Owendale Can Spring Mild Upset in Oklahoma Derby

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. I).

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 Derby?


Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!


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.

Recent Posts

More Blogs