#6 Alternation (KY) – This race is shaping up to be one of the best of the young racing season. It’s drawn the Donn and Santa Anita Handicap winners, as well as the Kentucky Derby runner-up and last years Oaklawn Handicap winner. So why am I not going with any of those horses as my top selection? The answer is simple. Trainer Donnie K Von Hemel will be sending Alternation to the post, and he has been absolutely flawless in two starts at Oaklawn this year. He won the Essex Stakes with ease, and then won wire to wire in the Razorback Handicap against a classy horse in Tapizar. Alternation has shown big improvement to an already solid foundation, and I believe he is ready for a big time coming out party on the national stage in this race. He’s ran two triple digit beyers, and I don’t think we’ve seen him even close to fully extended.
#8 Ron the Greek (FL) – If my gut feeling is wrong about Alternation, look for Ron the Greek to pick up the pieces. Trainer Bill Mott has said Ron the Greek is a bit of a project, but I think he has things figured out now. He romped in what looked to be a level playing field in the Santa Anita Handicap, winning by almost four lengths. If he repeats that performance on Saturday, he’ll be difficult to beat. One thing that would really benefit this horse is getting a fast pace up front. Ron the Creek came from far out of it to win the Santa Anita Handicap, and he might use similar tactics in this race.
#5 Hymn Book (KY) – Rounding out my likely winners is Hymn Book, who was the winner of the Donn Handicap by a nose over Mission Impossible. Even though he ran a very fast race in the Donn, I’m not as high on him as Ron the Greek for a few reasons. I feel like Gulfstream can sometimes produce funny results, especially in the Donn. Last years winner of that race never won again the rest of the season. Also, I don’t think the Donn field was quite as good as the Santa Anita Handicap field. None the less, there is no way you can leave Hymn Book off any of your Pick 3 or 4 tickets. The class he’s shown over his career is quite impressive, and a win on Saturday would not be a surprise in the least.
#1 Nehro (KY) – Nehro comes into the race as a little bit of a mystery. Last year he finished second in the Louisiana, Arkansas, and Kentucky Derby, but was sidelined for the rest of the year with an injury he sustained in the Belmont. His return race of 2012 was a crushing allowance win at Fair Grounds, but there are some red flags. Nehro was pointing towards the Louisiana Handicap, but “tied up” according to trainer Steve Asmussen. Apparently he is doing much better since moving to Oaklawn Park, but I’m still a little leery that he might not be 100% so that’s why I made him an “exotic play” instead of a “likely winner.” If he is fully fit, LOOK OUT, he could win this thing. He’s a very classy animal, and is no stranger to running huge in big time races.
#7 Yawanna Twist (NY) – This is an interesting horse to me. Yawanna Twist is a very classy New York Bred, and he won’t be intimidated by this tough field. He been in some big dances before, including the Preakness in 2010. He’s a lightly raced horse, and when he’s on his game he can be a pesky one to put away. He comes into the race off a nice Grade 2 victory at Laurel Park, where he won the General George Handicap by half-length. His best distance might be at a mile or less, but I expect him to run a decent race and with a little luck he could pull an upset.
#2 Win Willy (KY) – How in the world can you ever count him out at Oaklawn Park? The “gray ghost” as I like to call him has made a living over the local strip, and has specialized in pulling big upsets. Even though he won this race last year, you can expect his odds to be fairly high so he’ll look to play the upset roll one more time. This will be his last start at Oaklawn, so wouldn’t it be fitting if this fast and furious closer was able to beat this stellar field? The odds are stacked against him though. He’s ran once this year, finishing last in the Razorback Handicap. Since then he has been training well, and trainer Mac Robertson thinks he’ll be much better. If the pace is hot up front, look for him to be flying down the outside when they turn for home. He can’t do it again though, CAN HE?
#3 Don Dulce (KY) – He was the winner of a recent allowance race at Oaklawn, but I don’t think he is ready to face the heavy hitters he’ll be facing today.
#4 Stachys (KY) – This old war-horse has been in some big races in his day, but just like Don Dulce he doesn’t match up with this group. You know he’ll give it an honest ever, but this field is just too tough.