HOT SPRINGS, AR (Friday, May 1, 2020) – It’s not far-fetched to think that more than half of the 14-horse field entered in Saturday’s $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) will be among the starters in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland based on the quality of the field. There are 10 Graded stakes winners and 13 total stakes winners among the field.
Hronis Racing LLC’s Combatant, installed as the 4-1 morning line favorite, was among the top 3-year-olds at Oaklawn in 2018, finishing second or third in three of the track’s four Kentucky Derby prep races and finishing fourth in the Arkansas Derby (G1). After running mostly in allowance races as a 4-year-old, he was sold to his present connections at the 2019 Keeneland November sale and quickly rewarded them with two strong efforts, including a victory in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) March 7.
“He put in a good third in the prep for the Big Cap and then ran really well in the Big Cap,” trainer John Sadler said. “He’s a horse that is doing really well right now. He was a good horse when we got him. He was coming off a win at Churchill Downs. We got him out here (to California). My thought is there’s always room in the handicap division. He’s not disappointed us. He’s training great.”
Like Combatant, WinStar Farm LLC and SF Racing LLC’s Improbable is based in Southern California, but has also done some of his best racing at Oaklawn. Last year, he was a narrow second to Long Range Toddy in the first division of the Rebel Stakes (G2) and returned several weeks later to finish second to Omaha Beach in the Arkansas Derby (G1). The post time favorite in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes made his 4-year-old debut in the Oaklawn Mile April 11 and finished second after drawing the far outside post, which he will once again have to overcome Saturday.
“The thing is about it, you hate to be out there (post 14), but once they draw you just can’t worry about that,” trainer Bob Baffert said. “The thing is, a lot of times he’s had the (similar outside post), he got in there and he acted up in the gate. We’ve schooled him a lot. The starter’s really worked well with us. He knows the horse now, but he’s smart that horse. In the mornings, bombs would go off underneath him in there and he wouldn’t move. We’ll see what he does. I think he ran a great race last time. If he runs that race back, it puts him right there. He got beat by a really good horse.”
Despite his rivals for affinity for the Oaklawn track, the home court advantage probably falls to Ten Strike Racing and Madaket Stable LLC’s Warrior’s Charge, who has won three of five starts locally and placed third in his other starts. Last year, he was an impressive maiden winner Rebel Stakes day and returned four weeks later with an eye-catching allowance win. He kicked off 2020 with a front-running victory in the Razorback Handicap (G3) Feb. 17 and has been training forwardly at Oaklawn since.
“He’s doing really well,” trainer Brad Cox said. “I like the setup of the race. Huge field. It’s a Grade 1. That’s a solid, solid, deep group of horses, improving horses. He’s still a young horse, having only raced eight times, and has accomplished a lot and beat a lot of good horses. If he gets a good trip, I don’t think the mile and an eighth is an issue at all and I think he’s going to run a big race. He loves Oaklawn and he loves two turns and he’s going to be a factor. He’s a very, very nice horse.”
Tacitus, who was among the top 3-year-olds last year, makes a return to U.S. racing after finishing a close fifth in the $20 million Saudi Cup Feb. 20 and an aborted trip to Dubai after the $12 million Dubai World Cup was canceled March 22.
Also entered in the Oaklawn Handicap are Gulfstream Mile (G2) winner Mr Freeze, Hal’s Hope Stakes (G3) winner Identifier, New Orleans Handicap (G2) winner By My Standard and Sky Promise, winner of the inaugural 1 ½-mile Temperence Hill Stakes at Oaklawn March 13.
The Oaklawn Handicap field from the rail out: Chess Chief, Brian Hernandez Jr., 114 lbs, 30-1 morning line odds; Trophy Chaser, Samy Camacho, 115, 12-1; Bravazo, Miguel Mena, 115, 30-1; Mr Freeze, Joe Talamo, 118, 6-1; Identifier, Stewart Elliott, 116, 20-1; Warrior’s Charge, Florent Geroux, 118, 8-1; Combatant, Joel Rosario, 120, 4-1; Sky Promise, Orlando Mojica, 114, 20-1; Tacitus, John Velazquez, 121, 9-2; Captivating Moon, Julien Leparoux, 113, 20-1; Tax, Kendrick Carmouche, 117, 15-1; By My Standards, Gabriel Saez, 118, 9-2; Night Ops, Javier Castellano, 116, 15-1, and Improbable, Martin Garcia, 119, 8-1.