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2023 Bath House Row Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Big Preakness Stakes Entry On The Line At Oaklawn
Victory Formation (Ted McClenning/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

2023 Bath House Row Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Big Preakness Stakes Entry On The Line At Oaklawn

Aaron previews the 2023 Bath House Row Stakes from Oaklawn Park, then gives his top picks & long shots from this “Win & You’re In” race for the 2023 Preakness Stakes (G1). Among the entries hoping to earn their way to Pimlico in mid-May, the Brad Cox-trained Victory Formation hopes to rebound at the same track where he won the 2023 Smarty Jones Stakes to start the year. Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The track press release:

Different name, but trainer Brad Cox said he’s hoping for the same result.

Cox is scheduled to start two major contenders in the $200,000 Bath House Row Stakes Saturday at Oaklawn, a 1 1/8-mile race he won the previous two years when it was known as the Oaklawn Stakes.

Probable post time for the Bath House Row, the 11th of 12 races, is 5:46 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 12:10 p.m. The card also includes the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles and the inaugural $150,000 Valley of the Vapors Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 mile.

The projected nine-horse Bath House Row field from the rail out:

  1. Interlock Empire, David Cabrera to ride, 118 pounds, 8-1 on the morning line
  2. Mazing Mark, Jon Court, 124, 20-1
  3. Powerful, Isaac Castillo, 124, 15-1
  4. Red Route One, Joel Rosario, 118, 2-1
  5. Aristocracy, Cristian Torres, 118, 20-1
  6. Victory Formation, Luis Saez, 124, 3-1
  7. Two Eagles River, Mitchell Murrill, 121, 4-1
  8. Line to Gain, Eduardo Gallardo, 118, 30-1
  9. Tapit Shoes, Kent Desormeaux, 118, 7-2

The Bath House Row winner, if Triple Crown eligible, will receive automatic entry into the Preakness, the second leg of the Triple Crown, May 20 at Pimlico.

Cox, who won the Oaklawn Stakes in 2021 with Fulsome and again last year with Home Brew, will be represented by Victory Formation (3 for 4 overall) and Tapit Shoes.

Victory Formation, co-owned by prominent Arkansas businessman Frank Fletcher, won his first three career starts, including a front-running three-length score in the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1. The Smarty Jones was Oaklawn’s first of four Kentucky Derby points races.

Victory Formation fell off the Triple Crown trail after finishing ninth as the favorite in his last start, the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at 1 1/8 miles Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds, and subsequently sustaining a minor leg laceration in a stall accident. Risen Star winner Angel of Empire, who finished second in the Smarty Jones for Cox, returned to win the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1 at Oaklawn.

Cox was targeting the $400,000 Lexington Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles last Saturday at Keeneland for Victory Formation’s comeback, but decided to re-route the Tapwrit colt to the Bath House Row. Cox won the Lexington with First Mission.

“There was a little speed in that race,” Cox said. “He (Victory Formation) seems like he wants to be forwardly placed. Obviously, I didn’t know who all was going to run in the race there at Oaklawn. With the mile and a sixteenth, shorter stretch at Keeneland, I thought that there would be a little bit more pace. Honestly, there wasn’t quite as much pace in the race as it looked like on paper. Overall, from our standpoint, it worked out well. First Mission’s a very, very good colt. I’m hoping this works out really well for Victory Formation, too.”

Since recovering from his minor injury, Victory Formation has had four published workouts. The first was March 24 at Fair Grounds. His last three breezes were at Churchill Downs. He will race on Lasix for the first time Saturday.

“Pretty happy with his works the last few weeks at Churchill,” Cox said. “Thought this race made a lot of sense.”

Tapit Shoes, a half-brother to Cyberknife, Cox’s 2022 Arkansas Derby winner, will be making his stakes debut. Tapit Shoes, a son of Tapit, has made all four career starts at 1 1/16 miles and exits a third-place finish in an entry-level allowance Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds.

“He is a horse that I do think has improved throughout the winter and into the spring,” Cox said. “He was marked for a first-level allowance race the first weekend at Keeneland that, in years past, went. It did not go this year. So, he’s been ready to run for a few weeks. I need to run the horse. I’m very happy with the way he’s training, so here we are. I do think he’ll like a mile and an eighth. He doesn’t have a lot of speed. He showed a little bit more speed last time than he had in his previous runs, but he’s a horse that’s learning and getting better the more he does it. He needs to take a step forward and I hope he does.”

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Cox is seeking a single-season Oaklawn record ninth stakes victory at the 2022-2023 meeting.

Program favorite Red Route One ran in the final three legs of Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Red Route One finished second in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 28, second in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25 and a disappointing sixth in the Arkansas Derby, which eliminated the late-running son of Gun Runner from Kentucky Derby consideration.

“Bad day for him,” Asmussen said. “Just try to find the right spots for him from here on out.”

Red Route One added blinkers for the Arkansas Derby and retains the equipment for the Both House Row. He will race on Lasix for the first time Saturday. Asmussen won the inaugural running of what is now the Bath House Row (Oaklawn Invitational) in 2019 with Laughing Fox, who finished fifth in the Preakness two weeks later.

Also returning from the Arkansas Derby is seventh-place finisher Two Eagles River for 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman. Two Eagles River, heavily bet going to the gate, led for much of the race before tiring to finish 8 ¼ lengths behind Angel of Empire.

“He sort of let us down last time, but, hopefully, we’ll see if it’s the class or the distance that seems to be the problem,” Hartman said. “Hopefully, we’ll get an answered question out of this one.”

Two Eagles River will be making his fifth start of the meeting and, like Red Route One, is being wheeled back in three weeks.

“He came out of the race really good,” Hartman said. “I think it’s prime. Twenty-one days is real good recovery time, I think, for him.”

Interlock Empire finished eighth in the Arkansas Derby for trainer Kenny McPeek.