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HOT SPRINGS, AR – Great racing continues at Oaklawn Park with Saturday’s $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2), which drew a field of 8 older horses in a field that lacks a true superstar but offers perhaps the day’s best betting opportunity.
Carded as race 9, the Oaklawn Handicap is set to run at 4:49 PM CT and shares the card with the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), which will go off as race 11.
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The California shipper Express Train headlines the field for trainer John Shirreffs. He captured his first graded stakes victory in the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita before finishing a close second last time out in the prestigious Santa Anita Handicap (G1). He’ll break from post 2 in his first start outside of California with regular rider Juan Hernandez aboard.
Silver State, the strongest local horse, seeks his fifth straight victory, a streak that includes the Fifth Season Stakes and the Essex Handicap over this course. Trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. paired up to win the Arkansas Derby (G1) last weekend and will try to do the same again here when this horse breaks from the rail.
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Another shipper with a strong resume heading into the race is Fearless, who comes from Florida for trainer Todd Pletcher. He returned a winner last time out after an extended layoff, taking home the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2) against a strong field. He’ll stretch back out in distance for this and will have Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard when he breaks from post 3.
The full field from the rail out: Silver State, Express Train, Fearless, Warrior’s Charge, Guest Suite, Owendale, Rated R Superstar, and Silver Prospector.
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#1 Silver State – I’ve been on this horse for each of his last 5 victories, so I’m not jumping off of him here, even though this is clearly his toughest challenge yet. He’s continued to progress with each race during the win streak, with his last effort being the best of his career. If he breaks well out of the gate, then he can sit second along the rail while saving ground before getting first run at the leaders when they turn for home. That kind of trip might be enough to put him back in the winner’s circle.
#2 Express Train – He’s really come on strong in his last few starts, a credit to John Shirreffs’ patient training approach. Last time out, he ran too good to lose, finishing a close second in the Santa Anita Handicap 1 start after winning the San Pasqual. Either of those efforts gives him a big shot here, making him one that you need to use on your tickets.
#3 Fearless – This horse has always had some hype and finally lived up to it last time out, taking home a nice victory in the Gulfstream Park Mile. He has to ship in for this while also stretching out in distance, two questions marks that make him hard to pick on top. However, Irad Ortiz Jr. following him to Oaklawn is a great sign, so he might be ready for a big season with another win here.
#6 Owendale – He seems to find new ways to lose each race, so we can’t play him to win, but he’s hit the board in many big races, which is why we usually rely on him in the underneath positions. Expect more of the same here.
#7 Rated R Superstar – After his monster effort last time out, he earned a shot at this level, especially since his new connections have him running well. This race is a bit tougher, but he can hit the board in this spot with another strong effort. This has turned out to be a very good claim for owner Danny Caldwell.
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#4 Warrior’s Charge – There’s no doubt his 2021 debut left a lot to be desired; he finished second going a mile here against a weaker allowance field. He might run better here in his second start off of layoff and also looks like the lone speed in this race, which is always a bit dangerous. Wait for a decent price before playing him here, especially with Florent Geroux jumping off the horse, but his pace advantage makes him interesting.
#8 Silver Prospector – This horse had no shot of beating Mystic Guide last time out in the Razorback Handicap (G3), so finishing second there shouldn’t be held against him. While he gets class relief here, he still might be in a little too tough of a spot, and it’s important to note that Santana chose to ride his stablemate instead.
#5 Guest Suite – He beat Warrior’s Charge in their last starts, so there’s no reason for his connections to not take a shot in a race that seems pretty wide open. This is a much tougher challenge, though, and we prefer others a bit more.
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