Race 12 at Oaklawn Park | Saturday, May 2 | Post Time 7:04 PM Eastern Time
Oaklawn Handicap – Grade 2 | Purse $600,000 | One Mile and One Eighth | Four Year Olds and Upward
The early pace in this nine furlong stakes with a full field of 14 appears to be faster than average and potentially contested. Warrior’s Charge (6), who won the local prep for this race on February 20, the Razorback Handicap, earned that win (as well as his three other wins) leading from start to finish and will try to get an uncontested lead in the early stages once again. However, Mr Freeze (4) is drawn further inside in the gate and also should want the lead because he has proven to be a bit suspect in the last eighth of a mile in his last four two-turn races. From the extreme outside, Improbable (14) will need to establish good early position, as might By My Standards (12), Tax (11), and Tacitus (9). That being said, it probably won’t take more than a pace battle between Warrior’s Charge and Mr Freeze to cost both a chance at success and to set up some stalkers and closers for the major awards in this race.
Trophy Chaser (2) is first among those likely to get a great stalking trip. After showing promise as a two year old in the fall of 2018 and start of 2019, Trophy Chaser had a setback which kept him away from the races until last August but he returned strongly with a win, before a third place finish in the Gallant Bob Stakes in September. Following two mediocre efforts in which he finished fourth, Trophy Chaser took two months off and returned in a big way in his four year old debut this past February when dominating by eight lengths at the distance of the Oaklawn Handicap and without a prep first. Stepping up big time into stakes competition in the Challenger Stakes in March at Tampa Bay Downs, Trophy Chaser stalked in third early then got up to win by a neck. The 113 Equibase figure earned for that win is higher than the 113 figure Combatant (7) earned when winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on the same day at Santa Anita. With a great post position in the Oaklawn Handicap, Trophy Chaser may find himself in third once again, right behind likely dueling leaders Warrior’s Charge and Mr Freeze, and therefore it appears pretty certain he can put in the same winning effort for the second graded stakes in a row.
Combatant (7), like Trophy Chaser, is in top form and on a pattern for the same or better as his most recent race. After moving to the barn of John Sadler via a private purchase last fall, Combatant took three months off and returned in the San Pasqual Stakes on February 1 at this nine furlong trip the same way Trophy Chaser returned from a layoff at the distance. In the San Pasqual, Combatant rallied from seventh of nine and far back to get third, earning a 103 figure which he improved on nicely to 110 five weeks later. That improvement came in the form of a win in the Santa Anita Handicap, in which Combatant sat in fourth with about a mile to go before winning by a neck. Joel Rosario was aboard for the win and rides Combatant once again and like Trophy Chaser, Combatant is likely to get a great trip behind the pacesetters which benefit his late kick so another graded stakes win would come as no surprise.
Two more horses which can’t entirely be ruled out as contenders are By My Standards (12) and Night Ops (13). By My Standards had a strong early three year old campaign which included a win in the Louisiana Derby. One of many horses affected by troubled trips in the Kentucky Derby, By My Standards finished 12th. Taking the rest of 2019 off, By My Standards returned to win in an allowance race around two turns (without a prep first) in February before taking the New Orleans Handicap on March 21 pretty easily. Although the 102 and 98 figures he’s earned this year are not within range of the 110 or higher figure the winner is likely to earn, with a sparkling trio of workouts coming into the race, capped by a best of 106 for a half-mile, it’s possible By My Standards could show us a breakout performance here. Night Ops won the non-graded Essex Stakes over the track in mid-March with a career-best 109 figure. Although the only time he ran in a graded stakes previously, 15 months ago in the Lecomte, he finished eighth, at this point Night Ops is a different horse and with a great running style and just slight improvement over his last effort could post the upset in this race.
I’ve left Improbable (14) off my win contender list but will be using him and a few others in the second position on some exacta tickets. Drawing the outside 11 post in last month’s Oaklawn Mile, Improbable was four wide most of the way and no match for the winner after making the lead in the stretch. The post today is likely to hurt his chances again today so although the 111 figure earned last time out is competitive with the top entrants in this race, I think he’s “Improbable” to win.
Win Bets: Trophy Chaser (2) and Combatant (7) to win at odds of 2 to 1 or more.
“IF” either By My Standards (12) or Night Ops (13) are 8 to 1 or more near post time, they would make good win bets as well, for smaller amounts than on Trophy Chaser and Combatant.
Box Trophy Chaser (2), Combatant (7), By My Standards (12) and Night Ops (13).
Trophy Chaser (2), Combatant (7), By My Standards (12) and Night Ops (13) over Trophy Chaser (2), Combatant (7), By My Standards (12), Night Ops (13), Mr Freeze (4), Warrior’s Charge (6), Tacitus (9), Tax (11) and Improbable (14).