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On Saturday, April 2, Oaklawn Park will host two huge Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby prep races in the form of The Fantasy and the Arkansas Derby. Get my analysis and selections for each graded stakes race.

Saturday Free Horse Racing Picks: Arkansas Derby and Oaklawn Park

The winners will receive 100 points toward qualifying for the big races the first weekend in May. In total Oaklawn Park will feature three graded stakes races on their Saturday card.

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Race 9

  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Name: Oaklawn Mile - Grade III
  • Age: 4-years-old and up
  • Surface: Dirt

The Oaklawn Mile brings one of my favorite horses, Law Professor (8-1), to the Midwest. Law Professor is one of the more versatile horses in the country as he’s competed in graded stakes competition in California on both dirt and turf. While his pedigree, particularly from his dam, would indicate he is a natural on grass, his best efforts recently have come on dirt. His trainer Michael McCarthy will get him back on that surface after he finished fifth on the grass in the Grade I Frank Kilroe Mile. His previous dirt race was an impressive second at the Grade II San Pasqual where he finished behind Express Train. He’s a horse that provides outstanding value in this field as he has the versatility to get on the lead or sit off the pace if others choose to press more aggressive early fractions. He’s competed against stronger fields and won’t be overwhelmed by the speed or class on the track.

Morning line favorite Cezanne (5-2) has more than earned that status after collecting a victory at the Grade II San Carlos Stakes last month. It was his second race back after nearly a 10-month layoff and he’s progressed beautifully since returning to the track. His recent workouts have been very crisp. The Baffert trainee should also be sitting just off the early pace and launch a bid at the top of the stretch. While he has had success at a mile and longer in the past, it will be the first time since summer 2020 that he has run this distance so fatigue and going two turns may be a consideration.

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Another horse to consider that will provide value is Silver Prospector (8-1). Like Cezanne he’s coming off a nice performance which happened to be his second race back from a lengthy layoff. He does not have the early tactical speed to compete with Roadster (5-1) or Runnin’ Ray (8-1), but that is likely for the best. Sitting behind that pace will allow him to conserve energy and have plenty coming down the stretch. While he has generally excelled stretching out over a mile, he’s shown the propensity to hit the board at a mile and should benefit from the trip. Race 9 Picks

  • Win: Law Professor
  • Place: Cezanne
  • Show: Silver Prospector

Race 10 – Kentucky Oaks Prep Race (100 points to winner)

  • Distance: 1 1/6 miles
  • Name: The Fantasy - Grade III
  • Age: 3-years-old (F)
  • Surface: Dirt

The Fantasy got shaken up earlier this week when it was announced by trainer Bob Baffert that morning-line favorite Eda (2-1) would scratch. She was the overwhelming choice and would have easily dispatched of the field. In her absence, the race opens for some potential value plays. Like what is expected in the Arkansas Derby, we should see a fast early pace with Yuugiri (4-1), Magic Circle (5-1), and Beguine (15-1) all running out for the early lead. Of those three, Magic Circle has the best chance of hanging on late as she’s won stakes races in front-running fashion at a longer distance. She faded last time out at the Busher Invitational Stakes, but her previous race, the Busanda Stakes, was an impressive effort. Her trainer, Steve Asmussen, has moved her out of New York and she seems to have taken to the dirt at Oaklawn based on her recent workout. She may be better-served letter Beguine and Yuugiri duke it out for the lead early as neither filly seems like to sustain a strong pace throughout.

Sitting close behind that pace should be Mariah’s Fortune (10-1). She’s only one once in five career starts but has never turned in a poor effort. In Her last race, which was coming back from a two-month layoff, she covered the same distance and was overtaken late by Bernabreezy. Now that she’s running her second race back, she should be sharper, and she will get an expert ride from Flavien Prat who is flying in from his recent stint in California for the big weekend. In a race where every filly has serious question marks, Mariah’s Fortune looks relatively complete. She can do the distance, she doesn’t need the lead, and she’s been showing steady improvement, not to mention she’s trained by Brad Cox who is winning at a 21% clip at Oaklawn and has won 29% of races where horses are running their second race back from a layoff.

Cox’s other filly, Bubble Rock (3-1), is trying dirt for the first time and is better suited for sprinting. Despite the short odds, she feels like an immediate toss. Therefore, to round out my top three, I’m looking to the far inside at Dream Lith (8-1). She’s run against some very nice fillies over the last year from Echo Zulu to Juju’s Map to Tarabi to Turnerloose. This field won’t intimidate her and while her most recent effort at the Grade II Rachel Alexandra was less than stellar, the field she faces on Saturday is considerably weaker. Her running style of coming from off the pace should set up well considering the fast pace up front and while breaking from the far inside post can be an issue she should not get shuffled too far back.

Race 10 Picks

  • Win: Mariah's Fortune
  • Place: Magic Circle
  • Show: Dream Lith

Race 12 – Kentucky Derby Prep Race (100 points to winner)

  • Distance: 1 1/8 miles
  • Name: Arkansas Derby - Grade I
  • Age: 3-years-old
  • Surface: Dirt

The eyes of the horse racing world will descend on Hot Springs, Arkansas on Saturday afternoon as everyone wants to see if D. Wayne Lukas’ special filly, Secret Oath (5-2), has enough to beat the boys and qualify for the 2022 Kentucky Derby. Thanks to her dominant victory at the Grade III Honeybee in February, she has already earned enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Oaks, so she’ll be running at Churchill Downs the first weekend in May no matter how this race turns out. I’m not sure Secret Oath could have handpicked a better field to run against as she boasts the best speed figures, time fractions, and overall class in the group. To be clear, I do not think Secret Oath is Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta or Ruffian, but she’s every bit as good as the boys at this stage of their careers.

As for how the headlining race will play out, expect there to be some decent early speed in the form of Kavod (15-1) who has led the way around the track the last few times out but tends to give way at the end. There to challenge Kavod will likely be the duo of Cyberknife (8-1) and We the People (7-2). Cyberknife is a fascinating horse as some people absolutely love him, but I think that has more to do with his connections (trainer Brad Cox) than his performance on the track. After breaking his maiden three races ago, he stepped up to challenge other Derby contenders at the Grade III Lecomte and was walloped by over 10 lengths. He came back a month later and easily won an allowance race over Kupuna. That race looked good on paper until last week when Kupuna got trounced by Epicenter and the gang at the Louisana Derby. Cyberknife has never beaten a horse of great consequence and while the value may be appealing, I just think he’s a cut below the better 3-year-olds in his crop. The other early speed, We the People, is slightly more intriguing having blown away his competition in his only two career starts. He’s a promising colt, but this is a significant step up in competition and I believe this may be too much too soon.

All of this sets up beautifully for Secret Oath who likes to sit off the pace and launch a fantastic bit around the final turn and coming for home. However, she won’t be without challengers. Doppelganger (3-1) is coming in from the west coast where he finally gets out of the shadow of fellow Derby contender Forbidden Kingdom. Doppelganger, formerly trained by Bob Baffert, is now eligible to qualify for the Kentucky Derby as he is in the Tim Yakteen barn. His last effort at the Grade II San Felipe at Santa Anita was fine but he simply can’t compete with the early speed of Forbidden Kingdom. I believe he will enjoy running in a bigger field where he can remain engaged even if one or two horses break out on the lead and his workouts are always impressive. The other challenger is Barber Road (8-1) who also has an impressive late kick and comes from even further back than Secret Oath. The biggest issue with Barber Road, who has finished no worse than third in four consecutive stakes races, is that he often gives himself too much ground to make up late. If he can stay with five to seven lengths of the leaders, then he can absolutely be a factor coming for home and should like the extra distance.

Ultimately, I’m going with Secret Oath because she’s the best horse in the field. She’s got better speed and the race sets up perfectly for her. Yes, it’s a great story but at the end of the day this is about a horse race and she checks all the boxes necessary to end up in the winner’s circle.

Race 12 Picks

  • Win: Secret Oath
  • Place: Doppelganger
  • Show: Barber Road

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Article Author

Horse Racing

Matthew DeSantis is a horse racing handicapper with a fondness for lightly raced horses with improving speed figures. You can find him at the track playing surface changes and second off the layoff.


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