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Race of the Week: $1M Oaklawn Handicap | Saturday, April 23, 2022

by Jeremy Plonk

April 20, 2022

The Lead:
A trio of stakes, including $1 million offerings for the Apple Blossom and Oaklawn Handicap, provide a late-season spectacular in Hot Springs, AR. Saturday's Apple Blossom features Eclipse Champions Letruska and Ce Ce among a field of 5; the Oaklawn Handicap features a deeper overall cast of 8 and goes as Race 11 on the card. For a closer look at the Apple Blossom, be sure to check out Jeff Siegel and Jeremy Plonk's video preview available Thursday on Twitter @Xpressbet and @1stbet as well as on YouTube.

​Field Depth:
G1 winners IDOL and SUPER STOCK are joined by G2 winner FEARLESS. Both RATED R SUPERSTAR and rival PLAINSMAN are G3 winners. IDOL and FEARLESS have kept slightly stronger company lines than the talented locals, but there's not a wide gap in the class discussion.

THOMAS SHELBY and PLAINSMAN have dueled in the Razorback and Essex in preparation for the Oaklawn Handicp are expected to make the pace again. FEARLESS figures to sit third in a similar trip to last year's Oaklawn Handicap visit. The pace should be moderate for this class and distance, with no major advantages projected.

Our Eyes:
FEARLESS missed by a half-length in this race last year and returns looking to one-up his finish for trainer Todd Pletcher. His Gulfstream winter was spent pursuing rising superstar Speaker's Corner in the Fred W. Hooper and Gulfstream Park Mile. He got class relief April 2 in the G3 Ghostzapper and paid it off easily with a 6-length romp. This will be a tougher test than his last, but there are no Speaker's Corner-type talents in this starting gate. FEARLESS will be the one to beat.

IDOL is the other newcomer to the local mix, away since going awry in the Oct. 2 Awesome Again at Santa Anita. It was his only start since his defining G1 Santa Anita Handicap score in March '21. Trainer Richard Baltas has had him holed up at San Luis Rey Downs training center away from public eye, so it's a difficult guess which version of IDOL shows up. His last 3 works all have been the 6-furlong variety, indicating the trainer feels the need to pump stamina into IDOL -- sort of an obvious point for a second start in 13 months. I'll have to take a wait-and-see.

Last year's Arkansas Derby winner SUPER STOCK is 0-2 at the meet, but his 4th-place finish on the road in the G2 New Orleans Classic was an improved effort. Until winning last week's Count Fleet with 1-2 shot Jackie's Warrior, it's unthinkable that SUPER STOCK's trainer Steve Asmussen was 0-33 in stakes at the meet. SUPER STOCK loses riders Joel Rosario to PLAINSMAN and Ricardo Santana Jr. to RATED R SUPERSTAR. That's not a rousing endorsement.

Very little separates the local handicap division stars, namely RATED R SUPERSTAR, PLAINSMAN, THOMAS SHELBY, BEAU LUMINARIE and LAST SAMURAI. They all take turns in the winner's circle and, when defeated, the margins are close and provide continuous debate.

Most Certain Exotics Contender:
FEARLESS is 12-for-14 in the superfecta lifetime and has run 2 good races over the track at Oaklawn.​

Best Longshot Exotics Contender:
Trainer Rodolphe Brisset's barn is going very well recently at Oaklawn, and I liked BEAU LUMINARIE to upset the Essex when a rallying third at 14-1. He doesn't need to improve too much to get the same or better share of this one.

Sending it in ($100 bankroll):