Saturday plays: Derby preps lead Gulfstream, Oaklawn picks

Saturday plays: Derby preps lead Gulfstream, Oaklawn picks
Photo: Liz Lamont / Eclipse Sportswire

After analyzing the Grade 3, $750,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park thoroughly, it does not feel like the right time to go against Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Essential Quality. No, he is not a standout on speed figures, and the layoff brings another concern, but he is the best choice here. 

Either way, the Southwest is not an easy race to handicap or play. For a more exciting betting race on the Oaklawn Southwest Stakes card, the Razorback Handicap (G3) in Race 7 offers a more vulnerable favorite.

Here are three Oaklawn picks and two Gulfstream picks for Feb. 27. 

Oaklawn Race 7: $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3)

Silver Prospector ran in fifth for nearly the entire Louisiana Stakes (G3) at Fair Grounds. To his credit, he did not receive a fair pace as Blackberry Wine set fractions of 25.28, 49.53 and 1:13.91, making it difficult on the closers. Title Ready eventually caught Blackberry Wine anyway, but he also held a closer position and turned in a great effort.

Because of the extreme pace scenario, Silver Prospector deserves a pass for finishing fifth. Note that the sixth-place Captivating Moon went on to capture the Fair Grounds Stakes (G3) in his next start, while the fourth-place Sonneman was a solid second in the Mineshaft Stakes (G3) behind the undefeated Maxfield.

Remember that Silver Prospector won the Southwest Stakes on this course last year with an inside trip before tipping out in the stretch run to catch Wells Bayou, and he draws the rail in this race. He could enjoy the same trip. 

The morning line favorite Mystic Guide is a nice runner, but he gives the impression of a grinding closer who prefers nine furlongs or longer. For now, he is a play-against, especially since he comes off a 140-day layoff.

Silver Prospector is the better choice at 5-1.

Oaklawn Race 8: $200,000 Spring Fever Stakes

Amy’s Challenge cuts back slightly to 5½ furlongs in this race after finishing second to Frank’s Rockette in the American Beauty Stakes on this course last month.

This time, Frank’s Rockette is absent and none of the other fillies offer terrifying speed. If Amy’s Challenge secures the lead again with a slight cushion, she is capable of holding off the talented closer Kimari, who enters off a 165-day layoff.

Kimari is a talented and versatile filly. Even if fitness is not an issue though, the 5½-furlong distance means she is liable to give up too many lengths because of the faster tempo the shorter distance brings.

Given her speed, Amy’s Challenge is worth a shot at 5/2 or higher.

Oaklawn Race 10: $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3)

Essential Quality owns two graded stakes wins at 1 1/16 miles, including the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to close out his 2020 season. He even won with different styles, as he made use of pressing tactics in the Breeders’ Futurity and then converted into a closing style behind the fast Juvenile pace.

Even though Essential Quality is not blazing terms of figures, this is not the right time to play against him. He is the most reliable one entered.

Jackie’s Warrior faded to fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and that came after stalking the pace in third before making his move. He burned a significant amount of money at 4-5. Why take this horse after he disappointed heavily at low odds at the same distance?

Spielberg is more interesting than Jackie’s Warrior, as he won the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) last December at 1 1/16 miles for trainer Bob Baffert. But then he ran a non-threatening fourth by 11¼ lengths in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) after receiving a nice pace setup.

While Spielberg is usable, Essential Quality is the top choice.

Gulfstream Race 9: $200,000 Gulfstream Park Mile (G2)

Fearless enters this race off a 245-day layoff, which is a concern. However, he meets a suspect group including the morning line favorite Performer and Tax.

Cross out Fearless’ sixth-place finish in the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2) last June. He gave up too many lengths early on and had little chance once the half-mile time went in a slow 48.13. Also, Fearless’ sixth in the New Orleans Classic (G2) last March is forgivable as well because of the slow pace and numerous traffic problems throughout the race.

Other than those two races, Fearless is consistent with three wins in six starts. The problem is that his good finishes came in optional claiming races.

Fearless needs pace, and he might get at least a moderate one from Wind of Change and Tax. He is the top choice, as Performer did not exactly dazzle in the Fred W. Hooper Stakes (G3) and Tax might need Lasix for his best.

Gulfstream Race 14: $300,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2)

As stated in an earlier post, Drain the Clock has a big chance to wire this field from the rail post. Who is fast enough to run with him?

Prime Factor was a stalker in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2), not a presser. Why would he change tactics? Perhaps Tarantino takes up the pressing role again, but it is questionable whether he owns enough speed to get into that spot this time, as Drain the Clock probably owns more speed than the Holy Bull pacesetter Willy Boi.  

From a pedigree standpoint, there is notable stamina in Drain the Clock’s dam side. The second dam Private Ice is a half-sister to stakes-winning turf router Midnight Line, who won the 1½-mile Long Island Handicap (G2) in 1999 to finish off her career.

Furthermore, Private Ice’s own sire Pivotal is the sire of numerous stakes-winning turf routers, including the 7-year-old European gelding Addeybb, who took the 1¼-mile Champion Stakes (G1) last October at Ascot.

Pedigree analysis is not an exact science. Given his dangerous speed and route blood though, Drain the Clock is worth playing over Greatest Honour.

Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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