Emily Gullikson takes a look at the Oaklawn Park March 27 card and provides her OptixEQ analysis.
#7 KHAKI JACK was given a look here on Circles and Squares just 13 days ago when returning from the layoff to make his second career start. He was upgraded from his debut race at Turfway Park back in December and a logical move from special weight to maiden claiming. The return trip was less than favorable as shown in the Past 3 Runlines with TRAFFIC and TROUBLE playing a role in his fifth-place finish. The B- OptixGRADE makes for a competitive one at the level and, given the trip, could take a step forward toward that B OptixGRADE, the winning grade for the level. He will find a rider change as well showing some positive intent with Arrieta, a journeyman rider, taking over today along with that quick turnaround back to the races.
Going back to March 14, part of the appeal that afternoon was the value given the others in the field that were likely to take money and on the weaker side. That comes into play here again as Khaki Jack holds some recency over returning rival #3 TOP GUNNER for John Sadler coming back after a 97-day layoff. #4 JACK LUVS NOVA has run some of the higher speed figures (OptixFIG) in the field. However, he has a pattern of breaking slow, a reason he is still knocking around the maiden condition and a tough characteristic to take a shorter price on. #6 WESTERN PHAROAH can be upgraded going first off the claim for Jason Barkley, a live barn at the meet. He will need that upgrade to compete as his races to date currently sit below the OptixFIGRANGE (OFR) and would require a big move forward.
This claiming event comes up competitive, and as a Quad IV Square, #3 NILES CHANNEL is worth taking on in this spot at a shorter price as he could land in a favorite role come post time. In terms of his recent efforts and speed (OptixFIG in RANGE) he fits on par, though his off-the-pace style will require a trip and in that case should be compensated in terms of price. His “C” Closer RunStyle was shown in his recent route races and will have to account for the pace and trip cutting back to a sprint distance here.
The “Sun” Contention and 38 SpeedRate could set up a horse from off the pace, or at least a runner with finishing ability. #6 ROCK RIDGE will look take on that role as a Quad III Square. With that said, he has the challenge stepping up against winners for the first time and first off the claim here for Aidan Green and could be a shorter price as a result. His OptixFIG sit in RANGE for the Past 3 Runlines. He will have to contend with that Contention and SpeedRate here with #2 WYOMING CONQUEST, #5 GREATER CAIRO, and #7 SOUTHSIDE SWIG in the field and all as E/EP runners above the Par Line in Quad I, factors that are likely to contribute to an honest pace.
#4 BODE’S LIGHT sits in a similar position to Rock Ridge in Quad III and has some upside coming back this afternoon from the trip on March 4. As shown in the Past 3 Runlines, the TACTIC- Keyword, which played a role in his trip and was not asked to run with Morales taking a big hold soon after the start and keeping him off the pace and WIDE while the top two ran forwardly placed throughout and finished together and clear at the wire.
#1 THE BIG BLUFF could be the value play and interesting here presenting potential upside as he returns from the layoff this afternoon. That is worth keeping in mind as he makes his four-year-old debut today and with his races to date recorded as a younger horse and playing a role in his Quad IV position on the Plot. He has been working to return at this meet and delayed his return with the break in racing. He was entered at this same condition back on Feb. 6 with Arrieta named to ride, though scratched due to the sloppy track conditions that day. He worked two days later on Feb. 8, though had the gap in works when the track was out of commission and trainer Steve Hobby has him moving steadily in the morning since and looks live and race ready this afternoon.
Most of this field will return here in a rematch from the March 5 allowance. The upset winner of that race, #6 BEACH FLOWER, projects to be an underlay here off that win as she benefited from the race shape (FLOW) with the race slowing late and getting up for the win. The place finisher #2 VAULT figures logical back in this spot and positioned favorably on OptixPLOT as a Quad II tracking Large Square today. As value by comparison to stablemate Beach Flower, #1 PIECE OF MY HEART was given a look here on Circles and Squares that day and willing to give her a look back this afternoon. There is some confidence off that lackluster effort to return in this spot and finds a favorable rider change with Cohen taking over today following the TACTIC- on March 5. This rider change to Cohen was used last season, (April 1, 2020) when Piece of My Heart made her second start of the meet/form cycle, a similar pattern to today which resulted in a win. Her pace advantage does not look quite as clear-cut on OptixPLOT though still present on Standard in Quad I, especially with the lower 17 SpeedRate to be a threat on the front end.
#3 ISTAN COUNCIL is the new face in this group. She can be upgraded this afternoon based on the Plot, a solid Quad I Square, and with her OptixFIG from the Past 3 Runlines consistently in RANGE this afternoon. This allowance condition looks welcome after the series of stakes races and finding class relief (DROP) from the Bayakoa (G3) last month.