March 30, 2023

5 Things To Watch at Racing Festival of the South

Oaklawn Park
Oaklawn Park

It’s the final week for Arkansas Derby week to be the final week of the Oaklawn Park racing season, as the Hot Springs oval announced on Wednesday that it would run through Kentucky Derby day next year, May 4, 2019.

But that’s next year and for this year, the Oaklawn meeting is down to its final three days. The Racing Festival of the South began on Wednesday, but the stakes action begins today with the Bachelor Stakes for sprinting three-year-old males.

For Oaklawn handicapping reports, CLICK HERE.

My ABC grid for Thursday is below, but there’s a lot of action to look forward to on Friday and Saturday as well. Here are 5 things to watch as Oaklawn concludes its meeting.

  1. The weather! With a 100% chance of rain on Friday, the track is almost certain to be “off” at some point during the 10-race card that includes a couple stakes for females: the Fantasy for three-year-old fillies as a prep for the Kentucky Oaks and the Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap, which is one of the biggest races of the meeting. Not only should handicappers be aware of the track condition but also how it plays as it gets wetter throughout the day.
  2. The Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. Might sound crazy to suggest watching a race at another track with so much action at Oaklawn, but the Lexington is the penultimate Kentucky Derby points race and knowing the standings going into the Arkansas Derby at 7:18 p.m. ET will be part of the fun of watching that race unfold.
  3. Trainer Steve Asmussen. Oaklawn’s leading trainer by wins and purses has those categories pretty much locked up, but the Racing Hall of Fame conditioner has yet to win a Kentucky Derby points race this season, a result you probably could have gotten 100-to-1 (or more!) on when this thing started back in September. His barn is firing three bullets at the Arkanas Derby and will have to topple some solid shippers in Magnum Moon, Solomini, and Quip to notch the victory. Interestingly, Asmussen is just 2-for-23 in stakes at the current meeting while Magnum Moon’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, is 2-for-3.
  4. The Wagering Menu. Oaklawn moved its early Pick 4 to race 1 earlier this meeting and offers a late Pick 5 and Pick 4 every day. Oaklawn also added a Pick 4 beginning with race 5 on Saturday, a 12-race card that also includes 9 Pick 3s (doubles are only available on races 1 & 11).
  5. UNIQUE BELLA! For those who follow me on Twitter @EJXD2, there’s no secret that she’s my favorite horse in training, and I’m thrilled at the opportunity to see her race live in the Apple Blossom on Friday and try some new things by racing A) outside California, and B) on what will likely be an “off” surface. Her trainer, Hall of Fame conditioner Jerry Hollendorfer is a Buckeye like me, and while it’ll be hard to have a financial interest at 1-to-5, I won’t be trying to beat her either. The Apple Blossom is race 9 of 10 at 6:39 p.m. ET.

For FREE Ultimate Past Performances of the Arkansas Derby, CLICK HERE.