The Thorofan Handicapper's Corner for allowing me to share my thoughts on the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap with you today.
Instead of focusing on the lack of quality in the handicap division, I'd like to stay positive and thank Oaklawn for trying to grow the sport by increasing the purse in this year's 58th edition of this race to $500,000, up from $350,000. The idea, even if the current quality isn't there, is to build towards Oaklawn Derby/Arkansas Derby Day in purses and rivalries.
The race was advanced a month as well to better position it as a handicap division pathway. Oaklawn General Manager Eric Jackson explained "...We've been so pleased with the way the Southwest Stakes has come up in recent years, we decided to build on that in the older divisions," Jackson said. "Until you get there and do it, you don't really know how it's going to work out, but it certainly looks excellent on paper at this point" (Perkins).
Oaklawn to me is the place that I think gives the truest test of Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown contenders, recent history aside. I love the way the track plays, wet or dry, and the locals give the invaders all they can handle.
Up and coming trainer Ron Moquett echoed what we all know in this game, you need the purses to attract the horses (Arlington Park are you listening?). Moquett said, "...the purses here make for very competitive races," he said. "For the horsemen, it's not easy to win here, but for the fans, look who they get to see here every year. I mean, it's not an accident that Curlin and Rachel Alexandra and Afleet Alex and Summer Bird and Lawyer Ron and Zenyatta and American Pharoah and all these guys come here. They come here because we have the equivalent of Wrigley Field in our backyard. It's just a classic place to watch horse racing" (Perkins).
Anyway, let's get it on!
Again, the division is weak and it shows in these fields. That said, rain may be the great equalizer. The weather looks like it will be very wet come race time. It's questionable if Gun Runner, easily the classiest and most accomplished horse in this race, would even run in the slop. Winchell Thoroughbreds Manager David Fiske said if the rains do come that "There would be some discussion as to scratching him, for sure," Fiske said should the Oaklawn track come up wet for the Razorback. "But...he has to start somewhere. It may come down to that. So we'll see" (Hughes.) Keep your eye on track conditions as well as scratches and changes.
Gun Runner fired off a :59 4/5ths 5f over the Hot Springs track this week and is showing no signs of his long layoff or his quarantine at Fair Grounds. Four straight 100+ Beyers, 10 of 12 in the money lifetime, the Candy Ride's only two outings out of the money? Off tracks.
If the slop does come, I like Blue Tone, shipping in from California. Trainer Hess has been looking to get the 8 YO gelded Birdstone going since a Grade 3 win in early January at Santa Anita, saying "... I've been watching all the preps and all the horses, Obviously, we were hoping Gun Runner would pass, but we're ready to go. We've been eyeballing races all over, New Orleans, Florida, New York, and Oaklawn as well, for quite a while" (Hughes.) Hess as well noted the purse as a factor in him coming back to Arkansas. Hess said he decided on the Razorback because there was nothing for Blue Tone in California and the race is worth a record $500,000 this year, a hefty $150,000 bump from 2016 (Hoyt.)
Domain's Rap, a 9 year old with 61 career starts, has never gone into 3 digit Beyers, and has only earned $10,300 per race (compared to Gun Runner's $170,000 and $22,400 for Blue Tone) is in my top four for his tenacity at Oaklawn, with 7 starts ending with 5 Wins and a Place. His current form appears sharp and I project he may be fading at the wire but has more to offer than most of the field.
I tossed Chief of Staff and D. Wayne Lukas's Goats Town, the son of his late career runner, Dublin. I just can't strain my brain enough to make a case for either who are collectively 0 of 13 starts at the distance and 0 of 8 at OP and have 5 wins between them in 36 starts.
Which leads me to my pick em' group of runners: Hawaakom, Smack Smack and Dazzling Gem. Hawaakom is coming in off a slop win at 1 1/16 miles at Fair Grounds where he put up a 98 Beyer. 7 wins in 16 starts at the distance. Smack Smack is 0 of 6 at OP, 0 of 4 in the slop. I'll figure out where to slot him based on track conditions. Dazzling Gem should be better than he is. Well bred, classy, the 4 YO son of Misremembered out of Dazzler (Vindication) has 3 wins in 9 starts, a 97 best Beyer over the slop, 4 of 5 in the money at the distance and 2 OP wins in 3 starts. When looking for value, look here.
So what am I thinking: If the track is not a complete swamp and Gun Runner doesn't scratch I'll stick most likely by my base handicap.
If it is sealed or very sloppy, and Gun Runner goes, I don't single him but instead place an Exacta Box on 1-3-5-7.
If Gun Runner Scratches, I build something that focuses on Blue Tone and Dazzling Gem.
Whatever you do, have fun and bet to make money, not for the thrill or the action. Look for value and don't over cover your exotics.
Hughes, Alicia Wincze. "Rain could threaten Gun Runner's Razorback hopes." Web. The Blood Horse. https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/219897/rain-could-threaten-gun-runners-razorback-hopes. 17 February 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
Hoyt, Jennifer. "Oaklawn:Blue Tone Brings Hess Back." Web. Times Record. http://www.swtimes.com/sports/20170217/oaklawn-blue-tone-brings-hess-back 17 February 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2017.
Perkins, Pete. "Elite Oaklawn Races set for President's Day Weekend. Web. Arkansas Online. http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2017/feb/18/first-set-of-grades-coming-in-20170218/?f=sports 18 February 2017. Retrieved 19 February 2017.