The races today are ones that would be terrific under any circumstances, but seem even better because of what we’ve all been through — first post is 4 pm EDT.
It’s an indication of how much things have changed in the past seven weeks that it wasn’t until we took a look at today’s print edition of Daily Racing Form that we remembered that today was supposed to be Kentucky Oaks day, one of the biggest days on the racing calendar all year. The Kentucky Oaks will not be run today, of course, but we will not dwell on that, as our focus since the coronavirus pandemic started has been to focus on what we have, rather than what we do not have. This is a lesson we learned a long, long time ago, back when we were learning to play this game, and a wise old bird on the rail at Hollywood Park gave us a lesson that has stuck with us: everyone in this game loses; everyone in this game experiences bad luck, bad beats, and bad rides; the trick is to learn what you can from the bad stuff, and then move on to the next race. And there’s always a next race.
The next races today are one that would be terrific under any circumstances, but seem even better because of what we’ve all been through: Oaklawn cards a trio of stakes, including the Grade 3 Fantasy for 3-year-old fillies, which is just sensational, and there are also good cards at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs. We’ll cover as much of it as we can: we have six races that go off in just a bit over two hours. The weather at all three tracks looks excellent, so we’ve handicapped all races for fast and firm. Let’s go.
Allowance, 1 mile, Turf, Fillies & Mares 4 & Up
The nightcap at Tampa Bay is our first race of the day. It’s a first-level allowance for older turf females, and it drew a full field of ten. We like 8-Connectivity, a 4-year-old filly who makes her first start for trainer Bob Hess. In a field with plenty of early speed, and little late speed, Connectivity’s ability to finish strongly should be the difference, we think, and get her to the winner’s circle. She’s also making her second start off a layoff and should run better for that reason. We will bet her to win at 5/2. The bet: Tampa Bay Downs, Race 8. $30 to win on 8-Connectivity.
Starter Optional Claiming, 1 mile, Turf, 4 & Up
This starter allowance, for older horses who have started for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in the last year, drew a good field of ten. The favorite, 1-Dalarna, is a strong play: he’s a 6-year-old gelding who is in excellent form, and who has a stalking running style that is a fit both for the shape we are expecting, and the way the Gulfstream turf has been playing (it’s been favoring stalkers, especially in races around two turns). Look for him to sit just behind the speed, to make a move at the top of the stretch, and to spurt away and hold off the closers. We will bet him to win at 9/5. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 8, $40 to win on 1-Dalarna.
$125,000 Arkansas Breeders Champion Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3 & Up
The three stakes at Oaklawn Park this afternoon are all at a mile and a sixteenth, and the first of the trio is the Arkansas Breeders Champion, which features eleven state-breds running for a pretty impressive $125,000 purse. The race looks easy to us: 5/2 morning line favorite 3-K J’s Nobility is an amazingly consistent horse who seems to run his race every time, and we think his typical effort, which features a forwardly-placed, stalking run with a strong finishing kick, is going to be too much for the rest of the field to handle. He’s trained by Cecil Borel, who wins at an incredibly high rate with a limited number of starters (he’s hitting at an otherworldly 47% clip at the current Oaklawn meeting), and he will be ridden by Calvin Borel, who happens to be Cecil Borel’s brother. We think K J’s Nobility is the class of this race, and we will bet him to win. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 7, $50 to win on 3-K J’s Nobility.
$80,000 Gardenia Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies
The Gardenia drew a full field of fourteen, and they are pretty evenly matched, with the morning line favorite is a lukewarm 3-1, and six of the fourteen are priced between 3-1 and 8-1. It’s the kind of race that requires digging deep to find a winner.
We’ve done the digging, and we like a filly at a price here: it’s 10-Antoinette, a Godolphin homebred who starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Like all Godolphin horses, she’s beautifully bred, by top sire Hard Spun and out of an Elusive Quality mare, but what we particularly like about Antoinette is her last race, the Fair Grounds Oaks, in which she finished third.
That third-place finish may look a bit dull on the surface, but we think it was a better effort than it appears on paper. She was held hard early, was boxed in on the far turn, and found herself behind a wall of horses at the top of the stretch, lacking running room until very late in the race. When some daylight did open up in front of her, she rallied nicely, closing with a long stride to get up for the show. That was her first start of the year, and her first dirt start going around two turns, and we think the experience will allow her to run much better today. We think she’s sitting on a big one and will bet her to win at 8-1. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 8, $35 to win on 10-Antoinette.
Allowance/Optional Claiming, 5 furlongs, Turf, Florida-bred Fillies & Mares 3 & Up
This is a first-level allowance turf spring for state-bred females, and it drew a field of eleven. These 5 furlong turf races generally favor speed, and the configuration of the Gulfstream turf course today -- the rails are out 96 feet -- should favor speed even more. We are consequently making a speed play here, with 7-Over Gators. She’s a very speedy 4-year-old who finished second last out, at this distance and at today’s level, setting the pace and getting nipped in the shadow of the wire. We think today she will not be caught. We will bet her to win at 9/2. The bet: Gulfstream Park, Race 10, $35 to win on 7-Over Gators.
Grade 3 Fantasy Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Dirt, 3-Year-Old Fillies
This is a terrific race, and a terrific field, with twelve talented fillies going to the starting gate. The runner with the most glittering credentials is 2-Venetian Harbor, who starts for Bob Baffert, and who last out won the Grade 2 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita in very fast time. While she may win, we think she’s a play-against: she earned a big fig for the Las Virgenes score, but she beat only four horses that day,and she got a marshmallow-soft trip doing it. This is a tough race and a big field, and miserly odds, she looks like an underlay, and we are consequently looking elsewhere.
We like a filly on the improve, 5-Harvey’s Lil Goil. She’s trained by Bill Mott, and there are a couple of things about her that we like: the first is that she’s regally bred, by American Pharoah out of a Tapit mare; the second is that she’s run three times in her career, and has improved in every one; and the third is that she has gotten better as the races have gotten longer. This last point is very important: she ran around two turns for the first time in her career in her last race, and improved her Beyer Speed Figure by 6 points from her prior race. Further improvement today would make her very, very dangerous -- and we think she will improve. We also think the shape of the race will favor her, as she likes to sit midpack and finish strongly, and there’s a lot of speed in the field, which should make a stalking trip just the ticket. We will bet her to win at 12-1, and we will do so eagerly. The bet: Oaklawn Park, Race 7, $40 to win on 5-Harvey’s Lil Goil.
That’s all for today. Until tomorrow, enjoy the racing, be safe, and, as always, good luck at the windows.