Smile Politely

Oaklawn likes it hot, hot, hot!

OaklawnIt’s going to be a hot old time in Hot Springs this Saturday, with an outright cavalry charge for glory in the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and the fifth round of the Blind Luck versus Havre de Grace grudge match with the Grade III Azeri.

A venerable field of 13 will contend in the Rebel Stakes, the $300,000 prep race for the Grade I Arkansas Derby. Among these will be the top three finishers in the Grade III Southwest Stakes, Archarcharch, J P’s Gusto, and Elite Alex. The winner of the Grade II San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita, The Factor, is also set to invade, with the runner-up of that race, Sway Away, following suit. With so many quality horses packing the place at Oaklawn, the Rebel should make for a good betting race. Archarcharch went off at 14-1 before he ran off with the Southwest victory, and looks to be a longshot again when he returns here.

The Factor is the speed of the field, and he is entering the Rebel with the best Beyer of his last start, a 103 in the San Vicente. Despite his talent, no one is confident about The Factor’s ability to run two turns, and his performance here in the Rebel will likely determine whether or not he remains on the road to Kentucky. The lightly-raced son of War Front has won 2 of 3 starts, and is famous for setting a new track record at Santa Anita when he broke his maiden at 6 furlongs on Boxing Day.

Like The Factor and Sway Away, J P’s Gusto was just another California invader when he stepped into the starting gates of the Southwest Stakes. Since finishing second in that race after a troubled trip, he has set up camp in Arkansas and has called it his new home. He is no longer just a tourist looking for a shiny souvenir trophy; he has earned his rebel stripes and is now setting to claim his first taste of Oaklawn glory in this 1 1/16th- mile test. As there has been no dominant 3-year-old male at this track, his career record with three graded stakes wins, including the Grade I Del Mar Futurity, makes him the division leader by default. Other entrants in the Rebel include Alternation, Bluegrass Jam, Caleb’s Posse, Dreaminofthewin, Glint, J W Blue, and Picko’s Pride.

 

Blind LuckIt’s been a long time since we’ve seen a bona fide rivalry in horse racing. So many times, it’s been nothing but big talkers claiming “my horse is better,” but when push comes to shove, the horses never meet on the track. And while Blind Luck and Havre de Grace are zero parts Rachel Alexandra or Zenyatta, they are both solid, Grade I-winning fillies, and have tested their mettle where it counts: against each other. Blind Luck is the reigning 3-year-old champ, but is on a four-race losing streak since she won the Grade I Alabama versus Havre de Grace at Saratoga. Running 2nd in each start since then, the chestnut filly has been the victim of bad rides, soft pace, and high weights. She is a closer from out of the clouds, and needs a reasonable speed to run at; but it seems the track at Santa Anita was playing only to the fast of late, and that’s the reason she has shipped southeast. Blind Luck should have every chance to return to her winning form in the Azeri. But if she does meet victory, don’t expect her to eke it out by much.

Havre de Grace had the misfortune of facing the valiant Blind Luck two times before she finally turned the tables in the Grade II Fitz Cotillion at Parx Racing last October; but in their most recent outing together, both she and Blind Luck were beaten by Unrivaled Belle in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic; Blind Luck finished second, Havre de Grace was third. It’s true that Havre de Grace may have had the advantage on the champ in the Fitz Cotillion courtesy of the 10-pound break she was getting on her, but as Blind Luck has been having trouble finding the winner’s circle lately, Havre de Grace may be able to jump her when she’s down. It’s worth noting, however, that both rivals will carry only 115 pounds each, so this new round in the match should be a fair one.

The Grade III Azeri and Grade II Rebel Stakes will be broadcast live from Oaklawn Park this Saturday on HRTV. Post times are approximately 5:20pm CT and 5:56pm CT.

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