Oaklawn Handicap Preview: SoCal Express Train Rolls In

Trainer John Shirreffs sends Express Train into Oaklawn for their Handicap. See who is in for this important race during the Meet.
Trainer John Shirreffs sends Express Train into Oaklawn for their Handicap. See who is in for this important race during the Meet.

1 1/8th (Dirt) Oaklawn Handicap (G2), Purse $1 Million, 4+

The annual renewal of the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap marks a major moment in the arc of the Hot Springs Meet. A continued staple, it has ranged from a Grade I to a Grade II during its long history. Some of the impressive winners have included Snow Chief (who holds the record time, 1:46 and change), Best Pal, Cigar, Medaglia d’Oro, Lawyer Ron, Will Take Charge, City of Light, and most recently, By My Standards. Not surprisingly, training legend and HOF-er D. Wayne Lukas has the most wins in this race with 4. Who will ascend to the top of the podium, as this race becomes a $1 Million Dollar contest for the first time in its history? Stay tuned . . .

Now, let’s find out about this field…


#1 Silver State (Jky: R. Santana/Trn: S. Asmussen):

When, Stonestreet Thoroughbreds breeds . . . Winchell Thoroughbreds owns . . . Steve Asmussen trains . . . and Ricardo Santana rides . . . it makes for a potent combination. These connections have already seen their 4-yr-old colt enjoy some 4-odd wins in a row. The capstone of that run was a nice win by a neck in the Essex Handicap 500k back in mid-March at Oaklawn Park. Although it was a short field of 6 that day, this Hard Spun-runner has the ability to build on it even further. Santana knows this one through and through, especially since he has ridden him so often. Major ability after a run through the Louisiana Derby Series last year.

Grade: B+


#2 Express Train (Jky: JJ Hernandez/Trn: J. Shirreffs):

The John Shirreffs “Train” rolls into Oaklawn with one mission—win the OP ‘Cap. Last time, the colt out of Union Rags was in another ‘Cap race you might have heard—the Big ‘Cap (G1) @SA. Against a slew of talent including Idol and Maxfield, he split the difference and finished 2nd. Before that, Shirreffs tried him in some high-end company, including the Malibu (G1) and the San Pasqual (G2). This conditioner has a long record of putting horses into the proper spots. This colt’s fitness is unquestioned, and getting his regular rider, JJ Hernandez, to fly into Hot Springs to take the mount is key. Can the pair take to the Arkansas track and win the day? That is the only question.

Grade: A-


#3 Fearless (Jky: I. Ortiz/Trn: T. Pletcher):

You cannot have a “Graded” contest without Todd Pletcher or Irad Ortiz. They just could not stay away. Shipping into OP from Gulfstream Park, this 5-yr-old son of Ghostzapper won the GP Mile (G2) last time, and it was a strong performance against a field of 5 others. Working well, he seems ready to take on this field, as he gets one of the leading riders in America back aboard in Ortiz. We know his breeding suggests he can possibly handle the distance of 1 1/8th, but he is going to have to prove it against what appears to be a much tougher field than last time. Pletcher is a “master shipper,” so he has him pointed in the proper direction. Whatever the case, it will not be an easy go.

Grade: B-


#4 Warrior’s Charge (Jky: E. Gonzalez/Trn: B. Cox):

Ten Strike Racing already has quite a reputation for owning a strong group of runners. With part of a stake in this son of Munnings, they are hoping for a piece of the “Win” in the OP ‘Cap. They sure picked a strong trainer in Brad Cox, and he has tried over the past year to build on the success earned during this one’s 4-yr-old campaign. We will see if Elvin Gonzalez, who is not well-known among the elite jockey ranks, can get this one home for these connections. Maybe this one has lost a step, and going back into G2 Co. is just too big a leap. He won the Razorback (G3) and was 2nd in this very race last year, so clearly, he has an affinity for this track.  

Grade: B


#5 Guest Suite (Jky: F. Arrieta/Trn: C. Contreras):

The Contreras name is stamped all over this entry since Cipriano is the trainer and his stable is part owner. In 2020, this gelding out of Quality Road spent the bulk of his time at Oaklawn, trying to score in a number of very difficult contests. It didn’t particularly work well, so coming into this new season his conditioner started at the beginning. First, it was a 6F sprint at the OC80k level, then he graduated to an ALLW107k at a mile . . . This steady progression produced a 4th place finish and a win, respectively. Now, Fran Arrieta is going to have his hands full piloting this one at a much deeper route. It may not be enough considering the lot drawn in here. Still, the training angle appears sound, and it will be one to consider when it comes to the construction of exotic tickets.    

Grade: C+


#6 Owendale (Jky: F. Geroux/Trn: B. Cox):

Brad Cox’s 5-yr-old horse out of Into Mischief hasn’t won a race since a 100k last year. Still, this runner has some serious class, as we thumb through his PPs. It looks like he keeps maturing, and finding ways to improve with each race in which he is entered. Cox has had him up against some of the best including By My Standards, Jesus’ Team, Bodexpress, Mystic Guide, Code of Honor, Harpers First Ride, and even his own, Knicks Go. Stonestreet bred this one for distance, and getting Florent Geroux aboard, a rider Cox trusts implicitly, is a major vote of confidence. This could be this horse’s greatest win of his career if he can pull it off.  It would complete quite a hegemonic day for his conditioner if he can.

Grade: A-


#7 Rated R Superstar (Jky: R. Vasquez/Trn: F. Villafranco):

Here is an experienced gelding out of Kodiak Kowboy who keeps going . . .  and going . . . and going. Defying the age odds at 8-yrs-old, Fed Villafranco has given him some new life after he arrived in this trainer’s midst. Some said he wasn’t good enough to win the Essex H. or even hit the board, but there he was, driving down the lane towards the end of that race only losing to Silver State #1 by a neck. It was more than just a game effort at odds of 19/1. If he can move forward off of that effort, he may be a major overlay at even higher odds this time around. Nothing like defying the critics, eh . . . Ramon Vasquez gets aboard, as the 3rd time becomes the charm for owner Danny Caldwell.  

Grade: B-


#8 Silver Prospector (Jky: D. Cabrera/Trn: S. Asmussen):

If you have one Steve Asmussen entrant, it could be possible to have a 2nd one, very easily. The HOF trainer added this one, and the “Silver” boys are both quite capable. This one might end up being much higher odds, but that doesn’t mean he is not up for trying to take on this crowd. However, this year he was up against it in a couple of G3s in the Louisiana and the Razorback H. In both those contests he ran into a couple of Dubai World Cup shippers in Title Ready, and eventual winner of the DWC, Mystic Guide. There was little chance that he was going to beat either of those runners. At one point, during his 3-yr-old Derby Prep Trail campaign, he was the toast of Hot Springs with a major victory in the Southwest S. (G3). Still a good colt, he just may be too short on talent for this event.

Grade: C+


Join us Saturday for all of our Oaklawn Park selections! Should be a great set of races from sunny Hot Springs!