By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Five weeks out from the Breeders' Cup World
Championships, there are so many high-profile races on the agenda that it's
difficult to keep track of them all. The Breeders' Cup Challenge Series is
really heating up with 11 "Win and You're In" qualifiers spread throughout the
U.S. and Europe, and if you're looking ahead to the 2021 Kentucky Derby, you'll
be excited to know there are three Road to the Kentucky Derby prep races on the
But from a handicapping perspective, one of the most intriguing
races of the week is the $200,000
Oklahoma Derby (G3) at Remington Park. The 1 1/8-mile test is far from the
most prestigious event on the weekend slate, but it annually ranks among my
favorite races to handicap. The Oklahoma Derby typically draws a competitive
blend of 3-year-olds stepping up and down the class ladder, and upsets are a
regular occurrence. Case in point? Only one favorite has prevailed in the last
nine editions of the Oklahoma Derby.
Nine horses have been entered to contest Sunday's renewal
of the Oklahoma Derby, with #5 Shared
Sense (5-2) and #9 Dean Martini (7-2)
looming as the two favorites. Their short prices are understandable—they're the
lone graded stakes winners entered in the Oklahoma Derby field, and their
proven form against tough company is appealing.
But I'm inclined to oppose them both. While Shared Sense
did rally to an eye-catching victory in the 1 1/8-mile Indiana Derby (G3), he
failed to close significant ground when finishing fifth in the 1 1/8-mile Ellis
Park Derby last month. A son of Street Sense produced by a Bernardini mare,
this Godolphin homebred is a one-run deep closer without any tactical speed,
placing him at the mercy of the early pace.
Dean Martini is more versatile, as he displayed when parlaying
an early move up the rail into victory in the 1 1/8-mile Ohio Derby (G3). But
after pressing the pace in the Ellis Park Derby, Dean Martini weakened to
finish sixth, and he risks a wide trip while breaking from the far outside post
in the Oklahoma Derby.
Rowdy Yates actually defeated both Shared Sense and Dean
Martini when finishing fourth in the Ellis Park Derby, but although the son of
Morning Line is a four-time stakes winner (with two of those victories coming
at Remington), he might find the waters a bit deep in the Oklahoma Derby. Rowdy
Yates could finish no better than fourth in a quartet of races on the 2019-20 Road
to the Kentucky Derby, and at this point—with 10 straight stakes efforts under
his belt—it appears as though Rowdy Yates has plateaued as a listed stakes type.
So rather than support the favorites, I'm tempted to play
outside the box with a horse offering better odds. #1 Salow (15-1), #2 Creative
Plan (8-1), and #8 Mo Mosa (8-1)
all enter off promising allowance wins, and for the purpose of exotic wagers I'm
interested in using them all. But the horse who intrigues me most in the
Oklahoma Derby is #7 Avant Garde (6-1).
A former claimer, Avant Garde showed little in his first
three starts on turf, but he's improved dramatically since switching to dirt
and transitioning to the care of trainer Jesus Lander. In his first start for
new connections, the bay gelding dominated a $25,000 maiden claiming race at
Gulfstream Park by 5 1/4 lengths. For good measure, Avant Garde came right back
to win a $25,000 claiming race by 3 1/4 lengths and a $50,000 event by four
Avant Garde finally left the claiming ranks behind in a 1
1/16-mile starter allowance race on Sept. 5 at Gulfstream, and the results were
eye-catching. Facing older rivals, Avant Garde settled behind and between
horses through fractions of :24.08, :46.90, and 1:10.71, the pounced to the
front with a rapid turn-of-foot on the far turn. Seizing command with
authority, Avant Garde powered away to win by 4 1/2 lengths, earning promising
speed figures of 92 (Beyer) and 101 (Brisnet).
Visually, Avant Garde looked fantastic. I loved the way
he patiently waited in traffic before instantly accelerating when an opening
appeared. He ran strongly through the wire and appeared to have something left
in the tank, suggesting Avant Garde can handle another step up in class for the
Oklahoma Derby. Considering his sire (Tonalist) and dam sire (Afleet Alex) both
won the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes (G1), the added distance shouldn't be an
At 6-1 on the morning line, I'm keen to support Avant
Garde in the Oklahoma Derby, betting him to win and keying him in the exotics.
If we can get another longshot on the board as well—perhaps Salow or Mo Mosa—the
payoffs could be quite lucrative.
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, videographer, voice actor, 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.