early season stakes at Oaklawn

The racing meet at Oaklawn gets underway this Friday, and promises three months of competitive dirt racing.  The action excites at all levels: full fields in claiming races (not to mention the most patronised claim box in the country!), and classy groups in stakes company.

Here, Blinkers Off looks at the latter.  Opening day features the Fifth Season Stakes, a listed one and one sixteenth mile dirt stakes for open company aged four and up.  Saturday’s card features the Pippin Stakes: same listed level, same eight and a half furlong distance, but for older fillies and mares.

Fellow Chicago racing fans can enjoy Oaklawn-loving Illinois-breds in each of these races: Domain’s Rap in the Fifth Season, Streamline in the Pippin.

The Pippin also has a treat for fans of the Curlin babies: Terra Promessa returns to Hot Springs for the first time since her victory in the Fantasy Stakes (GIII) last April.

Friday, January 13

Oaklawn Park, Race 8: Fifth Season Stakes, four-year-olds and up, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 3:49 CST

Selections: Code West (3), Inside Straight (7), Smack Smack (6 — underneath only)

It seems odd to refer to a seven-year-old who won the 2013 Matt Winn (GIII) over third-year stallion Uncaptured and recently retired millionaire Sunbean as the “now” horse.  But, we’re talking about listed-level handicappers south of the Mason-Dixon line, and Code West fits that bill.  The Boyd Caster trainee showed new life at six, winning the Jim Rasmussen Memorial Stakes at Prairie Meadows last summer and also wiring the Zia Park Championship Handicap last out over Smack Smack, who he faces again here.  Code West loves the distance, as his 10-4-5-0 record shows.  He has only run at Oaklawn twice, but one of those races featured a second-place finish in the 2015 Fifth Season, behind stalwart Carve.  On pace, he should be forward, but does not need the lead.  In fact, with Mr. Z in the field, Code West will almost certainly be stalking a couple of lengths off the early going, ready to take over when the front end loses steam.  He gets Luis Quinonez back in the irons from his last-out win at Zia, and has a pair of solid local drills.  Code West should get his seven-year-old year off right in the Fifth Season.

Inside Straight also last raced on Zia’s marquee stakes day, but not in the same race at Code West.  Instead, Inside Straight finished a close third against sophomores in the Zia Park Derby — a race won by Code West’s stablemate Pass the Buck.  This will be a class test for Inside Straight; though he does have an allowance win against older at Remington two back, this will be the newly-turned-four-year-old’s first try in stakes company against older.  But, he has shown he can be competitive on speed.  On pace, he is versatile — though he always comes from off the pace, he can come from pretty much anywhere, be it just off or near the caboose.  Though Inside Straight has not raced since November, trainer Robertino Diodoro wins at 22% on similarly-long lays.  Finally, Diodoro and new rider Geovanni Franco are hot: out of 11 starters in the last two months, they have six win pictures, and all 11 finished in the money.

Smack Smack will likely go off the favourite — he has solid form over the course and distance, gets regular rider Shane Laviolette back, and runs a good race whenever you load him into the gate.  However, he will be an underlay, as good does not typically mean winning.  In five tries at Oaklawn, he has three seconds but no wins.  In twelve tries at the distance he has seven money finishes, but only two victories.  Expect him to sit just off the pace, keep running late, and fill out that exacta or trifecta.  But, for chalk, don’t bet he’ll win.

The most confusing horse of the bunch is the Illinois-bred: nine-year-old Domain’s Rap.  He has only raced once since July, a second-place finish in October at Remington.  That, in itself, would only be slightly weird…except for the fact that he was in for a $25K tag that day.  If they actually thought he could come back the next year and be in good enough form to contend in six-figure stakes at Oaklawn, why would they risk him for $25K?  Still, he caught fire at Oaklawn last year, and perhaps he’s a horse for the course.  The Domain’s Rap of last winter would fit right on par with the best he faces here.  But, you need more than his 6/1 morning line to bet he will be that.  Take a wait-and-see approach with this one unless he drifts up to about twice his morning line.  If he does?  Then, Blinkers Off won’t talk you off of taking a punt.

Saturday, January 14

Oaklawn Park, Race 8: Pippin Stakes, four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:38pm

Selections:  Streamline (1), Ready to Confess (5), She Mabee Wild (6)

This race drew a field of just six.

Two entrants look like true win candidates.  Top selection Streamline won this race last year, and looks poised to repeat.  She comes in third off the lay, with the stakes series at Oaklawn her stated goal all along.  Last out in the Falls City (GII), she was strangled so much of the way, and yet still managed to stay on for second.  She gets a bit of a class drop here, returned to a track she loved last winter, and gets regular rider Chris Landeros back in the saddle.  All this adds up to make Streamline the one to beat.  If anyone beats her, Ready to Confess looks like the threat.  She does get a class test, with this being her first try of any sort against older horses.  But, she fits on speed, and has the versatility to get on the front or stalk off the pace.  She has Oaklawn form from last spring, and she has never missed the board in six tries at the race’s distance.

With this race drawing just six runners, She Mabee Wild has that tactical advantage of speed in a short field.  She may not have it as easy as she did when finishing fourth in the Falls City, thanks to Ready to Confess being here.  But, everyone else is ratable enough that She Mabee Wild could get it just easily enough for just long enough to be the factor that brings value to an exacta or trifecta.  Her Oaklawn record is spotty — three starts, one win, two out-of-the-money finishes — but She Mabee Wild has not missed the board in four career tries at the distance.  Yes, several of those were against Indiana-bred stakes mares — but remember, she was knocking heads against Lady Fog Horn in several of those starts, and fellow Indiana-bred Lady Fog Horn (winner of the 2016 Falls City) is as good as any of these horses She Mabee Wild faces here.

Terra Promessa (2) is the wild card here.  Her last out, in the She’s All In Handicap, was not good.  Yes, the bettors were less than wise to send her out as the favourite in the She’s All In last time out: it was her first start since May, her first try against older, and a track she had never run over.  But, here she comes second off the lay, returns to a track over which she is undefeated, and returns to a distance at which she is four-for-four.  She is also a daughter of Curlin, suggesting she does have room to get better at age four.  This space will stand against her on top unless she goes off at a big price — unlikely, with the team of Steve Asmussen and Jose Ortiz behind her.  But, she could hit the board if she gets back on the rails, so there is a defensive argument.


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