RACE 9 – AZERI STAKES (G2):
The feature race, the Azeri Stakes (G2) is a tricky puzzle that starts with the race shape. Looking at OptixPLOT, the “Red” PlotFit is clear in one of the more unique scenarios, especially for a graded stakes race. The OptixRPM shows five of the nine runners sharing the E or EP RunStyle, and at the same time there is the lower “Snowflake” Contention and softer 23 SpeedRate. That carries to the visuals, with more than half of the field with the E or EP RunStyle, yet there are minimal – and in the case of Surface/Distance the lack of – horses in Quad I. Other handicapping factors will be used going through the field analyzing this race, though it does seem that pace and ideally trip will be key in the outcome.
#9 SUPER QUICK is the lone E RunStyle horse and has shown in her Past 3 Runlines to excel with that LONE trip. From the OptixPLOT visuals, she does not hold a pace edge or the separation she requires for that LONE lead. That challenge is combined with the outside post which would force her to try and clear from the outside post, something she could be up against as she is not necessarily faster to the first call (furthest left) of her rivals. This will be her first start off the 120-day layoff and first start in graded stakes company, giving up a recency and class edge to others as well.
#8 GOLDEN CURL is slightly flattered on Standard as a Quad III Square, a Plot position that can be upgraded with the lower Contention and SpeedRate. The Surface/Distance Plot is a significant downgrade as a large Circle (lack of finish) and in terms of class (OptixGRADE) and speed (OptixFIG) she sits below par.
Her stablemate #3 LAVENDER has the opposite change in shape on the Plot. While she could be given the upgrade with the Large Square on Surface/Distance, that position could be flattered as her Surface/Distance data is limited to just two starts. In her most recent race at 1 1/16 miles on dirt at Remington Park, she recorded a 94 OptixFIG when winning the Dec. 10 allowance with the PERFECT trip. That race that has not been productive going forward and the number is potentially inflated for that race as a whole, with others that have run since failing to duplicate their figure from that day.
#4 AVA’S GRACE looks to have positive intent by her connections – the same ownership group and trainer switch in name only – as she makes her second start back off the layoff. This second-off, sprint-to-route pattern was used last season to run in the Fantasy Stakes (G3) where she finished second with a solid B OptixGRADE and 95 OptixFIG. Keying off that race, Ava’s Grace, was used for the lead and set a contested (PRESSED) pace and honest pace for the distance. While she does not show any type of pace advantage here sitting in Quad III (Standard/Current form Circle and Surface/Distance Square) she could present some upside from that Plot position as the majority of her races were from the juvenile/sophomore season with the turf sprint at Belmont last June and the return sprint last month, playing a role in her Plot position today. She does project to use her early speed and could create a more contentious pace with those form projections. Ava’s Grace even with a projected upgrade will still be tested in terms of trip, class, and stamina.
Part of that contention ships in with #6 LADY MYSTIFY for Peter Eurton making her seasonal debut. She also has legit early speed and has shown the ability to take pace pressure. The draw is key for her as she could find a trip similar to the Remington Park Oaks (G3) where she won racing WIDE up close to the pace. She has the tendency to be headstrong and needs to be allowed to run her race without the rider getting in her way as was the case last summer in the Torrey Pines (G3) at Del Mar. The “Red” PlotFit does not give a strong confidence rating; however, the race shape as potential with the lower Contention and SpeedRate, is a scenario that can upgrade Lady Mystify.
#7 SHEDARESTHEDEVIL makes this race even more interesting not only as her presence as one of the more proven graded stakes runners in this field, and last year’s Azeri (G2) winner, but in terms of her impact on today’s race dynamic. She won this race last year with the LONE trip upfront and a softer early pace with the OptixSHAPE giving the race the Very Slow opening half-mile (VS O4S). Her Plot position that day was a Quad I Circle and benefit as the other likely pace rival, Letruska, was taken out of her E RunStyle and forced to rate allowing Shedaresthedevil that softer front end trip to win. Finding favorable trips and race shapes have been the key with her and the success, those winning races throughout her career. The trip for Shedaresthedevil is not as clear today and while capable based on her class and Plot position to some extent, she does not stand out in this field as much as it would appear “on paper.”
#5 CE CE arguably is preferred. She is at her best at the one-turn distances and is credited as the Eclipse award champion female sprinter after taking home the championship Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) win last year. With that said, she is still capable of two-turns under the right conditions and those conditions should be in place for her this afternoon. She heads into this race second start off the layoff and with a solid return (PREP) finishing second making a MOVE against the dynamic (X_FLOW) behind the front running winner, Merneith, in the Santa Monica (G2) last month at Santa Anita Park. She has a history of improving second off the layoff which goes back to the 2020 season with the second-off Beholder Mile (G1) win and followed up that effort with the improved B+ OptixGRADE and 99 OptixFIG to win the Apple Blossom (G1) here at Oaklawn Park. Her 2020 season is highlighted in this case as the 2021 intention for her was those one-turn races; and with the ultimate championship goal achieved in 2021, this year they could try again with the Distaff target.
#2 PAULINE’S PEARL has been well-campaigned as of late and will find herself in good form with today’s class test. She had the challenge in 2021 with Asmussen/Stonestreet working to keep her separated from her highly regarded and accomplished stablemate, Clairiere. Pauline’s Pearl, second tier to Clairiere, still has ability in her own right and placed in graded stakes races where she stood out from the competition and rewarded the connections. She comes into this race with the confidence off those recent wins, the Zia Park Oaks, and Houston Ladies Classic (G3), though will find herself class-tested back on this circuit and forced to prove herself today up against the more accomplished older mares, Ce Ce and Shedaresthedevil.
Class and trip will also be tested for #1 SHE’S ALL WOLFE (Quad IV Square) wheeling right back from the place finish in the Bayakoa (G3) here last month. In that race, she was able to benefit from the ground SAVED trip and overall softer field for the place award. Not only was the race the Grade 3 rather than today’s Grade 2, but the race also came back on the lower end of the 96-90 OptixFIGRANGE (OFR); the winner, Miss Bigly, recorded a 90 OptixFIG for her win, and followed that up last week by finishing second in the Beholder Mile (G1) with another below average 88 OptixFIG. As She’s All Wolfe has yet to run a contender-type OptixFIG in today’s 99-93 OFR, a minor finish is likely the ceiling.