The weather: Oaklawn has sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s, but Gulfstream looks wet, with showers and thunderstorms likely this afternoon. First picked post is 5:19 pm EDT.
Oaklawn Park is winding down its long winter/spring meeting, with closing day scheduled for Saturday. They will be going out with a bang, with a mammoth, 14-race card headlined by the Arkansas Derby, which drew so many entrants it has been split into two divisions. It will be a good day. And not a moment too soon, in light of the impending closure of Oaklawn, so word that the shutdowns of other tracks, caused by the coronavirus, may soon be ending. Kentucky Derby governor Andy Beshear said on Wednesday that racing in the commonwealth may resume on May 11, and while Churchill Downs has not yet made an announcement as we write this on Thursday morning, the expectation is that they will begin racing, with social distance protocols in place and the facility closed to spectators, not long after. We expect other racing to resume fairly soon as well, with Santa Anita, which hopes to resume racing on May 15, a leading example. While we’re incredibly thankful for the tracks that have held races during the coronavirus shutdown, we are very much looking forward to a return to expanded racing nationally: we are eager for new tracks partly for a change, to be able to handicap races at ovals other than the four we have come to know very intimately the past six weeks; but mostly for a sign that the country, and the world, is beginning to emerge from the cocoon of self-quarantining we’ve all been through the past six weeks. The point at which we can actually attend live racing in person is still a ways off, probably a long ways off, but tracks opening, like Churchill, or reopening, like Santa Anita, is a positive sign that we are headed in the right direction. We’ll take that.
Today the racing is at Gulfstream and Oaklawn Parks. The weather at Oaklawn should be terrific, with sunny skies and temperatures in the high 70s, but Gulfstream looks wet, with showers and thunderstorms likely this afternoon. We are going to hope that Gulfstream can get in the races before the rains come, so we’ve handicapped all four of today’s plays for fast dirt and firm turf. Let’s go.
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 1 mile, Turf, Florida-bred Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
Eleven are entered in this allowance for state-bred females, but three of them are main-track-only runners, so eight will go if this stays on the grass. It’s a good group.
We’re going with a speed play: if 3-Real Doozie doesn’t stumble coming out of the gate, she is a cinch to get the early lead, as she has much more natural early speed than any of the other entrants. We think she will get a soft trip up front, so soft, in fact, that we think the other runners may be spinning their wheels trying to catch her. She just missed in a similar spot last out, finishing second after leading most of the way, against open allowance company at Tampa Bay; today, against lesser state-bred competition, we think she’s going to win in wire-to-wire fashion. We will bet her to win at 6-1. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 9, $35 to win on 3-Real Doozie.
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 1 mile, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
This allowance/optional claimer drew a field of nine. We’re expecting a hot pace, as there are several speedballs who will vie for the lead, creating an unsustainably fast pace that will set the table for the stalkers and closers. That makes 2-Vexatious a strong play: this 6-year-old mare is coming off a layoff, but has been racing exclusively in stakes races, and we think that she is going to find both the shallower waters of allowance company much to her liking. We also think the race shape will favor her, as she’s run her best races when able to sit midpack and rally late; the fast pace we expect in this race should play right to her strengths. We will bet her to win at 9/2, and we will do so enthusiastically. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 8, $50 to win on 2-Vexatious.
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 1 mile, Dirt, Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
This tough second-level allowance drew a field of eight. It’s a very evenly matched group, as is indicated by the fact that the morning line favorite is a tepid 3-1, and five of the eight have odds between 3-1 and 6-1.
In a wide open race, we’re going to take the mare who has been in the best recent form, and that is 3-Crown and Sugar, who starts for trainer Darien Rodriguez. She’s the pick even though she has never run on conventional dirt before: she’s run 29 times, but they’ve all been either on turf or a synthetic surface. Her recent turf races have all been good, however, so she’s fit and sound; and both her pedigree and her recent morning workouts, which were run over the Tampa Bay Downs dirt course, suggest that she will do well on conventional dirt. And Rodriguez has a very good 33% win rate with horses switching from turf to dirt. At 10-1, we think she is worth a play. We will bet her to win. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 10, $30 to win on 3-Crown and Sugar.
Allowance, 6 furlongs, Dirt, 3 & Up
This first-level allowance dirt sprint drew a full field of twelve. We like a horse at a price here, 2-Horse Doctor, who starts for trainer Jack Sisterson. He’s a well-bred 4-year-old colt, by Bodemeister out of a Bernardini mare, and while he’s never run a truly bad race, we think his form is somewhat obscured by the fact that four of his six career starts have been either on turf or synthetic. His two best efforts, including his January maiden win at the Fair Grounds, were both on conventional dirt, and we think he’s going to move forward returning today to his preferred surface. We think he’ll get a good stalking trip, and be right there at the top of the stretch -- and the only question from there is whether he’s fit enough and good enough. We think the answer to both questions is yes, so we will bet him to win at 10-1. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 9, $30 to win on 2-Horse Doctor.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.