Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Raven Run

Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Raven Run
Photo: Carolyn Simancik / Eclipse Sportswire

The Grade 2, $250,000 Raven Run Stakes attracted a large field of 13 sprinters. Oddly, many in the field have already faced their elders at this point in their careers, providing an unusual handicapping angle. Eight Belles (G2) winner Obligatory has been installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite despite drawing the far outside post. She is one of just three graded winners in the field, but there is some intriguing up-and-coming talent in the field.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast sort out the contenders from the pretenders.



1. Shalimar Gardens (20-1)

Shalimar Gardens destroyed maidens in her third start, winning a one-mile maiden event at Belmont. By Uncle Mo out of Princess Violet, who won the Madison (G1) over this course and distance, Shalimar Gardens gets a class test after her monster win. One to watch down the road. Toss.   


Was it the fast track? Was it the fact that she set the pace? That’s up for debate, but like Laurie said, Shalimar Gardens posted a monster win last out after knocking on the door in her first two starts. This will be a stiff class test, but she will face solely her own age group for the first time in her career. Exotics at best.


2. Joy's Rocket (15-1)

Joy's Rocket enters after a failed turf experiment in her first start off the layoff. She has the speed to be competitive, but Steve Asmussen is zero for eleven this meet with dirt sprinters. Longshot exotics.


Joy’s Rocket’s best career race came right here at Keeneland last year in the Songbird Stakes. She broke like a rocket and never looked back, posting a 92 speed figure. Longshot exotics.

3. Souper Sensational (4-1)

Souper Sensational is a seven-furlong specialist, with two wins and a second-place finish in four starts. Souper Sensational fought hard on the outside of Cilla down the stretch in the six-furlong Prioress (G2), missing the victory by a half-length. Ricardo Santana, Jr. is winless in 16 sprints at Keeneland this meet, finishing in the money just four times. Exotics.


Souper Sensational has just one win on traditional dirt despite being competitive in nearly every start. She has been bested by Cilla and Obligatory this year, but she is certainly in with a fighting chance at getting her photo taken. Do not leave off tickets.

4. Minute Waltz (30-1)

Minute Waltz has been campaigning unsuccessfully against lesser company and is coming in off a four-length loss in an allowance class race to Strong Silent. Toss.


The best I can say for Minute Waltz is that she typically hits the board, though it has all been against much lesser company than she’ll see here. I have nothing to add to Laurie’s assessment. Toss.


5. Strong Silent (15-1)

Strong Silent is ready to take the next step after beating maidens and allowance types. Her Brisnet speed ratings fit with this group, although she may have company on the front end. Let’s see what she’s got. Live longshot.


Strong Silent is a ½-length away from being undefeated in three career starts. She broke her maiden at Ellis Park but successfully took her form to Churchill Downs. On an interesting note, Strong Silent, like Shalimar Gardens, has only ever started in races carded for 3-year olds and upward, so she should certainly be ready to take on this bunch.  Live longshot.


6. Feeling Mischief (50-1)

Feeling Mischief hasn’t come close to the winner’s circle since last December while campaigning against lesser. I’m not feeling it. Toss.


Awww that’s not fair, Laurie. Feeling Mischief missed the win by just 1 ¾-length in the Gasparilla in January. But that’s just splitting hairs. I’ll vote most likely to finish last. Toss.


7. Cilla (8-1)

Cilla threw a rare clunker in the Beaumont (G3) over this distance last year, but she’s on top of her game now. California Chrome’s daughter has won four of her last five starts, and she showed her class battling Souper Sensational in the Prioress (G2). The meet’s leading hot jock Tyler Gaffalione returns to ride. Win contender.


That Beaumont (G3) loss is almost a deal breaker for me in regards to Cilla. It was over this track and at this distance, a distance I would like to point out that she has not attempted since. She’s coming in hot, though, and has some of the best speed figures in the field. She also defeated her elders, but take that with a grain of salt as it came at Evangeline Downs. Win contender.


8.  Caramel Swirl (7-2)

Caramel Swirl melted both times she faced graded stakes, but that doesn’t mean she’s a throw-out; she had some excuses in both races. The Mott trainee is a seven-furlong specialist, and she was a ten-length winner in her sole start at Keeneland. Nevertheless, tactical speed and a second-to-last bullet move has me asking for extra caramel. Win contender.


Caramel Swirl has the best speed figure in the field, but 7-2 is an underlay for a filly that has not hit the board in either of her graded stakes starts. That dominate win here in April looks good on paper, especially when you consider that she was facing older fillies, but she was subsequently thumped by Obligatory in her next outing. I want to like her, but caramel just isn’t my flavor. Exotics at best.

9. Zainalarab (6-1)

Zainalarab beat allowance types at Saratoga in her first start of the year. She can sit off the speed, and since Chad Brown conditions her, should be included in your bets. Exotics.


What I really like about Zainalarab’s win last out is that she beat her elders at Saratoga and posted a 95 speed figure in doing so. Like Laurie said, the fact that she comes from Chad Brown’s barn means she should certainly be included on your tickets. I am going to go one further and say that she is a win contender.


10. Someone Said So (20-1)

Someone Said So beat up on lesser foes at Canterbury this summer before mixing it up in the Dogwood Stakes (G3). She pressed the pace three-wide the entire way, and while she couldn’t keep up with the winner Caribbean Caper, Someone Said So finished a clear second. Unfortunately, the Coty Rosin trainee will be wide again, and the Dogwood contenders weren’t as strong as this group. Toss.


Like several others in this field, Someone Said So has already faced (and defeated) her elders. She ran a helluva race in the Dogwood (G3), but overall, her speed figures do not fit with the best in this field. Toss.

11. Miss Speedy (6-1)

Miss Speedy tries dirt for the first time, fresh off a two-length victory in the listed Duchess Stakes at Woodbine. There’s a lot to like about the Mark Casse trainee. Her speed ratings fit with this group, and Brian Joseph Hernandez, Jr., the meet’s second-leading rider, is aboard. Casse won the Raven Run in 2018 with Shamrock Rose after she won a listed race at Woodbine, and Shamrock Rose continued on to win the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) and championship honors. However, Miss Speedy isn’t as accomplished as Shamrock Rose was in this point of her career. Exotics. 


Miss Speedy is versatile in that she has won from 5 ½-furlongs to 1 1/16-mile. Her best speed figures fit with this group, but being parked on the outside as a frontrunner is not ideal. Pass.

12. Just Read It (50-1)

While she awaits the opening of Aqueduct, Just Read It ships in for her first start off a 217-day layoff and her first try against stakes competition. It’s an ambitious placing, and I wouldn’t read too much into that. Toss.


This is a clear case of success at Aqueduct should stay at Aqueduct. The ambitious placing coupled with the virtually unknown connections speaks volumes. Toss.

13. Obligatory (3-1)

Although she drew the far outside, Obligatory has dangerous tactical speed, and she was a half-length shy of becoming a Grade 1 winner in the one-mile Acorn (G1). The Mott trainee is cutting back in distance, fired a pre-race bullet, and many consider her the one to beat. Win contender.


Put a line through Obligatory’s effort in the Test (G1) as she lost her footing at the start. She’s already a graded winner at this distance and has run second in two grade one events. Being parked wide should not present much of an issue for the tactical runner. Regular rider Jose Ortiz did not make the trip south, opting to ride at Belmont instead, so the Curlin filly gets Florent Geroux for the first time. Win Contender.



Final Thoughts

Since switching back to dirt seven years ago, favorites have hit the board 50 percent of the time. Pacesetters have won twice.

There is no “need the lead” type in here, but there are three or four who could grab the early lead.

Cilla impressed me with her Prioress victory, and at 8-1, is an attractive betting prospect.

Ashley: Souper Sensational, Cilla and Obligatory are all grade one placed and graded stakes winners in their own right. This trio is clearly the class of the bunch, but in a field this large, anything could happen, particularly for Obligatory who is breaking from the far outside post. Joy’s Rocket and Strong Silent are both interesting prospects. The former is a stakes winner while the latter is lightly raced and improving with each start. Payouts should be good no matter what, so no need to try to beat the chalk here.




7. Cilla (8-1)

13. Obligatory (3-1)

13. Obligatory (3-1)

5. Strong Silent (15-1)

3. Souper Sensational (4-1)

3. Souper Sensational (4-1)

8.  Caramel Swirl (7-2)

7. Cilla (8-1)


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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