By Tom Quigley
$600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) at Oaklawn Park
Race 12 (Saturday, May 2, 2020: 7:04 p.m./ET; 4:04 p.m./PT)
Mile and an eighth on the main track (four-year-olds and upward)
A phenomenal field takes shape in the 2020 edition of the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) as top Southern California trainers Bob Baffert and John Sadler ship contenders in while high profile East Coast conditioners Steve Asmussen, Brad Cox, Bill Mott and D. Wayne Lukas also hope to saddle the winner. Here’s my analysis:
#1 CHESS CHIEF unofficially ran third to #12 BY MY STANDARDS and #10 CAPTIVATING MOON in the New Orleans Classic (G2) last time out. After a lengthy review, he was disqualified for interference in the stretch and placed sixth. A couple notches below the best entered.
#2 TROPHY CHASER could be the ‘wise guy’ horse. Son of TWIRLING CANDY has earned triple digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last two starts and projects to get an ideal stalking trip. He was beaten seven lengths by #14 IMPROBABLE in a one-turn minor stake at Churchill Downs in 2018, but obviously he is an improved horse since then. Keep this in mind, too: in his last start, he beat KING FOR A DAY, the only horse to ever beat MAXIMUM SECURITY to the wire first. A likeable candidate that you might get a square price on.
#3 BRAVAZO had a fantastic three-year-old campaign, losing by a nose in the Clark Handicap (G1) while also hitting the board in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1), the Travers (G1), the Haskell (G1) and the Preakness (G1). That said, all five of those efforts came in 2018. His 2020 form is poor, with three straight off the board finishes, so his best days may be behind him.
#4 MR FREEZE enters for trainer Dale Romans after an easy three-length score in the Gulfstream Park Mile (G2) going one turn. He can run well effectively going two turns, too, as we saw him finish second behind MUCHO GUSTO in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) two starts back. In two other previous races, he hit the board behind one of the top older horses in the U.S. right now, TOM’S D’ETAT, and he has finished in-the-money in 10 of 12 lifetime starts. Must consider.
#5 IDENTIFIER looks to extend his win streak to three. The Oscar Gonzalez trainee won a second level allowance at Gulfstream Park two starts ago before pulling off a 60/1 shocker in the Hal’s Hope (G3) going nine panels, where he ran the best race of his life. He’ll need to run even better this time around. That’s a lot to ask.
#6 WARRIOR’S CHARGE is relatively lightly raced. The Brad Cox entrant has gone gate to wire in his last two races, including on February 17 when he beat 10 other rivals in the Razorback (G3). Sports a three-for-five record at Oaklawn with two third place finishes, and we know he can get the nine-furlong distance as he ran fourth in the Preakness (G1) in what was a much better than looked effort. Interesting prospect.
#7 COMBATANT is finding his best stride at the age of five. After being privately purchased over the winter by Hronis Racing LLC and trainer John Sadler, the son of SCAT DADDY has rattled off two big runs, a third place finish in the San Pasqual (G2), a race in which he closed over a speed biased track and flew home for third, and a Grade 1 victory in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1).
#8 SKY PROMISE cuts back in distance after a mile and a half, last to first victory in the Temperance Hill Stakes over this track. He has finished behind #13 NIGHT OPS in two previous races this year, however, and he doesn’t have much early speed at all which means others will get the first jump on him. Siding elsewhere.
#9 TACITUS, the 121 lb highweight, makes his second start of 2020 after a fifth-place finish in the Saudi Cup (G1). That day, he was off slowly and ended up finishing behind some of the best dirt horses in the world including MAXIMUM SECURITY, MIDNIGHT BISOU, BENBATL and MUCHO GUSTO. In many of his 2019 races, he was not given the best trip, making one wonder whether he may be trouble prone. But it looks like he’s the class of the race and Hall of Famer Bill Mott will have him ready. One of the major players.
#10 CAPTIVATING MOON settled for second to #12 BY MY STANDARDS in the New Orleans (G3) at the Fair Grounds last time out. Has 3 lengths to make up on that contender, while facing other tough new shooters. In a tough spot.
#11 TAX was claimed for $50,000 as a two-year-old and has subsequently banked over $800,000 for his current connections. Highlights of his career include wins in the Withers (G3) and Jim Dandy (G2), an effort in which he finished ahead of #9 TACITUS. His most recent start, a 15-length loss in the Pegasus World Cup (G1), was aided by a bad stumble at the break, a wide trip and no Lasix. Another possibility at what will probably be a good price.
#12 BY MY STANDARDS is getting good for high percentage trainer Brett Calhoun, with a four-for-eight lifetime record and three other in-the-money finishes, but he has never faced a group of this caliber before. This will be a good indicator as to where he fits in the older horse division.
#13 NIGHT OPS has won his last two races, with both scores coming over this track against easier company. Two starts back, he finished a half-length in front of #8 SKY PROMISE in an allowance race. Does attract the riding services of Javier Castellano, but others appear classier.
#14 IMPROBABLE once again drew an undesirable outside post position. He makes his second start off a five-month layoff for trainer Bob Baffert after a three-quarter length loss against TOM’S D’ETAT in the Oaklawn Mile last month. His effort really was better than looked, given he was wide on both turns, raced close to a fast pace, and still stuck around to finishing strongly to the wire. He has a poor habit of being unruly at the gate, so getting away cleanly will be crucial for him. Another contender, nonetheless, in a fantastic betting affair.
1. #2 TROPHY CHASER – Price will be right.
2. #9 TACITUS - Class of the field.
3. #12 BY MY STANDARDS - Loves this distance.
LONGSHOT VALUE PLAY-#11 TAX - Looking for a big rebound.
I’ll make a straight win bet on two of my longer priced selections and box all four of my selections plus #14 IMPROBABLE in an exacta.
BANKROLL PLAY ($50 Budget)
$15 Win: #2 TROPHY CHASER and #11 TAX ($30).
$1 Exacta Box: #2 TROPHY CHASER and #9 TACITUS and #11 TAX and #12 BY MY STANDARDS and #14 IMPROBABLE ($20).
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