Emily Gullikson takes a look at the Oaklawn Park opening day card with Race 6, Race 7 and Race 8 aka The Smarty Jones with Optix!
#4 TANGO KILO‘s debut run looked as designed to give him a start and should be able to step forward from that first out experience. While not much can discussed in terms of trip, what stood out was his visuals as he should handle the added ground from that 5 1/2-furlong race back in late November. There are other runners in this race that have added foundation and experience coming off the main circuits that are capable in this spot though are also likely to get the bulk of public attention, whereas Tango Kilo has upside and likely to fly under the radar.
#4 ENGAGE was listed as the morning line favorite for the Lafayette Stakes on the Breeders’ Cup Saturday undercard at Keeneland. Assessing him that afternoon, he was a soft favorite making his second start back off the layoff and especially given the race shape, rail draw, and importantly the 7-furlong distance. The public also reacting negatively sending him off at a chilly 7.2-1 that afternoon. With that in mind, he presents upside freshened this afternoon and returning to the 6-furlong distance. The Lafayette has been a productive event with many next out winners including the place finisher True Timber coming back to win the Cigar Mile (G1) last month at Aqueduct.
As shown on OptixPLOT below he is capable to sit a favorable forwardly placed tracking trip (Quad I Square) and ability to save ground with #5 TOUGH LOVE, #6 RUBUS and #8 NUCLEAR OPTION drawn outside of him; #9 HOME BASE might be forced to go from the outside post as well and does not help his chances from a pace standpoint as a Circle in Quad III. Engage with his class can track in front of the inside runners #1 K J’S NOBILITY and stablemate #3 LITTLE MENACE (likely needing this race given the gaps in works) position just behind Engage from Quad III/IV on OptixPLOT.
#2 MOJO MAN has a similar PLOT position to Engage though not quite the same class level as shown on the V-Bar Comparison. Going back to the 2020 season, Mojo Man was able to benefit from some favorable trips last season and might require this start coming back from a 61-day layoff with gaps in his return published works as well.
#7 MUCHO could be a good exotic key runner, as shown on the PLOT the field, for the most part, tends to have that “bunched” appearance (Fire Contention) and even with the lower 12 SpeedRate Mucho has the separation required for a closer (Quad IV Square) to pick up horses with his late run.
Race 8: Smarty Jones S.
#1 MARTINI BLU was professional in his debut scoring first out with a good pocket trip. While credit given to the effort as it is not easy for young horses to win first out, let alone around two turns, he will have a big step up in class here coming out of a softer maiden group at Hawthorne and has to improve to compete this afternoon.
#2 LAWLESSNESS‘s OptixFIG sit on the lower end of RANGE this afternoon and has not shown much progression in that speed figure department since his debut. Visually he has not done much to support himself in this spot and has shown some quirks in his races to date. Lead changes are not as fluid as they should be, and he has struggled to run a straight course (NO_LINE) in his most recent starts as well. The blinkers will be added this afternoon perhaps to help on that front, though that might not be enough, and still need to see more from him stepping up to stakes company and the first route this afternoon.
#3 COWAN one of the more experienced runners in this field and already tested at the graded stakes level and two turn distance. His recent OptixFIG sit in Range and has the pair of B OptixGRADES in stakes company including the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G2). He returns here from the place finish in the Springboard Mile last month at Remington Park. The winner of that race made an impressive showing making a big run from off the pace, while Cowan had some mild traffic racing mid-pack was not showing enough late with the B- OptixGRADE for the effort. He will need to improve on that front and tested here to see if he is a real two-turn type or better suited to sprinting.
#4 BIG THORN will start here for Steve Asmussen, though should note he just raced 20 days ago and has not had much time to acclimate to this new barn. There is some confidence running him back here following the Mucho Macho Man S. at Gulfstream Park, a race that is excusable. The trip was more on the subtle side as he was out of position, poor tactical timing, and suffered ground loss. With all of those factors against him he deserves credit for his effort against all (including against flow) race dynamics. Prior to that stakes, he had progressed with each race from both OptixGRADE and OptixFIG perspective. Whether the timing is right for him to win this afternoon, he could present some value here off that sixth-place finish and certainly one to follow off this race as he expects to stable here at Oaklawn given the recent barn switch.
#5 HARDLY SWAYED finds a real test this afternoon in terms of class and distance, and at this point is below his competition. As projected from the Indiana debut back in late September, he improved with each start, though not quite to the OptixFIGRANGE required in this stakes event. Distance is also a big concern for him based on the visuals and along with the data on OptixPLOT tough to see him carrying his speed with others in this field as a Quad III Circle.
#6 MOONLITE STRIKE’s stamina will be the big question for him this afternoon, and from the visuals in his races and reflected as a Circle on OptixPLOT, could be vulnerable here from that perspective. He is not a need-the-lead type, though given this draw and the complexion of the field, projects to be forwardly placed at the first call true to the Quad I Plot position. He has posted OptixFIG in his first three starts in RANGE for this event, though will be a class test for him noting the races he exits in Florida with a much lower OFR (race par) than today’s stakes.
#7 CADDO RIVER is a solid contender this afternoon with a potential pace advantage positioned well in Quad I. This will be his first start taking on winners, though looks up to the challenge following a strong B+ OptixGRADE breaking his maiden on November 15 at Churchill Downs. That maiden win came in his third start, though not much to knock earning the B OptixGRADE (winning type effort for the level) in both of his prior races and a favorable OptixFIG progression race to race. Tested at the mile distance, this will be his first start around two-turns and physically looks suited for this type of race configuration.