The Oaklawn three-year old series is the most exciting program you’ll see anywhere in the sport of horse racing. It’s what the track is known for, and its also what has made it become as popular as it is today. Recent horses such as: Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Curlin, Lookin At Lucky, Super Saver, Bodemeister, Will Take Charge, and Oxbow have used Oaklawn as a spring-board to Triple Crown success. This year Oaklawn will have four races that count towards the “Kentucky Derby Points” system that determines who makes the starting gate on the first Saturday of May. The first race will be the Smarty Jones on January 20th, followed by the Southwest Stakes on February 17th, the Rebel Stakes on March 16th, and the one million dollar Grade 1 Arkansas Derby on April 12th. In the last ten years Oaklawn Park has produced ten Triple Crown race winners. That’s a trend that we expect to continue in 2014.
As we head into the meet there is no questioning that the D Wayne Lukas trained Strong Mandate is the top horse on the grounds. Strong Mandate is already a Grade 1 winner as he captured the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, and recently finished a solid third in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. The colt is one of the most accomplished three-year olds that Lukas has ever brought to Oaklawn, and could have even more potential than his two supers starts from last year: Will Take Charge and Oxbow. Anytime you have two complete runaway victories at Saratoga it becomes very note worthy. The breeding of Strong Mandate is flawless, and it also suggests that distance shouldn’t be a problem. The big colt has had three workouts over the track, and is pointing towards the Southwest Stakes as his seasonal debut.
Strong Mandate will certainly be the hype horse, but another horse by the name Louie’s Flower comes into Oaklawn on a three race win streak. His latest victory was in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park where he defeated an extremely competitive field. Last year the Springboard Mile produced Will Take Charge and Texas Bling, both of whom made tremendous impacts in the three-year old division at Oaklawn. However, all three of Louie’s Flower’s wins have come at Remington so running at a new track will be a test. The third place finisher of the Springboard Mile was Smack Smack, and he deserves some attention as well. He won three stakes races as a two-year old, and flipped in the paddock before the Springboard Mile which could explain his average performance. He’s owned by country music star Toby Keith and trained by Don Von Hemel.
Of course this time of year there is still the chance of a lightly raced or even unraced horse jumping up and making a huge impact in this division. That factor is what makes the three-year old division so exciting. We have no shortage of “sleeper picks” this year. Starting off are two horses that have recorded only one win, but both were impressive. Quick Dagger is the first of the two, who comes out of the Kelly Von Hemel barn. He won his only start by almost six lengths at Remington Park. Quick Dagger is another horse owned by Toby Keith. The other horse is Wry who is trained by “Red Dog” Hartlage. He won his second lifetime start at Churchill Downs nicely, but has yet to have a workout at Oaklawn. Two other horses I’m looking at are still maidens that will be coming out of the D Wayne Lukas barn named Unstoppable Colby and Bro Rodrigeaux. Both have been close to winning maiden special weights at Churchill Downs, and should be on the improve and ready to win. Unstoppable Colby probably ran the most impressive race of the two last time out, as he was finished second to the highly touted Gold Hawk. Finally, there is one other horse that I’m going WAY out on a limb with…an unraced horse name Flat Irish. In my opinion Flat Irish has been the star of morning workouts as he’s recorded three straight bullets. He will be making his career debut this Saturday in a maiden special weight going six furlongs. The race will be the ninth and final race on the card.
Like usual, the horses shipping in to Oaklawn for these races will prove formidable. Steve Asmussen seemingly won almost every maiden two-year old race he entered last year so it’s logical to think a few of those winners might show up at Oaklawn. He already has Gold Hawk and Tapiture at the Fair Grounds, and you’d think he will have to separate those two at some point. Oaklawn would probably be his easiest and best option. As always Bob Baffert has a loaded barn of three-year olds and will no doubt be looking towards Oaklawn to earn derby points. Another factor in west coast horses looking to ship out could be the presence of Shared Belief who looks to be a monster. He could provoke trainers to dodge him, which could lead to bigger fields in the Oaklawn races. With the amount of “Derby points” available and a purse structure that is second to none, Oaklawn has become as attractive as anyone in the country.
The time has come for Oaklawn to produce its next big star, and you can bet it’s loyal fan base is ready for it to happen. One of the truly unique things about Oaklawn is its rabid fans, and the pride it takes in its star horses. The fans have been lucky enough to follow great horses, but it’s time for a new one to emerge. The mystery of who the next “big horse” will be is what makes this time of year special. It’s time to sit back and enjoy the ride…and also pick a winner or two! Who will become the next Oaklawn legend?