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.

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Picks and Ponderings: preps at Keeneland and Oaklawn

Over at Picks and Ponderings, I take on the Derby and Oaks prep races at Keeneland and Oaklawn.

Keeneland’s card features a contentious and oversubscribed edition of the Blue Grass (GI), as well as a compact but high-quality field in the Ashland Stakes (GI).

Over at Oaklawn, the fillies take centre stage in the Fantasy Stakes (GIII).  There is no corresponding Derby prep quite yet; the Arkansas Derby comes next week, on the meet’s closing weekend.

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, read my previews of the three-year-old preps at Keeneland and Oaklawn, and let me know in the comments what you think!

Picks and Ponderings: 2016 Rebel Stakes Day Preview

Over at Picks and Ponderings, Paul Mazur and I have tackled this Saturday’s stakes races at Oaklawn.

I take on the Azeri (GII).  The eight-horse field includes Champion Untapable, but will she be beaten like she was last year?

Paul tackles the Razorback (GIII) and the Rebel (GII).  The Razorback features a contentions group of ten older horses, including a pair of Illinois-breds.  The Rebel drew a full field of fourteen three-year-olds, and the race promises to be a contentious battle for the winner’s share of 50 Kentucky Derby points.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read our preview of Saturday’s stakes races at Oaklawn, and let us know what you think in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: 2016 Honeybee Stakes Preview

This weekend, the Oaks trail heads south to Hot Springs once again for the Grade III Honeybee Stakes.

The race drew just a field of six, but that field turned out as competitive as one could ask for.  The headliners are certainly two-time Oaklawn stakes winner Marquee Miss (also last year’s Arlington-Washington Lassie winner, for fellow Chicago circuit followers…) and Grade I winner Nickname, but four worthy competitors plan to see the starter along with them.

In this tight race, I find one of those newcomers particularly bettable.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Honeybee Stakes (GIII), and let me know in the comments what you think!

congratulations, Air Squadron and Wabel!

Keen Ice, the Curlin Baby running on the biggest stage this weekend, had a tough go of it in the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 (GI – UAE).  The pace was slow, Ryan Moore kept him as close as he could to the pace early, but he just did not kick on late.  It was a disappointment, but hardly disastrous.  We learned beyond any question that Keen Ice is a “take back and make one run” type, and he should have a friendlier setup for that when he sees California Chrome, Frosted, and Special Fighter at the end of this month.

However, a pair of Curlin babies stateside had a far better Saturday.

Air Squadron visits Hawthorne in November of 2014 to contest an undercard allowance.  He had a tough day, but stablemate Coalport wore down Yankee Dealer to win the Buck’s Boy later in the card.

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another Curlin baby on the Oaks trail?

Curlin already has a marquee Oaks contender at the Fair Grounds with Stageplay.  After today, he may have another one at Oaklawn — with one of Stageplay’s stablemates in the Steve Asmussen barn.

Terra Promessa (Missile Bay, by Yes It’s True) raced twice last year, both times in maiden company.  After a poor start on debut, she rallied in between horses to finish third, beaten just half a length for all of it.  That came in a seven-furlong maiden race on the Keeneland dirt.

Terra Promessa returned a month later a Churchill, stretched out to a mile and a sixteenth.  She stalked off early leader Scat Lady, affixed to her outside flank.  She edged even with the early leader through the far turn, and got the front turning for home.  Alotta Skirt made a sharp move through the field, and found a credible run, but it was not quite enough.  Terra Promessa had enough in the tank to hold safe by a length.

She returned to the worktab at Fair Grounds in mid-December, and recorded regular four- and five-furlong drills through the winter.  She made her way to Oaklawn in January.  After turning in her two most recent works over that course, she was entered against winners for the first time today.  Just like the maiden race she won, today’s N1X allowance test came at a mile and a sixteenth over the dirt.

The public sent Terra Promessa off at 3/5.  She ran to those odds, and then some.

Sensuous Pat struck the front early.  Terra Promessa sat wide early, but settled easily behind the leader.  About a length and a half off through the far turn, she inched closer down the backstretch.  She did so comfortably, without being asked.

Passing the half-mile pole, rider Ricardo Santana let out her rein just a tad.  Still wide, Terra Promessa gained on Sensuous Cat and Richwood, who was also making a move at the leader.  She eased ahead of them, and had two lengths on the field by the time she entered the stretch.

Inside the three-sixteenths pole, as Cold Dish kicked on, Ricardo Santana finally asked Terra Promessa.  She responded immediately, and drew off with authority.  He just let her cruise through the final furlong, and they crossed the wire nine lengths clear of a rallying Cold Dish.

After a win like today’s, Terra Promessa deserves a shot against stakes company.  A step up in class had clearly been in her connections’ sights, as the Stonestreet homebred had been nominated for the Martha Washington Stakes.  Her connections entered here instead, she rewarded them with a win.  She likes two turns, she likes Oaklawn, and  hopefully this will punch her ticket to the Grade III Honeybee Stakes next month.

Picks and Ponderings: 2016 Martha Washington Stakes Preview

The Oaks trail makes it to Oaklawn in earnest this weekend with their first points race, the Martha Washington Stakes.

The race drew a field of eight, headlined by Grade I winner Nickname.  Though she brings the most proven class into the race, she comes in off of a layoff since the Breeders’ Cup.  That opens up the question — is Nickname beatable?

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Martha Washington, and let me know in the comments what you think!

Chicago Railbird goes to Oaklawn

This weekend, Chicago Railbird flies south again, this time for the King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn.

In true Chicago Railbird fashion, I take a look at Illinois-breds who have done well in the race in the past.  I also take a detailed look at tomorrow’s renewal of the King Cotton.  The race drew a field of eight.  Two of the runners were bred in Illinois — and one has a very good chance of becoming the second Illinois-bred to get his picture taken after the King Cotton.

Head over to ShapperDaCapper, read the latest Chicago Railbird, and get ready for tomorrow’s featured race at Oaklawn!

Picks and Ponderings: Smarty Jones Stakes Preview

Over at Picks and Ponderings, we continue our walk down the Kentucky Derby trail.  Racing in Hot Springs has begun, and Oaklawn’s series of Derby preps begins on Monday with the one-mile Smarty Jones Stakes.

The race drew a capacity field of fourteen — and though West Coast shipper Toews On Ice headlines the entrants, he looks beatable here.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my analysis of the Smarty Jones Stakes, and let me know in the comment section what you think!

2016 Pippin Stakes preview

A field of nine fillies and mares at Oaklawn would be hard-pressed to fall more squarely into Blinkers Off’s wheelhouse than that of Sunday’s listed Pippin Stakes at Oaklawn.  After all, the one and one-sixteenth mile dirt test drew a trio of Illinois-bred runners…as well as a Curlin baby, just for good measure.

Sunday, January 17: Oaklawn Park

Race 8: Pippin Stakes, four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one sixteenth miles on the dirt, post time 4:42pm CST

Selections:  Theogony (6), Rosie My Rosie (5), Streamline (1)

Longshot:  Sawsan (7)

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Chicago Railbird: 1.13.15

Thoroughbred racing in Chicago may be on hiatus for the winter, but Chicago Railbird is still alive and well.

In this week’s edition, I take a look at the feature on the opening day at Oaklawn, the Dixie Belle Stakes.  The race has a long history of winners who have made their mark on the Chicago circuit as well, and has even had an Illinois-bred winner.  I look at that history of horses who have run so well both here and in the Dixie Belle.

Of course, I also handicap this year’s renewal of the race.  In a field of eight, two runners already have Chicago connections.  However, both have quite the tough task ahead of them in this spot.  I do have a strong top selection — as well as a chalk worth beating.

Head over to ShapperDaCapper, read the latest Chicago Railbird, and get ready for Friday’s Dixie Belle at Oaklawn!