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Opening Day at Oaklawn...with Thoughts on Gulfstream's Card

The start of the spring racing season feels just a little bit closer this morning as Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, opens up for their 2010 meet. Oaklawn, with the rising popularity of it's Kentucky Derby prep races, has blossomed into one of the top tracks in the country and this year will boast Grade 1 status for its signature race, the $1,000,000 Arkansas Derby.

Other notes and observations from today's card at Gulfstream:

Another day and another large and imposing card to decipher with huge fields proliferating the four scheduled turf races.

In Race 2, a one mile $30K Maiden Claimer with a full field of twelve, I like the looks of the 10-Lion Thunder, a three year old son of Lion Heart. He's run a couple of flat races on the dirt the last couple of times out but he's going back to the lawn and stretching out, a couple of factors that should put him on the lead in a race with little to no early speed. 8/1 on the ML makes for a nice value play in a difficult race.

In the 4th Race, the 8-Have One More, appears to be dropping into a fairly decent spot to notch he 2nd win. He scored in a $50K Maiden Claimer here last year but hasn't been heard from in a long time (a lay-off of almost a year). Normally I can't stand lay-offs like that, and I might get away from this horse if the odds don't suit me, but I like the fact that he's been successful over this track previously.

The 5th Race is one of those Maiden Special Weight races on the grass that I love to play. Lots of first time starters, although nothing that seems particularly exciting. With the rail at 84 feet I found myself looking for speed on the inside, unfortunately there wasn't any to be found. In fact, it's hard to find the controlling speed in a race that is screaming out to be stolen on the lead. The 2-Ultimate Class showed speed in the slop at Philly Park several months ago, but this will be his first try over the lawn and I'm a little concerned about how he fits in terms of class. Ultimately I ended up on the 1-Vee, a closer coming off a strong 3rd in his first and only start on the Aqueduct grass in late November.

Race 6 is an extremely tricky $15K open company Claimer with a big, full field of twelve horses for six furlongs on the dirt. I found this to be a race about class more than anything else with many in this field coming out of Optional Claimer, Conditioned Claimers, and S tarter Allowance company. There appears to be plenty of pace in this one which caused me to look for a mare that could sit off the pace and that has the back class to compete with these. The 6-Sky N Mighty has run in back-to-back off-the-turf sprints at Hawthorne where the track came up Good and Sloppy. She sits at 10/1 on the ML and looks to be in the best form of her career. A quick pace and a return to a dry racetrack could make all the difference. This is certainly a long shot play, but one that I think is worth taking.

Another Maiden Special Weight on the card for Race 7, this one for three year old fillies going seven furlongs on the dirt. Seven furlongs can be a tricky distance to win at, especially for horses that have only run at six furlongs or less. That's one reason why I landed on the 6-Exiled Princess, a third time starter by Purge that is cutting back from 1 1/16 miles on the grass last time out at Aqueduct. There's also another angle for this filly, she ran behind Vee in that last race at the Big A. Should Vee turn in a solid performance in Race 5, I will feel awfully good about Exiled Princess in this spot.

The 8th Race of the day is a N1X Allowance at six furlongs for older fillies and mares and it showcases one of the stronger favorites of the day, 3-Qualia (9/5 ML). Qualia broke her maiden at first asking over a sloppy track at Belmont and followed that up by missing an N1X score by a neck at Aqueduct. The 90 BSF she notched in her last effort gives her a decided speed edge. I'd like to find some value elsewhere but Qualia looks like the best bet on the card today.

The final race of the day at Gulfstream? Oh, just a full field of twelve in a 1 1/16 mile Maiden Special Weight on the grass. For nostalgia sake I 'll go with the 4-Saint Eligius. Why? Cause I once was the owner of a horse that was named Eligius (and, actually, Saint Eligius was that name I wanted to use but the other owners shortened it down). Anyway, perhaps Saint Eligius will have a little more luck than our colt.