Oaklawn Handicap analysis: Why Owendale is not the pick

Oaklawn Handicap analysis: Why Owendale is not the pick
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Only one true pacesetter is entered in the Grade 2, $1 million Oaklawn Handicap on Saturday, creating an interesting handicapping race. Even if a slow-paced scenario does help Warrior’s Charge, the race also contains a quality shipper from California in Express Train and a few other horses with good tactical speed.

Is it better to choose the horse with the best pace setup on paper or to side with the best overall horse on paper? Read below for thoughts on each entry.

The Oaklawn Handicap is carded as Race 9 with a post time set for 6:49 EDT.

1. Silver State, 5-1 (Hard Spun – Steven Asmussen/Ricardo Santana Jr. – 9: 5-2-1 - $630,094): His Derby hopes did not pan out last spring. After a dismal seventh-place finish in the Louisiana Derby (G2), Silver State went on the shelf for 215 days. Eventually, he made his next start last October and won an allowance race at Keeneland by seven lengths with a 115 TimeformUS Speed Figure. Then, Silver State won his next three starts, including the local Fifth Season Stakes in January and Essex Handicap in March. The unchanging speed figures give one red flag though, as he ran a pair of 117s in those two stakes races. Silver State also beat mild competition by small margins, with only a neck separating him and Rated R Superstar in the recent Essex. Before the Essex, Rated R Superstar had run a distant fifth by 10 lengths in the Razorback Handicap (G3). At least Silver State owns the early speed to establish position from the rail under Santana Jr. Overall, though, he appears too slow to win with his current numbers. Toss.

2. Express Train, 5-2 (Union Rags – John Shirreffs/Juan Hernandez – 9: 3-4-0 - $373,300): Shirreffs knows Oaklawn well enough. With the legendary Zenyatta, he won both the 2008 and 2010 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1). He also won the 2008 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) with Tiago. Now he brings Express Train, who brings top form with a 3 1/4-length win in the San Pasqual Stakes (G2) and a half-length loss in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1). In the latter effort, he ran about two lengths off a lively pace before making a wide move on the far turn and opening on the field briefly. Idol took aim, though, and found a way to mow him down with the last move. Regardless, Express Train ran a 125 TimeformUS Speed Figure in the Big Cap, which marks his career high, as well as a previous high of 119 in the San Pasqual. He also brings enough speed to remain in the picture while Warrior’s Charge sets the pace. Last year, By My Standards never let Warrior’s Charge out of his sight and took control in the stretch run. With the right ride, Express Train could play the same role this year and track Warrior’s Charge in second or third. At the top of the stretch, his better overall ability is supposed to propel him to the lead. The pick.

3. Fearless, 12-1 (Ghostzapper – Todd Pletcher/Irad Ortiz Jr. – 7: 4-1-0 - $246,280): Fearless made his successful return in February in the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2). Instead of breaking slowly and losing contact with the field, he broke reasonably well and kept pace with the field. After the runaway pacesetter Wind of Change quit, Fearless made his move approaching the turn and took over at the top of the stretch. The closer Avant Garde made up ground on him, losing by only 3/4 of a length at the wire. Also, Fearless shows only a mild 117 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the winning effort. To counter that point, the fourth-place Eye of the Jedi returned to capture the Ghostzapper Stakes (G3) with a 122, while the fifth-place Phat Man won a Gulfstream optional claimer with a 120 on TimeformUS. If Fearless is to win his second start off the bench, Ortiz Jr. needs to hustle him out of the gate again and settle into a stalking position at a minimum. Given that the projected pace scenario works against him and his overall speed figures are not superior, he might settle for a minor award this time. Use underneath.

4. Warrior’s Charge, 8-1 (Munnings – Brad Cox/Elvin Gonzalez – 13: 5-2-3 - $857,710): Warrior’s Charge enters the Oaklawn Handicap after starting his campaign slightly later than before. In his 2020 prep race, he won the Razorback Handicap by a head with a 116 TimeformUS Speed Figure after securing an uncontested lead in the early stages. Before the 2020 Razorback, Warrior’s Charge had won an optional claiming race at Fair Grounds in mid-December. Then in the Oaklawn Handicap, his third start off the bench, Warrior’s Charge set the pace initially with a one-length lead before By My Standards put the pressure on him early and took control by the stretch run. Warrior’s Charge still held second and put up a 123 TimeformUS Speed Figure, the best TimeformUS figure of his career. This year, Warrior’s Charge came off a 180-day layoff to run second to Guest Suite in a local March 25 allowance race, earning a 113 on TimeformUS. In that race, Warrior's Charge gave stalking tactics an attempt, which is not the way he wants to run. With no other true pacesetter in this race, Gonzalez is likely to send Warrior’s Charge rather than try stalking again. Only if he secures the lead does Warrior’s Charge become a win threat at a nice price. Nine furlongs is a concern, though, and he might need one more prep race to reach his peak again. Just in case he slips away, Warrior’s Charge is usable in multi-race wagers, but the label of top selection goes to the California shipper with higher figures. Win contender.

5. Guest Suite, 20-1 (Quality Road – Cipriano Contreras/Francisco Arrieta – 30: 7-2-8 - $564,050): Guest Suite enters in good form after defeating Warrior’s Charge in a local one-mile allowance race on March 25. He went into that race with a fitness advantage after returning off a 231-day layoff in February and finishing fourth in a six-furlong optional claiming race. In contrast, Warrior’s Charge made the first start of his campaign after a 180-day layoff. Guest Suite’s range of TimeformUS figures since the start 2020 appears average at best. His high point came in the 2020 Fifth Season Stakes, when he ran a 117 and won the race by a neck. He needs to improve by 12 points off his recent 113 for beating Warrior’s Charge to reach Express Train’s current level. It is nice to see Guest Suite maintain a long career as a 7-year-old gelding. But in this spot, he is overmatched from a numbers perspective and the pace works against him. Toss.

6. Owendale, 2-1 (Into Mischief – Brad Cox/Florent Geroux – 22: 6-5-4 - $1,488,435): The public respects Owendale a great deal in the win pool. Ironically, he carries a seven-race losing streak into this race. Two starts ago in the Razorback Handicap, he was a distant third by 7 1/4 lengths at 7/5. In Owendale’s most recent start, he lost by a head to Chess Chief in the New Orleans Classic Stakes (G2) at 4-5. Imagine betting Owendale to win at 4-5 and losing in such a fashion. Typically, this is the kind of horse to avoid on top, no matter what the speed figures or class look like. Some horses do not possess the winning spirit. To Owendale’s credit, last year he did come off a layoff to win the Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs before the current losing streak. Despite the win, the main point on avoiding horses such as this one on top stands. Even in the underneath spots, he seems too popular. Odds and value aside, though, Owendale’s usual effort places him in second or third. For the sake of value in the exacta, hopefully he runs third. Use underneath.

7. Rated R Superstar, 30-1 (Kodiak Kowboy – Federico Villafranco/Ramon Vazquez – 50: 7-8-7 - $1,000,023): Off the claim for Villafranco, Rated R Superstar has run a distant fifth by 10 lengths in the Razorback Handicap and a close second in the Essex Handicap, losing by only a neck to Silver State. Rated R Superstar ran a 117 and 118 TimeformUS Speed Figure in those two races, which are mild. Even though Silver State shows a four-race win streak in his return, he has not put up any standout numbers on TimeformUS, making Rated R Superstar’s runner-up finish to him feel less important. In this spot, Rated R Superstar needs to face at least a few horses capable of hitting 120 on TimeformUS, including Express Train, Warrior’s Charge and Silver Prospector. This is an old 8-year-old gelding with 50 starts. The possibility of him reaching new levels at this point in his career is slim to none. While a fast pace can help, Rated R Superstar seems overmatched. Toss.

8. Silver Prospector, 6-1 (Declaration of War – Steven Asmussen/David Cabrera – 14: 4-1-2 - $902,814): Silver Prospector probably ran better than the losing six-length margin makes him appear in the Razorback Handicap. The rain made the track a sloppy mess, with races favoring outside closers for the most part. Silver Prospector made his brief move on the inside and failed to keep up with a wide Mystic Guide, who began to pull away in the stretch run. With that said, Silver Prospector held second by 1 1/4 lengths over the great Owendale and shows a high 123 TimeformUS Speed Figure for the runner-up effort. Also, Mystic Guide went on to capture the Dubai World Cup last month, making it more excusable that Silver Prospector was second by six lengths to him. Prior to the Razorback, Silver Prospector was fifth in the Louisiana Stakes (G3) and sixth in the Clark Stakes (G1). Granted, he did experience difficult trips in those races. In this spot, Silver Prospector is drawn outside and might not save ground as last time. Because of the relatively high 123 on TimeformUS, though, Silver Prospector fits in the top mix. Win contender.

Conclusion:

Express Train is the best horse in the race. Warrior’s Charge will receive the best setup for his style, but there are concerns he is a touch short fitness-wise and that Express Train’s best effort still wins, similar to how By My Standards won last year. Silver Prospector is also a minor contender.

All three horses are useful in multi-race wagers, although A-B-C-X format bettors might put Warrior’s Charge and/or Silver Prospector in the B category.

The vertical wager is a win bet on Express Train and exacta wheel with Express Train on top over Warrior’s Charge and Silver Prospector.

Win: 2

Exacta wheel: 2 / 4,8

2021 Oaklawn Handicap (G2)

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