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In a recent “Dawn at Oaklawn” show hosted by Nancy Holthus, the legendary D. Wayne Lukas stated: “There are two places I know horse racing will never go to hell: Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Kentucky.” That thought has never been more true as we head into this weekend. Oaklawn Park was able to lure enough 3-year-olds to this Saturday’s Rebel Stakes (G2) to have it divided into two divisions.
With 10 horses in one division and nine in the other, both races came up equally strong. The two Rebels highlight a tremendous 11-race card that also features the return of Elate in the Azeri Stakes (G3), as well as the Essex Handicap for older males. The split means that the Rebel, originally a $1 million purse, will be worth $1.5 million overall, with each division offering $750,000 and 63.75 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby to the top four finishers (37.5, 15, 7.5 and 3.75).
The first division of the Rebel will be race 8, going off at 4:57 PM CT. The second division is race 10, with a post time of 6:06 PM CT. Before looking at the fields, let’s praise what Oaklawn Park has done for the sport:
Thanks to the quick actions in the Hot Springs racing office, the Kentucky Derby trail was saved without too much of a hiccup. When Santa Anita Park cancelled its racing indefinitely, the San Felipe Stakes (G2) was done away with as a result, and that left several horses scrambling for a race. Oaklawn Park then stepped up in a major way, putting up an extra $500,000 of its own money and offering to split the Rebel if enough entries were made.
This bold should come as no surprise. Oaklawn Park is one of the few tracks in America that puts the horsemen and the horses first. Moreso, management puts the sport of horse racing first. The betterment of the game is what this place has been all about for several years. Don’t forget, this is the track that almost pulled off a matchup between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra by putting up $5 million if the two entered the starting gate of the 2010 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1). Sadly, that race never happened, but this was not the only time that the track used similar techniques to lure in great horses.
Oaklawn Park should be praised beyond words for splitting the Rebel. They absolutely did not have to do it, and it makes little to no financial sense because the extra purse money is not coming from anyone else. While the fans and media have applauded the efforts, it is disappointing that Churchill Downs took away a portion of the Kentucky Derby points awarded. The rules (which were set well in advance of the Kentucky Derby trail’s commencement) state that if a purse is cut down, then the available Derby points are cut down accordingly. I understand and agree with that rule as a whole, but this is a special circumstance. Oaklawn Park essentially replaced a race out for the betterment of the sport, thereby essentially saving a prep, and got punished for it. We could go on and on about this, which will do no good, so I’ll stop. Simply put: it was a disappointing decision made by Churchill Downs. However, in the grand scheme of things, it may not play a huge factor, so we shouldn’t let it ruin the great thing that Oaklawn Park has done.
#1 Extra Hope – After a solid allowance win at Santa Anita, this race seemed like the logical next step. From his inside post position, he will likely go to the front early, and his best efforts have come going two turns.
#2 Long Range Toddy – This hard-knocking horse hit the board in both of the local Oaklawn Park preps, and he now gets a new jockey in Jon Court, who is known as an aggressive rider. Don’t be surprised to see him go to the front early.
#3 Corruze – A curious entry to the race, he will switch back to the dirt after mostly turf efforts. His one prior try on the dirt did not go well.
#4 Easy Shot – Trainer Keith Desormeaux has pulled off some nice finishes here over the last couple of years with horses that were not heavily backed coming into the race. It seems unlikely that this horse can replicate that here; however, it wouldn’t be wise to completely leave him off of your tickets, either.
#5 Proud Nation – This maiden was a very poor ninth last time out and is likely going to be the longest shot on the board in this division.
#6 Ninth Street – He struggled last time out in the Southwest Stakes (G3) and is going to need a major turnaround in this tougher spot.
#7 Classy John – Trainer Dallas Stewart will take a major swing with this Louisiana-bred after he most recently suffered a close loss at Delta Downs. He could play a factor in the pace.
#8 Galilean – This highly-touted Cal-bred will try open company for the first time here while also trying to jump into the Kentucky Derby mix. His speed figures match up favorably with pretty much any horse in the crop so far this season, but this will be a major test.
#9 Improbable – This is our number one-ranked Kentucky Derby prospect, which obviously means that we are excited to see him make his 3-year-old debut here. He worked out flawlessly leading up to this race, and trainer Bob Baffert seems to be confident in his abilities. As we know, Baffert ships to win.
#1 Market King – Lukas will take a shot in this race with this horse who broke his maiden here two races back while going two turns for the first time. He will likely be this division’s pacesetter.
#2 Laughing Fox – Since arriving at Oaklawn Park, this horse is a perfect 2-for-2, winning both a maiden and an allowance race. If he can step up in class here, then he will have a shot, plus the pace sets up extremely well for him.
#3 Parsimony – This 0-for-7 maiden will try to shock the world here, though it seems highly unlikely that he will make much noise.
#4 Jersey Agenda – He was a major pace presence in the Southwest Stakes (G3), where he blazed to the lead early. You can expect more of the same here; however, he seems like a longshot to be around late when the real running begins.
#5 Game Winner – The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Stakes (G1) winner is back! That always brings a large level of excitement. Like his Baffert stablemate Improbable, he is working out very well leading up this start.
#6 Omaha Beach – We’ll see if this slop monster can run just as well on a dry track in this spot. Last time out, he dominated a short field at Santa Anita over a sloppy track, looking like a serious colt while breaking his maiden. This will be a big test.
#7 Our Braintrust – He exits a third-place effort in the Withers Stakes (G3); however, that form has come back to be very poor so far. He will have to break that trend if he wants to have any chance here.
#8 Gunmetal Gray – This is the typical “hit the board” type that we always see on the Kentucky Derby Trail, and it should be no different here. The pace setup bodes very well for closers, and he should be running late while picking off tired horses in the stretch.
#9 Kaziranga – We haven’t seen the best of him since he broke his maiden at Remington Park four races back. He will need a major form reversal in order to have a chance here.
#10 Captain Von Trapp – Since arriving to Oaklawn Park, this horse has shown some talent, getting both a maiden special weight and an allowance victory in his last two starts. The waters get much deeper here, though a hot pace up front could give him an outside shot to hit the board.
I want to finish on a personal note. The recent events at Santa Anita Park completely shook me, as well as a lot of the horse racing community, to the core. This weekend, because of the actions of Oaklawn Park, we at least have a place where the elite horses in California can run. Hopefully, this weekend helps us begin to heal and rebound from the tragic events out west. I’m looking forward to being in Hot Springs this weekend, where a tremendous crowd is expected and a fantastic card has been assembled. It will be nice to go to a place where horse racing is thriving. This is my home track, where I learned about the game, where I fell in love with the game, and where I hope to sooth the soul with renewed hope and passion for our sport.
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