By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
A tremendous week of horse racing lies ahead at tracks across
the globe. Eight "Win and You're In" qualifiers for the Breeders' Cup are on
the agenda, plus three Kentucky Derby prep races in California and Europe.
For passionate fans of the sport, it's going to be an
unforgettable three days of racing. But for handicappers, the big races have a
little less to offer. Small fields and heavy favorites will be recurring themes
throughout the week, and big payoffs could be few and far between.
So rather than expound for hundreds of words on the
virtues of McKinzie, Midnight Bisou, and Imperial Hint, I'll take a detour to
Remington Park in Oklahoma, where the $400,000
Oklahoma Derby (gr. III) will be conducted on Sunday evening. It's not the
most prestigious race of the week, and it's unclear whether it will produce any
Breeders' Cup starters. But for several reasons, I think the race offers potential
for cashing a nice ticket.
For starters, I'm inclined to oppose 8-5 morning line favorite
#10 Mucho Gusto, at least for win
purposes. The strengths of this four-time Grade 3 winner are obvious.
Conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, Mucho Gusto has an abundance
of tactical speed and is dropping in class off strong efforts in the Haskell
Invitational (gr. I) and Travers Stakes (gr. I). In the Haskell, he gave division
leader Maximum Security all he could handle while finishing second by 1 ¼ lengths,
and in the 1 ¼-mile Travers, Mucho Gusto led to the eighth pole before fading
only slightly to finish third.
Mucho Gusto is cutting back to 1 1/8 miles for the
Oklahoma Derby and will be widely expected to prevail. But I think it's worth
noting this son of Mucho Macho Man is 5-for-6 racing 1 1/16 miles or shorter
(with his lone defeat coming in a Grade 1) and 0-for-3 running 1 1/8 miles or
farther. This distance seems to be pushing the limits of his stamina.
I also wonder whether Mucho Gusto can bring another peak
performance in the Oklahoma Derby. He ran out of his skin in the Haskell and
came back with a testing effort in the Travers, where he dueled for the lead and
never got a chance to relax. If these tough races catch up to Mucho Gusto,
regression could be possible in the Oklahoma Derby.
With this in mind, I'll side with #11 Owendale. Conditioned by Brad Cox, an increasingly successful
top-tier trainer in North America, Owendale enjoyed a successful spring and
summer, sandwiching late-running triumphs in the Lexington Stakes (gr. III) and
Ohio Derby (gr. III) around a third-place finish in the Preakness Stakes (gr.
But Owendale actually impressed me most with his
fifth-place finish in the Travers Stakes. Racing closer to the early pace than usual,
Owendale spent the majority of the Travers racing along a dead rail, a trip
that surely compromised his chances. Yet despite these obstacles, Owendale made
a mild rally at the top of the stretch and forged on to finish just 1 ½ lengths
behind Mucho Gusto. All told, Owendale ran huge in the Travers, especially
since he's a son of Into Mischief and might have been pushing past the limits
of his stamina while negotiating 1 ¼ miles.
The Travers marked Owendale's first start in two months,
so I'm optimistic he'll show improvement in the Oklahoma Derby, especially if
he gets a clean trip over a fair track. Even a small step forward could be
sufficient to turn the tables on Mucho Gusto, and judging from his workouts, Owendale
is ready to roll. He enters Sunday's race off a pair of bullet workouts at
Churchill Downs, including five furlongs in a blazing :58 4/5 on September 21.
It's also worth noting the form of Owendale's Ohio Derby
triumph received a boost last week when runner-up Math Wizard upset the Pennsylvania
Derby (gr. I) at Parx Racing. The Ohio Derby came back strong on the Beyer
speed figure scale (Owendale prevailed with a 99), and Math Wizard's recent
rebound suggests the figure was deserved.
Speaking of the Ohio Derby, third-place finisher #9 Long Range Toddy might have a live
chance to hit the board in the Oklahoma Derby. For the most part, this Steve
Asmussen-trained son of Take Charge Indy has struggled since upsetting
Improbable in the first division of the Rebel Stakes (gr. II) at Oaklawn Park,
missing the board in three of his four subsequent starts while beaten a minimum
of 8 ½ lengths.
But two of Long Range Toddy's defeats came over sloppy,
sealed tracks that he didn't seem to care for, and I believe his fifth-place
finish in the July 13 Indiana Derby (gr. III) was better than it appears.
Facing a deep field led by next-out stakes winners Mr. Money and Gray Magician,
as well as Math Wizard, Long Range Toddy made an arguably premature move to
take the lead, in part because he was receiving pressure from a loose horse
looming up on his outside.
The Indiana Derby was Long Range Toddy's seventh start of
the year, so it's possible he was tired out from an ambitious, non-stop
campaign dating back to his debut in August 2018. Taking 2 ½ months off to rest
and recover could trigger a rebound, and the return to Remington Park is also a
positive—he won the Clever Trevor Stakes and Remington Springboard Mile over this
track as a juvenile. A bullet five-furlong workout in :59 1/5 on September 15
at Remington is another reason to view this 15-1 shot as a key player for the exotic
wagers on Sunday.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Oklahoma
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.