For the first time in three years Oaklawn Park does not have a returning older horse that is ready to dominate this division. Last year Cyber Secret returned after winning the 2013 Oaklawn Handicap only to get injured right off the bat, but the newly turned 4 year old Will Take Charge picked up the slack for him and won the 2014 Oaklawn Handicap making it four straight wins for the local horses in the race. This year the local sprinters outweigh the distance horse dramatically, with defending Breeders Cup Sprint champion Work All Week stabled on the grounds. The Oaklawn Hanidcap and the Count Fleet Stakes, both ran during the Racing Festival of the South, will be the primary goal for the older horses on the grounds.
While the older two-turn division might be a little soft resume wise there are still two horses on the grounds that have competed in some big time races. Those two horses would be Carve and Ride On Curlin. Carve recently finished sixth in the Breeders Cup Dirt mile after winning four times in 2014. Two of those wins came against stakes company including the Grade 3 Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows. Carve is nominated for the Fifth Season Stakes on opening weekend, and all signs point to him running in that race. The other horse we mentioned, Ride On Curlin, has been off since running in the Belmont Stakes last June. Before the Belmont, Ride On Curlin managed to hit the board in all of Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep races, and also finished second in the Preakness Stakes. Him and California Chrome were the only two horses to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown as well. As of now Ride On Curlin still might be a little ways away from running, but he’s put in two strong local works since returning to Hot Springs.
Anytime the locals look venerable you can bet the shippers will be eyeing Hot Springs in March and April. You would have to think Tapiture, second in the Breeders Cup Mile last time out, would be one of the ones looking to Oaklawn. Trainer Steve Asmussen raced the colt three times here last year, and has already mentioned Oaklawn as a possible destination for his first race. Another trainer with several horses in this division is Bob Baffert who is no stranger to Oaklawn Park. He’ll need to separate his star older horses, and a race like the Oaklawn Handicap would certainly be on his radar.
As stated previously, however, it may not matter what the two turn horses do this year…they will be overshadowed by a barrage of sprinters. At the top of the list is Work All Week who is coming off a big upset to win the Breeders Cup Sprint. He also competed at Oaklawn last year winning an allowance and the Hot Springs Stakes. Work All Week has never lost going six furlongs on dirt, and has a shot to win Sprinter of the Year later this month at the Eclipse Awards. He has not posted a workout yet at Oaklawn, so it may be a March or April start for this outstanding horse. That leaves the door open for the early portion of the meet for other sprinters, as when Work All Week does return the task will be difficult to upset him.
Work All Week is certianly the one to beat, but there are plenty other sprinters gunning to take him down. We’ll start with Zee Bros who is coming off of a big upset win of his own in the Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes at Laurel last time out. Zee Bros is a horse that has always shown a tremendous early turn of foot and could be blooming into a nice prospect for Hall of Fame trainer D Wayne Lukas. Gentleman’s Bet is another interesting challenger, as he finished third in the Breeders Cup Sprint in 2013. Injury forced him to miss all of last year, but he’s back on the workout tab and looking for a big comeback in 2015. Yet another top class and Grade 1 winning challenger is The Big Beast who comes to Oaklawn off an impressive win in the King’s Bishop at Saratoga last time out. He’s had some time off since that race and will probably be eyeing stakes later on in the meet. Other names to watch for are Brewing, Apprehender, and Alsvid all of which have had major success at Oaklawn in the past.