When it comes to the older males at Oaklawn going two turns this coming season it’s safe to say things are fairly wide open. Last year it was the shippers who came to Oaklawn Park and dominated the two biggest races of the meet. First it was Upstart who powered home in a triumphant return to the races in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap. Next, Effinex came to Oaklawn Park and won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap, getting revenge on Melatonin who had beaten him the race before in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. The locals did win the two other big races for older males going two turns as Street Strategy won the Fifth Season Stakes, and La Macchina took home the Essex Stakes. The good new for the locals is that both Effinex and Upstart have been retired, but the bad news is their will be plenty more shippers targeting Oaklawn this season.
With that being said where do we turn to this year as far as the local contingency goes? We’ll start with Smack Smack who is currently trying to become the first millionaire horse ever trained by the legendary Don Von Hemel. Smack Smack had three runner up finishes at Oaklawn last year, and then went on to win the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap later on in the year at Prairie Meadows. He then won another small stakes, and finished runner up in his last three races which were all stakes efforts. A foursome of horses are known to be pointing for the Fifth Season Stakes that have also caught me eye. First we’ll start with Mr. Z who sat out most of 2016 recovering from a long 2015 3 year old campaign. He’s no stranger to Oaklawn Park, and is trained by Hall of Fame trainer D Wayne Lukas. Secondly, Fifth Season defending champion Street Strategy, who hasn’t raced since that win, is very close to a return which could very well be in this years Fifth Season. Trainer Randy Morse got a big time race out of him last time, and will have a shot to do the same this year. Thirdly, Razorback Handicap second place finisher Domain’s Rap is nominated for the Fifth Season, although his performances since the Razorback haven’t been all that strong. He did win three races at Oaklawn Park last year though. Finally, Oklahoma hero Shotgun Kowboy has had solid workouts at Oaklawn Park leading up to a probable run in the older stakes series. He comes to Oaklawn off for straight runner up efforts in a row.
Of course the newly turned four year olds will have a big say in things this year as there are several strong ones waiting to run this year in the older male series. When thinking of these horses Suddenbreakingnews, Whitmore, and Dazzling Gem are the ones that come to mind. All three of these horse have had recent workouts, and all three are nominated to the Fifth Season Stakes although Dazzling Gem is stabled at Fair Grounds so he will be unable to run in the race because of the ban of shippers from Louisiana because of the equine herpes outbreak. Southwest stakes winner Suddenbreakingnews comes to Oaklawn off a bit of a layoff as he has not ran since last August at Mountaineer. He had a big three year old campaign that included a runner up finish in the Arkansas Derby as well as a solid showing in the Kentucky Derby. The horse that is coming in the hottest of the trio is definitely Whitmore as he dominated an allowance group at Aqueduct in early December. That was his first race since finishing Kentucky Derby where he finished 19th. He’s trained well over the Oaklawn track, but trainer Ron Moquett has not committed to a race just yet for him. As previously mentioned he is nominated to the Fifth Season, but a one turn race could also be possible with him. With these three you’d think the newest members of the older division are ready to make a splash at this race meeting.
The two turn horses aren’t the only ones that should be warranting attention as two very classy sprinters in Ivan Fallunovalot and Alsvid are back once again. Lets start with Alsvid who is just a warrior of a horse. Two years ago he won the Grade 3 Count Fleet Handicap, and last year he competed at Oaklawn Park four times but didn’t win a race. However after Oaklawn he captured the Grade 3 Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs for the second year in a row. Also pointing for Oaklawn is Ivan Fallunovalot, who won the King Cotton at Oaklawn last year for the second year in a row, as well as three more sprints away from Oaklawn to round out his year a perfect four for four. These two have developed a rivalry that will surely be continued in Hot Springs this year. The other sprinter that could take these two on is the previously mentioned Whitmore if Ron Moquett goes the sprint route. As of now that is undecided, but throwing his name to the mix would make things interesting.
So we’ve previewed all of the locals, but as everyone knows the shippers will have something to say about this division in a big way. It’s hard to say who might show up, but trainers from all across the country will have their eyes on Oaklawn Park. The fun kicks off opening weekend in the Fifth Season Stakes, but the schedule will change after that this year. The Grade 3 Razorback Handicap will be ran before the Essex Handicap this year. Oaklawn Park has bumped up the purse of the Razorback to $500,000 in hopes that it will attract horses that are prepping for the Dubai World Cup. The Razorback will be on February 20th, and the Essex Handicap will be on March 18th. Finally it all comes to an end on April 15th in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on closing day.