Picks and Ponderings: Arkansas Derby Preview

This week at Picks and Ponderings, I took a look at the pair of graded stakes at Oaklawn on Saturday: the Arkansas Derby (GI) and the Oaklawn Handicap (GII).

The Arkansas Derby is the final 100-point Kentucky Derby prep, just three weeks out from the big day.  American Pharoah returns after his dominant Rebel victory, and faces Far Right, winner of both other Derby preps in Hot Springs.  The Oaklawn Handicap features known runners and rising stars in the handicap division.  Nine others will try to knock off Race Day, who won the Razorback Handicap (GIII), the final local prep.

My preview covers both of those races in depth.  Take a look, and let me know in the comment section what you agree or disagree with!

Picks and Ponderings: Derby and Oaks preps continue

My preview of the Fantasy Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn is just the beginning of this weekend’s stakes analysis at Picks and Ponderings.

I also took a detailed look at the pair of prep races at Santa Anita Park, the Santa Anita Derby (GI) and the Santa Anita Oaks (GI).  The Oaks is one of the most competitive races of the prep season so far.  In the Santa Anita Derby, beating Dortmund has been an impossible assignment for every horse who has tried so far, but I think one looks up to the task.

My Picks and Ponderings colleague Paul Mazur has looked at the other three-year-old preps this weekend.  He heads to Keeneland to dive into the Blue Grass (GI) and the Ashland (GI), and also to Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial (GI) and the Gazelle (GII).

From coast to coast, Picks and Ponderings has you covered for the big three-year-old races!

Picks and Ponderings: 2015 Fantasy Stakes Preview

This weekend, Oaklawn Park’s series of prep races draws to a close.  Though there are four 100-point Kentucky Oaks prep races this weekend, the Fantasy drew the largest field: eleven three-year-old fillies trying to test their mettle and get one step closer to the blanket of lilies.

My full analysis of Saturday’s Honeybee Stakes is live at Picks and Ponderings.  Follow me along this spur of the Oaks trail, and see who I think is most likely to punch (or reinforce) their ticket to Kentucky.

Picks and Ponderings: Rebel Stakes Day

After the frenetic cross-country road trip at Picks and Ponderings last week, Paul and I stay in one place for this weekend’s stakes preview.  It is Rebel Stakes day at Oaklawn Park, and there are three graded stakes races on the docket.  We preview all three.

I take a look at the Rebel Stakes (GII), the next of the Kentucky Derby preps in Hot Springs.  The race features the return of American Pharoah.  The field also includes two sons of 2007 Rebel Stakes hero Curlin: Sakima makes his stakes debut, and Bold Conquest makes the second appearance of his three-year-old year.

Paul Mazur dives into the two races for older horses, the Azeri Stakes (GII) and the Razorback Handicap (GIII).  The Azeri features the four-year-old debut of Untapable, as well as the Illinois-bred multiple stakes winner Diva’s Diamond.  The field in the Razorback includes Oaklawn horse-for-the-course Ride On Curlin, as well as another Illinois-bred multiple stakes winner, I Got It All.

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, see what we have to say about the races, and let us know what you think in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: weekend stakes previews!

Big ‘Cap Weekend is a big weekend all over the country, and Picks and Ponderings has stakes previews from coast to coast.

Santa Anita has five stakes on the card; between me and Paul Mazur, we preview them all.  I take a look at the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (GI), the San Felipe Stakes (GII), and the China Doll Stakes; Paul delves into the Santa Anita Handicap (GI) and the San Carlos Stakes (GII).

The weekend also features Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks prep races across the country.  We have been following the marquee three-year-old races all winter, and we are not about to stop because we got too distracted by warm weather and a certain fast little gelding out at Santa Anita.  I took a look at the Tampa Bay Derby (GII), and Paul looked at both the Gotham Stakes (GIII) at Aqueduct and the Honeybee Stakes (GIII) at Oaklawn.

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, let us know what you think in the comment sections, and get ready for an exciting weekend of racing!

back from their layoffs

Over the weekend, three Curlin babies made their first starts off of sizable layoffs.

One of them fell off the Derby trail early, and finally started again for the first time in a year.  Another had a fraught journey down the Oaks trail, tried turf once in August, and then spent six and a half months off the track.  The third had a short two-year-old campaign, and returned to take his first step down the Derby trail since October.

They all finished fourth.

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congratulations, Sheikinator!

Things started out fast for Sheikinator (Im a Dixie Girl, by Dixie Union).  In 2013, his juvenile year, he finished second on debut.  Next out, he prevailed in a maiden special weight at Churchill over a field that included eventual Illinois Derby (GIII) winner Dynamic Impact.  Trainer Ken McPeek saw enough to send him out against much tougher stuff for his third outing, trying him in the CashCall Futurity (GI).  The likes of Shared Belief proved a bit tough for him, and he finished seventh.

His three-year-old year started with a few disappointing outings at Oaklawn, but a close second-place finish in an allowance on the Kentucky Derby undercard showed some life.  That was the first of three second-place finishes he rattled off in a row.  After two off-board finishes against claiming company at Churchill in the fall, he got a little breather, and came back to Oaklawn for the winter.  He finished fifth against $30,000-$25,000 company in his four-year-old debut (a neck behind fourth-place Ostentatious Me, another son of Curlin!).  That was his lowest class level to date, but also his first race in over two months.

Thursday, he returned to the track.

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Picks and Ponderings: Southwest Stakes, Take Two

I wrote a preview of the Southwest Stakes at Picks and Ponderings when it was originally drawn, but Oaklawn cancelled racing last Monday due to the winter blast.  Oaklawn redrew the race today, and it will be run on Sunday.

Despite two more lucrative Derby preps the day before (offering fifty points to the winner, compared to the Southwest’s ten), the redrawn race still managed to attract a field of eleven.  Ten return from the original draw, with one new runner joining the fray.  I took another look at the race in light of the new draw, and have published those thoughts at Picks and Ponderings.  Given the similarity in field, a lot of my outlook remains similar to what it was, though I have a new longshot and slightly different ordering — mainly due to the defection of J S Bach from the original draw.

Picks and Ponderings: 2015 Southwest Stakes Preview

Monday, the Derby trail winds back to Oaklawn for the Southwest Stakes (GIII).  The top four finishers from the Smarty Jones return, as well as a new cast of characters ready to take them on and mark themselves as standouts on the way to Arkansas Derby.  The race looks competitive, and should be good for betting since two of the horses likely to take a lot of money look vulnerable.

Head on over to Picks and Ponderings, take a look at my thoughts about the Southwest Stakes, and leave a comment to let me know what you think!

2015 Essex Handicap Preview

Not often does a race fall into the wheelhouse of Blinkers Off for multiple reasons.  There are a lot of races with Curlin babies in them.  There are a lot of races with Illinois-bred horses in them.  That does not often overlap, particularly at the stakes level…but in Saturday’s Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park, it does.  Ride On Curlin, after his dazzling return in an allowance opening weekend at Oaklawn, returns to face older horses in stakes company for the first time.  Furthermore, the eight-horse field features two multiple stakes-winning Illinois-breds.  I Got It All swept the stakes for three-year-old Illinois-breds last year, and added an open stakes win in the Straight Line on the Million undercard last year.  His only stakes try against older horses came in the Lightning Jet Handicap at Hawthorne on December 6.  The bettors sent him off the 7/10 choice, but 9/1 shot Luv Bandit got there first.  That win in last year’s Lightning Jet was Luv Bandit’s fourth stakes win, though he has yet to attempt open stakes company.  The six-year-old gelding’s first career open stakes try comes Saturday, in the Essex Handicap.

Saturday, February 14: Oaklawn Race 9, Essex Handicap (Listed), 1 1/16 miles over the dirt, post time 5:09pm Central

Selections:  Golden Lad (8), Ride on Curlin (7), I Got It All (3)

Longshot:  Luv Bandit (6)

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congratulations, Conquest Curlinate!

Conquest Stables may be relatively new to high-profile horse ownership, but over the last few years they and trainer Mark Casse have had a string of runners who have made some serious noise.  From My Conquestadory to Conquest Titan (whose road down the Derby Trail was followed closely here) to Conquest Two Step, hardly a weekend goes by without at least one of their horses in both a delightfully goofy Photoshop and a big race.

I wondered when a son of Curlin would bear their colours.

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Picks and Ponderings: Martha Washington Stakes

The Kentucky Oaks prep season at Oaklawn Park begins in earnest on Saturday with the Martha Washington Stakes.  I have taken a dive into it at Picks and Ponderings.

The marquee name is, of course, Take Charge Brandi.  However, the race looks primed for an upset, and there are several reasons this likely odds-on favourite looks vulnerable, and this may be time for one of the new runners to shine.

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

Chicago Railbird: 1.23.15

Though I typically handicap Hawthorne and Arlington at Chicago Railbird, this weekend’s American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn drew so many familiar horses from the local circuit that, on field alone, it could very well be a group that would run at either one of the local tracks.  The race is a six-furlong sprint over the dirt, and it drew some heavy hitters among the local ranks.  To name a few: Flower Spell is cutting back to a better distance, Win’em All is trying to follow up her second-place finish in the Powerless, and the streaking Scarletridgerunner is trying stakes company for the first time.  Combine these with a vulnerable favourite, and it looks to be a competitive race.

Head on over to ShapperDaCapper, read the latest Chicago Railbird, and get ready for Saturday’s American Beauty Stakes at Oaklawn!

congratulations, Sakima!

Sakima (Queen of Kills, by Unbridled’s Song) had raced once before today.  On November 30, the closing day of Churchill’s November meet, the three-year-old colt finished a late-advancing fifth in a six and a half furlong maiden special weight.  He ran like a horse who needed a bit more experience and a bit more distance, and the pedigree suggested it as well.  Curlin’s own love of distance makes up only part of that story.  His only other sibling to race so far, a Giant’s Causeway filly named Queen’s Parade, won at 1 3/16 miles.  Queen of Kills never won in four starts, but her dam Tomisue’s Delight ran second in the 1997 Kentucky Oaks, and was a Grade I winner at a mile and a quarter.

Sakima needed distance, something he got a bit more of today.

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get Smarty (Jones)

The Kentucky Derby prep season at Oaklawn gets underway on Monday with the Smarty Jones Stakes, going a mile over the dirt.  The race itself is listed, but it serves as the local prep race for the series that includes the Southwest (GIII), Rebel (GII), and Arkansas Derby (GI).  The race drew a field of nine: mostly familiar faces from the two-year-old stakes season, but also a small handful of newer runners trying to take that first ambitious step on the Derby trail.

Selections:  Lucky Player (6), Hebbronville (5), American Sailor (4)

Longshot:  Paid Admission (2)

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