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Thoroughbred Thursday: Garrity heads to Oaklawn Park to dodge the bad weather and pick some horses

Chris Garrity

We are dodging bad weather again today, so we'll head to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where the weather this afternoon should be very good for racing: some sun and temperatures in the mid 50s. We are expecting fast dirt (Oaklawn has no turf course), and have a trio of plays we like. Let's go.

Oaklawn Park, Race 4, 3:52 pm ET

Maiden Special Weight, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 4 & Up

This maiden race drew a pretty classy field of eight older runners. A lot of expensive horseflesh will go into the gate, a lot of horses with flashy pedigrees, and we like one of them, 5-Aztec Empire, who's by superstar sire Tapit, out of a Gone West mare. He's made one career start, a decent third at Monmouth Park in September, but has away from the races since. He makes his first start for new trainer Ron Moquett, and we think he will run big in this spot. We will bet him to win at 6-1. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 4, $30 to win on 5-Aztec Empire.

Oaklawn Park, Race 4, 4:46 pm ET

$25,000 Claiming, 1 mile, Dirt, 4 & Up

Eleven drew into this $25k claimer for older horses. We talk about track biases here quite a bit, and we think there's a horse here who will illustrate how powerful a handicapping factor they can be: it's the horse on the outside, 11-Driven to Compete, a 6-year-old gelding who has a forwardly-placed running style, but has had the bad luck of running his last two races on dirt that was biased against speed, and in favor of horses coming from behind. Both times, he very unsurprisingly did a speed-and-fade, faltering in the race's later stages. This makes his recent form look much worse than it really is.

On a fair track, which we are expecting at Oaklawn today, we expect him to run much, much better, and because of his superficially bad recent results, we get 6-1, which is a very nice price. Another plus from his race record is that he is has three wins in four starts at today's distance: a mile on dirt is right in his wheelhouse. Breaking from the outside, he will have to use his speed to avoid getting hung wide around the clubhouse turn, but we think he can do that. We think he takes this race, so we will bet him to win. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 11, $35 to win on 11-Driven to Compete.

Oaklawn Park, Race 7, 5:14 pm ET

$40,000 Claiming, 1 mile, Dirt, 3 & Up

We like horses coming off good efforts, horses conditioned by hot trainers, and we like it when hot trainers move hot horses up in class. There's a runner in this race who checks all these boxes: it's 6-Candy Store, who runs for trainer Robertino Diodoro, who is atop the Oaklawn Park trainer standings, winning at a 33% clip for the meet. This 4-year-old gelding ran a good race in his last, in his first start for Diodoro, when he won against $25,000 claiming company. He jumps today to the $40,000 level, and we think he's ready for a repeat. He's got the best last-race Beyer Speed Figure in the field, and has a forwardly-placed running style that should have him in contention from the start. We will bet him to win at 4-1. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 7, $35 to win on 6-Candy Store.

We're away tomorrow for a brief freshening, but we will be back on Saturday: it's Fountain of Youth day at Gulfstream Park, which is always a big day, and a harbinger of spring. We are looking forward to it. Until then, as always, good luck at the windows.

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