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Oaklawn Handicap Preview: 13 Stakes Winners Comprise Toughest G2 In Years
Combatant after winning the Santa Anita Handicap (Credit: Ernie Belmonte)

Oaklawn Handicap Preview: 13 Stakes Winners Comprise Toughest G2 In Years

HOT SPRINGS, AR – A total of 13 stakes winners – 11 graded – will comprise the toughest Grade 2 field seen in years when they enter the gate for Saturday’s $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

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Morning line favoritism nearly split three ways, with Combatant (4/1) getting a narrow edge over Tacitus (9/2) and By My Standards (9/2). The John Sadler-trained Combatant will be making his third start for the barn after running for Steve Asmussen for three years prior. The 5-year-old son of Scat Daddy debuted for Sadler with a third in the 1 1/8-mile San Pasqual Stakes (G2), then won the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap (G1).

“He put in a good third in the prep for the Big Cap and then ran really well in the Big Cap,” Sadler said. “He’s a horse that is doing really well right now. He was a good horse when we got him. … My thought is there’s always room in the handicap division. He’s not disappointed us. He’s training great.”

Along with first-place prize of $360,000, the winner of the Oaklawn Handicap will receive a guaranteed spot in the starting gate for the Pimlico Special at Pimlico Race Course later this year. The winner will also have all nomination, start, and entry fees waived for that race.

Here is the full field for Saturday’s Oaklawn Handicap:

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1. Chess Chief (30/1) – The lone runner in the field to have yet to win a stakes race, Chess Chief originally crossed the wire third last time out in the New Orleans Classic (G2), but stewards later disqualified him to sixth after he caused interference in the stretch. The Dallas Stewart trainee will reunite with Brian Hernandez, Jr., who rode him to victory two back against allowance/optional claiming foes.

2. Trophy Chaser (12/1) – Owner/trainer Juan Avila shipped him from his Florida home, along with stablemate King Guillermo, as he seeks his third straight victory. The 4-year-old son of Twirling Candy defeated allowance/optional claiming rivals by 8 1/4 lengths in his 2020 debut, then followed that with a neck victory in the Challenger Stakes (G3) for his first stakes score.

3. Bravazo (30/1) – The Calumet Farm homebred faces a tough task as he tries to right the ship and finish on the board for the first time in six races. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas has never let the Awesome Again colt run from a challenge; his last victory (the 2018 Risen Star Stakes [G2]) eventually preceded 10 straight starts against Grade 1 competition.

4. Mr Freeze (6/1) – Trainer Dale Romans has sent Mr Freeze to a graded stakes winner’s circle in three of his eight attempts at that level, including last time out in the Gulfstream Park Mile Stakes (G2). The son of To Honor and Serve has posted a triple-digit Beyer speed figure five times, more than any other rival, and has only missed the board twice in 12 career starts.

5. Identifier (20/1) – He has won both starts since transferring to the Oscar Gonzalez barn at the start of 2020, including while making his graded stakes debut last time out in the Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3). Each of those recent victories came at this same 1 1/8-mile route of ground, so the Creative Cause 4-year-old should have no trouble with the distance.

6. Warrior’s Charge (8/1) – He is the lone runner with a prior victory over this course against graded stakes foes, courtesy of his gutsy front-running effort last time out in the Razorback Handicap (G3). The 4-year-old Munnings colt has a local record of 5-3-0-2 and retains the services of Florent Geroux, who has won 26% of his mounts with trainer Brad Cox dating back to 2019.

7. Combatant (4/1) – The morning line favorite enters Saturday’s race after earning the biggest win of his career in the Santa Anita Handicap, which was the record third straight for Sadler and owner Hronis Racing. He has looked like a new horse since coming under Sadler’s care in California and will have Joel Rosario back aboard for the second time. 

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8. Sky Promise (20/1) – A late-running neck victory in a sloppy 1 1/2-mile Temperence Hill Stakes was his first over the local strip and should have him fit for this shorter test. The Robertino Diodoro trainee has also won twice in four starts at this distance, including the 2018 British Columbia Derby (G3) at Hastings.

9. Tacitus (9/2) – The 4-year-old Juddmonte Farms homebred son of Tapit will make his stateside 2020 debut here after running fifth in the Saudi Cup, his first start in five months. Tacitus compiled a 7-2-3-2 record in 2019, including wins in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and the Wood Memorial (G2) along the Kentucky Derby (G1) Trail.

10. Captivating Moon (30/1) – The traditionally late-running Captivating Moon will try to pass his 13 rivals as he seeks his first victory since taking the Buddy Diliberto Memorial Stakes at Fair Grounds last December. The 5-year-old son of Malibu Moon finished second last time out in the New Orleans Classic Stakes (G2), his first attempt going this 9-furlong distance.

11. Tax (15/1) – Since Danny Gargan claimed him for $50k out of his maiden-breaking victory, Tax has faced only graded stakes rivals, compiling a record of 9-2-2-1. Both of those wins came at this 1 1/8-mile distance: the Withers Stakes (G3) and the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2).

12. By My Standards (9/2) – The Bret Calhoun trainee has looked like a new horse since turning 4, winning both starts by a combined 9 lengths, which includes the New Orleans Classic Stakes (G2) last time out. That and the 2019 Louisiana Derby (G2) represent his two prior starts at this 1 1/8-mile distance, and seeing as how he won that race as well, the distance should pose him no problems.

13. Night Ops (15/1) – Trainer Brad Cox has saddled him to three wins in his past four starts, including the local Essex Handicap last time out in the slop. He finished second in both of his prior starts at this 1 1/8-mile distance, losing by a 1/2-length and a neck, so he should handle the route of ground.

14. Improbable (8/1) – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has drawn the dreaded far outside post for the second straight time at Oaklawn Park, having broken from gate 11 last time out in the Oaklawn Mile Stakes. He lost the Rebel Stakes (G2) by a neck and the Arkansas Derby (G1) by a length in a pair of local 2019 starts. This will be his second start since finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).

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