Oaklawn Park Betting Odds: Saturday’s 11-race card will be headlined by the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2), and will also feature two other rich stakes including Azeri (G2) and the Essex Handicap.
The Rebel is the weekend’s primary prize for Kentucky Derby hopefuls on a day that also features the running of the Jeff Ruby Steaks (G3) at Turfway. Here’s a look at handicapping Saturday’s top stakes races.
Oaklawn Park Betting Odds: The Essex Handicap (Race 8)
The Essex is a rare ungraded race that carries with it a $350,000 purse, meant to give locally-based older horses another prep in-between last month’s Razorback Handicap (G3) and next month’s Oaklawn Handicap (G2). The Essex drew a field of seven and is an interesting handicapping puzzle with no toss-outs where every horse in a contender.
If you are starting the late Pick 4 in this race, no one would blame you if you were tempted to hit the “all-button” and take your stands in the later races on the card. If you were going to hang your hat on only a horse or two in the Essex, go ahead and make a pace play on PIONEER SPIRIT on the far outside trained by 31 percent Oaklawn trainer Robertino Diodoro.
Pioneer Spirit won the 5th Season Stakes at Oaklawn earlier this season and was fourth last time in the Razorback, but appears to have a pace advantage in this race as a horse that races on or close to the pace in a mainly field full of plodders with no other legitimate speed. Look for Pioneer Spirit to send from the outside, get away with an easy pace, and never look back at 1 1/16-miles.
One horse capable of pressing the pace and throwing in occasional surprises on his best days is BRAVAZO, trained by D. Wayne Lukas. Bravazo was off the board in both the Razorback and the 5th Season, but has place finishes in the Preakness, Haskell Invitational, and Clark Handicap on his career resume and shouldn’t be discounted. SNAPPER SINCLAIR, third in the Razorback last time for Steve Asmussen, also can stay relatively close to the pace and has upside in the Essex.
Play Pioneer Sprit to win, and box him in exactas and trifectas with Bravazo and Snapper Sinclair. If starting Pick 4s in this race, take your pick between singling Pioneer Spirit, or just hitting the all-button.
Oaklawn Park Betting Odds: The Azeri Stakes ( Race 9)
This is a good field of hopefuls for next month’s Apple Blossom (G1) at Oaklawn, but the Azeri is a stand-out race in its own right with a purse of $350,000.
The 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares drew a field of seven, and is topped by last year’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner SERENGETI EMPRESS, last year’s Cotillion (G1) winner STREET BAND, and horse for the course LADY APPLE, trained by Asmussen. The winner of this race should come from that trio.
Serengeti Empress is winless since the Kentucky Oaks for trainer Tom Amoss, but has since earned second-place finishes in the Acorn (G1) and the Test (G1) as well as a third in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).
She will likely try to get to the lead and go all the way like she tried to do last time against both Street Band and Lady Apple last time in the Houston Lady Classic (G3), but she will need to turn the tables on Lady Apple, who caught her in that race at Sam Houston.
Plus, additional pace pressure could be present in this race from one or both of the duo of Awe Emma outside and maybe even Mylady Curlin inside.
A fast pace in this race would be good news for late closing Street Band, who finished third at Sam Houston last time but could very well have a turnaround in store for trainer Larry Jones with a better pace to chase.
The horse that beat both Serengeti Empress and Street Band at Sam Houston was Lady Apple, who may only get better here back on her favorite track at Oaklawn, where she owns a 3-for-3 record including a win in last season’s Fantasy (G3). Lady Apple projects a perfect stalking trip, loves the track, and has a great chance to win another.
In the Azeri, play exacta and trifecta boxes with the favorites, Lady Apple, Serengeti Empress, and Street Band, and use all three horses in your multi-race wagers.
Oaklawn Park Betting Odds: Rebel Stakes (Race 10)
There’s a lot of intrigue here, so we’ll get to the point of just making picks in this 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Derby prep worth $1 million and a total of 85 Derby qualifying points, including 50 to the winner.
The buzz horse is none other 5-2 morning-line favorite NADAL, trained by Bob Baffert and coming in with a 2-for-2 record that includes a win in the 7-furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita last time out.
Nadal has yet to stretch out to a route and really didn’t beat a strong field in the San Vicente if you consider that Storm the Court was coming off a layoff in that race, racing at a distance too short for him, and really hasn’t looked good at all in two starts this year. Nadal won the San Vicente in solid-but-not-spectacular fashion, and he may be a dramatic underlay in the Rebel.
Three Technique / Silver Prospector
For those reasons it is worth playing against Nadal, so instead, go ahead and bet 7-2 choice THREE TECHNIQUE trained by Jeremiah Englehart coming off a runner-up finish in Oaklawn’s $100,000 Smarty Jones last time out, or one of the Steve Asmussen-trained duo of BASIN (3-1) ridden by Javier Castellano, or SILVER PROSPECTOR (7-2) ridden by Asmussen’s main man Ricardo Santana.
Silver Prospector was the winner of the Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn and is workmanlike but likes to get the job done. Basin, meanwhile, is considered by many to be the barn’s best Derby hope and makes this 3-year-old debut here off a layoff after last being seen winning the Hopeful (G1) at Saratoga last fall.
Play exacta and trifecta boxes with Basin, Silver Prospector, and Three Technique, and use all three in multi-race wagers in the hopes of beating Nadal and cashing some good tickets.
Oaklawn Park Betting Odds: Jeff Ruby Steaks (Race 11)
Over at Turfway, they’re set to host a big Saturday of racing and wagering of their own in a 12-race card topped by six stakes races including the featured $250,000 Jeff Ruby (G3) at 1 1/8 miles on a synthetic surface. The race also offers Kentucky Derby points to its top four finishers.
The horse to beat in the Jeff Ruby could very well be FIELD PASS, a horse that has yet to race on a synthetic surface but could have this field over a barrel if he handles Turfway’s main track with Irad Ortiz, Jr., in town for the mount for trainer Mike Maker. Field Pass exits a win in the $100,000 Dania Beach at one mile on the turf at Gulfstream over a good field that included stakes winner South Bend, who finished third.
The Dania Beach was Field Pass’s 3-year-old debut coming off of a three-month layoff, and the colt certainly has further room for improvement here in the second race off the layoff.
Horses that excel on turf often handle artificial surfaces, and Field Pass has a solid stakes background coming into this race, with a runner-up finish in Saratoga’s With Anticipation (G3) and a length loss in the $200k Laurel Futurity as a 2-year-old on the resume in addition to the win in the Dania Beach. Irad aboard is a dead giveaway this horse is live in this spot.
If for any reason Field Pass does not handle the new surface, there is at least one horse in the field who is a lock to benefit from Turfway’s synthetic track, and it is INVADER, trained by Wesley Ward.
Invader began his career with four turf races but completely exploded in his last two outings since switched to Turfway’s main track, first breaking his maiden two races ago by 12 lengths at a mile, and then crushing the field by six lengths last time in the local prep for the Jeff Ruby in the $95,000 Battaglia Memorial at 1 1/16-miles with an even better speed figure.
More bullet workouts over the track since last raced indicate continued fitness for a horse who may prove to be unstoppable on this surface.
Finnick The Fierce / Halo Again / Myamanoi
Other Jeff Ruby contenders include FINNICK THE FIERCE trained by Rey Hernandez, who was second in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) but a non-factor in both the Lecomte and Risen Star at Fair Grounds since then, HALO AGAIN trained by Asmussen, who won at this distance on Woodbine’s artificial surface last fall in the $225k Coronation Futurity, and MYAMANOI trained by Danny Gargan, who won his maiden impressively in a grass race at Aqueduct last fall and then closed for fourth but beaten less than a length last time out. Myamanoi may be able to turn the tables on Field Pass with more distance in the Jeff Ruby.
When betting the Jeff Ruby, play Invader in exacta boxes with Field Pass, and key Invader in trifectas using Field Pass, Finnick the Fierce, Halo Again, and Myamanoi in the underneath positions.