Head to Head: Handicapping the 2020 Oaklawn Stakes

Head to Head: Handicapping the 2020 Oaklawn Stakes
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

The Oaklawn Stakes offers a chance for 3-year-old colts and geldings to stretch out before contesting the Arkansas Derby, with Saturday's top three finishers earning a spot in the May 2 race at the same distance.

Although the Oaklawn Stakes doesn’t award points for the Kentucky Derby, the winner does earn a spot in the Preakness Stakes, with the second leg of the Triple Crown's date still to be decided.

Laurie Ross of Horse Racing Nation's Pedigree Power blog and I sorted out the contenders from the pretenders given a forecast calling for some rain.




Basin’s third-place finish in the Rebel (G2) in his 3-year-old debut wasn’t bad, given that he was trying two turns off a layoff dating back to last September. The Steve Asmussen trainee should progress in his second start, and the rail is a good spot for a colt with a miler pedigree. If he runs back to his 2-year-old form, he could settle in third or fourth place and hold position to hit the exotics.

Like Laurie said, this son of Liam’s Map made a nice comeback in the Rebel against a pretty solid field. His speed figure was not all that impressive, but it was over a sloppy track. He looks to be set up for a good effort second off the layoff and should be one of the ones to beat.


It’s getting to the point that whenever Coach Bahe is entered, it rains. Note his good/bad race cycle, and he’s coming up for a “good” race. The Philip Bauer trainee has zero early speed, but if there’s a hot early pace, he could ruin somebody’s superfecta. Exotics.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of Coach Bahe. He clearly has no issues running on an off track, and he got up for fifth in the Rebel off a maiden win. The drop in class is to his advantage, but he will need a solid pace in order to take advantage of that. I do not like his speed figures, so I think I will take a pass here.


Mr. Big News tailed off in form in the Risen Star (G2) after racing monthly since October.  The Bret Calhoun trainee has been freshened, but despite a distance-loving pedigree, his numbers are ordinary. I’d love to see what he could do over the lawn. He could clunk up for a minor award, but I’m looking elsewhere. Pass.

I thoroughly agree with Laurie here. Mr. Big News’ pedigree screams turf, and his dirt races have been average at best. Pass.



I was surprised and disappointed in Thousand Words’ lackluster performance in the San Felipe (G2). Was he exposed as just a so-so horse, or did he have an off day after running too close to the pace? He has the pedigree to handle the mud, and while his distaff line is speed-oriented, he has Pioneerof the Nile’s conformation, so he should handle the distance. I’ve always liked this horse and will give him another shot. Contender.

I really thought Thousand Words was the horse to beat in the San Felipe, and I’m still not entirely sure what to make of that day’s performance. I am with Laurie on this one, however. He gets another shot with me, especially given the drop in class. Contender.


This son of Paynter gets a class and distance check. Sure, he’s been beating up on lesser horses, but I’ll take a scrappy horse that likes to win over a blue-blooded clunker any day. We’ll find out if he can hang with these. His pedigree and speed figures say he has a shot. Legit longshot contender.

This colt’s last two races have been quite good despite beating up on lesser horses. He earned a 96 Brisnet Speed Rating in both of those starts, which is right there with the “best” in the field. If Sir Rick inherited any of his sire’s determination, this could be one to keep an eye on, and trainer Robertino Diodoro has struck at a nice rate at Oaklawn.


I would love to see this guy get back to doing what he does best, winning as a sprinter/miler. Note that the Asmussen trainee needed a search party to find him in all starts past a mile. Pass.


Laurie, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Shoplifted looks much more like he should be a Pat Day Mile winner rather than a Kentucky Derby also ran. Pass.


Flap Jack’s best work so far was done on turf and Polytrack, where he won a stakes last year at Arlington Park. His dam won on the dirt a couple of times but spent most of her career on the lawn. Pass.

Flap Jack was no threat whatsoever in either of his dirt starts. Too bad he is not Canadian-bred, as I would suggest a run at their Triple Crown instead of ours. Pass.


Taishan gets another shot at stakes horses after two excuses against graded competition. He’s a need-the-lead type and was off the pace in the Sham (G3) and Southwest (G3). The son of Twirling Candy has a miler/middle-distance pedigree, and he is coming in off a career-best speed figure, which he earned over a sloppy Oaklawn track. I’m not sold on this guy’s class. He’s been beaten double digits by the likes of Honor A.P., Authentic and Silver Prospector. Exotics.

Laurie, you might not be sold on Taishan’s class, but I would argue that he does not need a whole lot of it in order to do well here. I think he stands a good chance of getting up on or very near the lead. His late pace figure in his last outing was strong despite the sloppy conditions. Jockey Joel Rosario sticks with him after they paired up for the first time last out. I say exotics for sure, if not a win contender.


Digital had every chance to win the first division of the Risen Star (G2). He received a cozy rail trip and was right there when the real running started but faded like a bad spray tan down the stretch. His pedigree and performance say nine furlongs is too far. Pass.

I did not like Digital in the first division of the Risen Star (G2), and I do not particularly like him here, either. Connections were looking to shorten him up, but this was the only spot to try him. Pass.



This miler was no match for eventual Louisiana Derby (G2) hero Wells Bayou, a Brad Cox stablemate, when the pair tangled in February over this track. Something Natural's speed figures are so-so, and he hasn’t shown me anything that says he’ll run a big race. Pass.

While Something Natural seems to particularly like the Oaklawn track, I do not see him being any sort of real threat in this field considering the résumés of a few of the others in this field. Additionally, his speed figures read like a rollercoaster ride. Pass.


Background had an excuse when beaten by Taishan in his last start. The son of Khozan was off slow, ate mud and trailed by several lengths. He went four-wide around the turn and made up ground down the stretch. The Michael Puhich trainee could have quit at any time, but he didn’t. Background’s pedigree, running style, and speed figures suggest that nine furlongs is within his scope. Contender.

While Background’s speed figures have simply been average, they have been trending upward. A better break and perhaps a little less rain could certainly move him up, as evidenced by his two other starts at Oaklawn prior to being beaten by Taishan in his last start. I’m not confident in a win, but I would certainly use this one in exotics.


Farmington Road made a good effort in his first shot against winners in the first division of the Risen Star. The Todd Pletcher trainee broke from post 10 and had a four-wide trip the entire way, yet gained ground through the stretch to earn fourth place. The son of Quality Road has the pedigree and running style to handle nine furlongs. A shiny new set of blinkers may sharpen Farmington Road’s speed and put him closer to the pace. Contender.


I wasn’t big on Farmington Road in the Risen Star, but he certainly outran my expectations. The three that out-finished him are quite talented, so there’s no shame in having rounded out the superfecta that day. He already has some speed, so I’m hoping blinkers don't sharpen him up too much. I learned my lesson with his last start and will be including Farmington Road in my tickets.


Gold Street hasn’t surfaced since his dismal showing in the Southwest. This guy is a need-the-lead type and will have to use energy to get his customary front running position. Tyler Baze could clear the field but is more likely to wind up wide due to other speed factors. Gold Street likes mud, but his pedigree, running style, and outside post are all potholes in his quest to hit the board. Pass.

Gold Street severely disappointed me in the Southwest, and with all the obstacles he will likely face here, he'll only fool me once. Pass.

Final Thoughts

Pace setters/pressers are most successful in the Arkansas mud, but we could see hot fractions with Gold Street, Taishan and Sir Rick all happiest on the front end. Basin could either stay on or near the lead from his rail position. That leaves Thousand Words and Farmington Road to chase the pace. If Background can get away cleanly and stay out of trouble, he could surprise. I’m on the fence about Taishan and Sir Rick. Both could hit the board, as could Basin.

I have to say, despite this being a newer, non-graded race, it has attracted quite a few nice colts, including one of Bob Baffert’s top runners. Said Baffert trainee Thousand Words is the clear class of the field despite his performance last out. A good bit of the rest of the field falls into that dart throwing category where any one of them could run a good race or simply flop. Good luck!




#4 Thousand Words

#4 Thousand Words

#12 Farmington Road

#1 Basin

#5 Sir Rick

#12 Farmington Road

#11 Background 

#8 Taishan


Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, which led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation covering racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues and, from time to time, offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry. A move North to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the From Coast to Coast blog for HRN. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband, Chris, and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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