add to his resume.

#7 Inside Straight – Anytime Diodoro has one entered you must respect it.  This newly turned 4 year old had a sneaky good 3 year old season, and might be ready to develop even more this year.  Last time out at Zia Park even though he finished third it may have been his best race yet, and I think Diodoro is showing a lot of confidence in the horse by entering him in this spot.  An improving young horse going up against older horses that might be declining is enticing, and the connections are very tough here.

#9 Domain’s Rap – Last year this horse came to Oaklawn and found his stride in a big time way as he won three straight races at the meet before finishing second in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap in a great effort against Upstart.  After that race he had an up and down rest of the year as he didn’t pick up another win, but did finish second three times in five starts.  He comes into this race off a little bit of a freshening so I expect him to give a nice effort in the spot.  These connections are very tough to beat at this track.

Exotic Plays

#4 Pinson – From a numbers standpoint he might look to be a small cut below, but you can’t ignore the connections.  New York star jockey Jose Ortiz is in to ride opening weekend here, and has the mount for trainer Randy Morse on this horse.  Obviously Ortiz is a huge plus, but you can’t discount Morse who has success with these types of horses all the time.  This horse has had some decent efforts in the past so he could easily jump up and ran a solid race against these types of horses.

#10 Mr. Z – Our old friend is back at Oaklawn!!!  Lets face it Mr. Z was just terrible in 2016 as he made three starts and was a non factor in all of them.  However, he was entered in races way over his head instead of being eased back into things, and this spot is much more logical for him.  He has the best early speed out of anyone in this race, and if he can return to some of his old form he’s not without a chance here.  I can’t recommend a win wager, but there is a shot he could complete the trifecta or superfecta.

Party Crashers

#8 Chief of Staff – Most of this group is familiar to midwest/southwest racing fans, but this will be a new face in the area as he’s made all his starts in California for Jerry Hollendorfer before running for Jack Van Berg for the first time here.  His west coast form is nothing special, but the competition he was facing might be a little tougher than what he’ll face today.  Expect him to show some decent early speed, and just four races back he was able to win an allowance at Del Mar.  Might be worth a gamble if his odds are high enough since this stakes field is not the strongest one you’ll ever see.

Throw Outs

#1 Discreetness – He was all the rage after winning the Smarty Jones Stakes here at Oaklawn one year ago, but in his next six efforts he hasn’t finished better than sixth.  Maybe he’ll come back home and run a big one, but I’ll let him beat me until he proves he can run solid races again.

#5 Gor Greater Glory – It’s been a long time since he’s picked up a victory, and he hasn’t shown that he compete with this group in quite awhile.  He has a win at Oaklawn, but might need some class relief for him to pick up another one.

#2 Cutacorner – Needs some class relief, and even though this stakes race isn’t the toughest you’ll ever see he still seems to be outclassed.  Will need a lot of luck to make an impact.

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