The king is back! After dominating the older male division at Oaklawn last year, Alternation has returned to for his five-year old season. Last year he won the Essex, Razorback, and Oaklawn Handicap in dominating fashion. In the Razorback he was able to defeat eventual Breeders Cup Dirt Mile Champion Tapizar, and in the Oaklawn Handicap he defeated the likes of Ron the Greek, Hymn Book, and Nehro. After Oaklawn Alternation ran four more times, and was able to capture victories in the Pimlico Special and Governor’s Cup at Remington Park. While the news is mostly good for Alternation, he does come into this season with a bit of mystery surrounding him. His final race of 2012 was a dud, as he finished a well-beaten last in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. He was given a short break after that race, and has just now returned to the barn of trainer Donnie K Von Hemel. Perhaps a return to his favorite track will be just what he needs to bounce back from that effort.
A major challenger for Alternation this season could come from the well accomplished Endorsement. He’s won over $600,000 in his career, and has won two Grade 3 races as well. He finished third last year to Alternation in the Pimlico Special by just one length. After Pimilco, Endorsement ran in two tough Handicaps at Belmont and Saratoga, and failed to do much in either of those. Like Alternation, Endorsement is coming off a layoff as well. His last race was in August, but he has had steady workouts over the last sixty days. All signs point to Endorsement making his first start of the meet on opening weekend in the Fifth Season Stakes.
While Endorsement and Alternation are getting most of the attention, a horse by the name of Win Willy could loom large. Win Willy is a very popular horse among the Oaklawn locals, as he’s famous for taking down top rated Old Fashioned in the 2009 Rebel, and Misremembered in the 2011 Oaklawn Handicap. While his success at Oaklawn has been great, last year was a rough one for him at the track. He was coming off an injury, and never got his feet under him in two attempts against stiff competition. However, after Oaklawn ended he was able to pick up three wins in seven starts. He comes into this year in great shape, and will without question be more of a factor. Win Willy has won $960,387 lifetime, so he should pass the one million dollar mark early on at the meet.
Other horses that could play a factor include the newly turned four-year old Najjaar, and the D Wayne Lukas trained Optimizer. Najjaar showed some talent as Oaklawn last year as a three-year old, but was hurt after the meet ended. He is back in training and is pointed towards the older male series. Optimizer has done his best running on the turf, but Lukas might try to put him on the dirt again in search of a big purse in the Oaklawn Handicap. His only decent dirt performance came in the Rebel Stakes last year at Oaklawn.
The older sprinters are also worth mentioning as Count Fleet winner Outta Tune is expected to return, and two serious new shooters in Apprehender and Alsvid will also be very competitive in the division. Apprehender recently won an allowance at Remington, and earned a 97 beyer for the effort. Alsvid won four stakes races in 2012, including a nose win over Apprehender in the Remington Sprint Cup.