Given the Arkansas Derby (G1) moved to May 2 after Churchill Downs pushed the Kentucky Derby back to September, it made sense for Oaklawn Park to shift the Oaklawn Invitational for 3-year-olds to an earlier date and open this up as a regular added-money event.
Now, the $200,000 Oaklawn Stakes will run on Saturday at nine furlongs and offer three automatic berths to the Arkansas Derby to its top finishers.
With trainer Bob Baffert shipping in Thousand Words, he is likely to start as the favorite. However, Thousand Words comes off a disappointing effort in the San Felipe Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita, and his prior races weren't that fast. For those searching for value against a vulnerable Baffert entry, there is room to beat him.
The Oaklawn Stakes is carded as Race 11 with a post time of 6:48 p.m. ET. Here's a look at the field with projected morning line odds by Horse Racing Nation:
1. Basin, 6-1 (Liam’s Map – Steve Asmussen/Florent Geroux – 4: 2-1-1): After chasing a hot pace in the Rebel Stakes (G2), Basin could only muster a flat third, 7 ¾ lengths behind Nadal and Excession. Perhaps Basin can move forward in his second start off the long layoff. Prior to the Rebel, he had not run since winning the Hopeful Stakes (G1) in September at Saratoga. Keep in mind that his pedigree is not great for longer routes as a half-brother to Rise Up. But if a step forward happens, he is a contender for the lower slots in exotics. Use underneath.
2. Coach Bahe, 30-1 (Take Charge Indy – Philip Bauer/Santo Sanjur – 4: 1-1-0): The pedigree on this gelding is fantastic. His third dam is Heavenly Prize, a talented runner who produced the millionaire router Good Reward and Pure Prize. Also, his immediate dam Bauble is half-sister to Persistently, who upset Rachel Alexandra in the 2010 Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) at 1 ¼ miles. Coach Bahe only rallied for a mild fifth in the Rebel though after a generous pace setup. A great pedigree does not always equal a great racehorse, and this one will need to step forward. Yet, the bloodlines will help him adapt to the longer distance. For those searching for a bomb in the lower slots of exotics, he may prove useful. Use underneath.
3. Mr. Big News, 20-1 (Giant’s Causeway – Bret Calhoun/Gabriel Saez – 5: 1-1-0): In the second division of the Risen Star Stakes (G2), Mr. Big News finished a mild fifth, four lengths behind Modernist. For what it is worth, the second division came back looking better than at the first glance. Modernist returned to run a good third in the Louisiana Derby (G2), while the Risen Star third-place finisher Ny Traffic held the runner-up spot. But this is a tough field, and he will need to move forward too. With the right trip, he could also pick up a piece. Use underneath.
4. Thousand Words, 3-1 (Pioneerof the Nile – Bob Baffert/Joe Talamo – 4: 3-0-0): The expected favorite narrowly won the Los Alamitos Futurity (G2) last December and followed it up with another close win in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) two months later. But on closer inspection, he did not face strong horses in those races. The Los Alamitos Futurity runner-up Anneau d’Or went on to flop in the second Risen Star division, finishing a dismal ninth. Likewise, the Robert B. Lewis runner-up Royal Act burned money in the Louisiana Derby, also finishing ninth. Thousand Words himself faded to fourth in the San Felipe Stakes (G2), 11 ¼ lengths behind, after sitting close to the pacesetter and winner Authentic. What happened to all the talk about him as a fighter? Win or lose, he is an underlay. As a son of the sprinter Pomeroy’s Pistol, he is not certain to enjoy nine furlongs either. Toss.
5. Sir Rick, 20-1 (Paynter – Robert Diodoro/David Cohen – 6: 4-0-1): This one pressed the pace in the Mine That Bird Derby and went on to win by four lengths. But who did he beat? Top Draw? Stackin Silver? Top Draw could not even win an allowance race at Sunland Park, while Stackin Silver came into the race with wins in a maiden claimer at Del Mar and starter optional claimer at Santa Anita. Expect him to throw in the towel after chasing Gold Street in the early stages. Toss.
6. Shoplifted, 8-1 (Into Mischief – Steven Asmussen/Ricardo Santana Jr. – 7: 2-1-1): Some distance concerns are present in this Into Mischief colt. His maiden score came at 5 ½ furlongs at Saratoga, while his only other win was in the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes at one mile. He returned in the Smarty Jones Stakes and finished third. Given the slow pace Gold Street set, the effort there is forgivable. But Shoplifted also had a clear shot in the Southwest Stakes at 1 1/16 miles and could only finish a distant fourth, 8 ¾ lengths behind the winner Silver Prospector. At nine furlongs, he is only usable in the bottom slots at most. Use underneath.
7. Flap Jack, 50-1 (Oxbow – Jack Sisterson/TBA – 4: 1-1-0): With only a sixth-place finish in a weak Gotham Stakes (G3) on his record this year, he is difficult to endorse for even a minor share. Notice that he weakened in the stretch run too. His four-length win in the Arlington-Washington Futurity last September is notable. Perhaps he needs a synthetic surface for his best work. Toss.
8. Taishan, 7/2 (Twirling Candy – Richard Baltas/Joel Rosario – 5: 2-0-0): Here is an interesting value horse. Trainer Richard Baltas always displayed confidence in Taishan, as he worked him in company with the older filly Secret Spice last October. In other words, he felt confident enough to work a juvenile with a stakes-quality 4-year-old filly. Taishan also broke his maiden last November by a length over Tizamagician. Taishan started off slow this year with a fourth-place finish in the Sham Stakes (G3), 10 lengths behind Authentic. Next, he finished fifth in the Southwest Stakes, 10 ½ lengths behind Silver Prospector. But the Southwest effort is forgivable. Watch Taishan again in the replay, as he went wide on both turns and still tried late. He also followed up the effort with a strong 4 ¾-length win on the Rebel Stakes undercard, with a faster time than Rebel winner Nadal (1:44.55, 1:44.97). TimeformUS awarded him a 116 speed figure. The value is right to play Taishan in this spot, especially with Thousand Words present. The pick.
9. Digital, 12-1 (Into Mischief – Bret Calhoun/Brian Hernandez Jr. – 4: 2-1-0): As with a couple of these, this Into Mischief colt shows some signs of distance limitations. In the Jan. 18 allowance optional claimer at Fair Grounds, he had the race won until Blackberry Wine came back in the stretch. Now, perhaps Blackberry Wine benefitted from the presence of a banned substance. That is a debatable topic, as Blackberry Wine was later disqualified due to a positive test. But Digital also had a clear shot in the first division of the Risen Star. He moved into a good striking position and faded again late, this time to fifth, six lengths behind the winner Mr. Monomoy. Given this is a nine-furlong race, he is not likely to improve with the longer distance. Toss.
10. Something Natural, 20-1 (Violence – Brad Cox/Fernando De La Cruz – 7: 2-1-1): After finishing four lengths behind Wells Bayou on Jan. 26, Something Natural won a local allowance optional claimer by 1 ½ lengths. Then, he shipped to Turfway Park and finished third in the Rushaway Stakes on synthetic. He could develop into a decent runner for Cox, but right now he needs to show more on paper. Toss.
11. Background, 30-1 (Khozan – Michael Puhich/Joe Rocco Jr. – 3: 1-0-2): Considering Background lost by seven lengths to Taishan last time and meets him again, as well as other quality horses, this spot is likely too difficult. He did break his maiden by 4 ½ lengths, but he did not win easily upon watching the replay as Tyler Baze asked him multiple times in the stretch. He needs to develop more. Toss.
12. Farmington Road, 10-1 (Quality Road – Todd Pletcher/Martin Garcia – 4: 1-1-0): This son of Quality Road broke his maiden by 1 ¾ lengths at Tampa Bay Downs. The impressive part is that 11 ½ lengths separated the runner-up Noble Empire and third-place horse Sunsation. Pletcher tried Farmington Road in the first division of the Risen Star, and made a mild rally for fourth, 4 ½ lengths behind Mr. Monomoy, after lagging in 10th for the early portions of the race. The pedigree looks good for stretching out, as the dam Silver La Belle is a half-sister to Silverfoot, a winner of the 2008 Stars and Stripes Handicap at 1 ½ miles. On the downside, Farmington Road drew a wide post position and figures to get caught in traffic if he lags early again, or get caught wide if Garcia attempts more aggressive tactics. But there is talent in this developing colt. With the right trip, he can prove a factor at a price. Live longshot.
13. Gold Street, 12-1 (Street Boss – Steven Asmussen/Tyler Baze – 7: 3-2-0): After the winning the Smarty Jones Stakes with a comfortable lead through a soft pace on wet dirt, he disappointed in the Southwest by finishing last. A couple of factors went against him in the Southwest. Around the first turn, Villainous took Gold Street’s path and caused him to check early. From that point, Gold Street never looked comfortable in midpack. Some horses need the lead for their best shot, and this one certainly hinted he cannot adapt to a different situation. But his pedigree also looks like a sprinter’s pedigree, or a miler at most. From this post position, he will need to work hard to secure the lead too. He is hard to endorse. Toss.
Conclusion: If Taishan can avoid trouble on the first turn, he figures to sit close to Gold Street early and could get first strike on him on the far turn.
Only a small move forward off the 116 TimeformUS Speed Figure is needed to get Taishan the win in this spot. Even though he won over wet dirt in his recent score, it is not proven he needs that type of surface for his best work. Rain is, by the way, in Saturday's forecast. Remember, Taishan already showed promise at Santa Anita by defeating Tizamagician last November on a fast track.
As long as he isn't hammered at the windows, Taishan in the choice.