Weekend Stakes: Third Time Should Be Oaklawn Park’s Charm

This weekend’s stakes card lets us try this Essential Quality, Jackie’s Warrior and Monomoy Girl 2021 debut one more time.

Fire At Will-Fountain of Youth
Fire At Will proved he is great on grass with this Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf win. Can he give favorite Greatest Honour a dirt duel in Saturday’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth? (Image: Coady Photography)

After two weather postponements the last two weekends, Oaklawn Park finally gets a thumbs-up from Mother Nature. That means the Arkansas track finally gets to turn loose its 3-year-old Kentucky Derby hopefuls in the $750,000 Grade 3 Southwest Stakes. That means we finally get to see the 3-year-old debuts of Champion 2-Year-Old Essential Quality and his chief competition: Jackie’s Warrior.

We also get to see the best mare in the world – Monomoy Girl – make her 6-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Bayakoa Stakes at Oaklawn. She gets Sunday’s Oaklawn stage to herself.

The Southwest Stakes shares Oaklawn’s Saturday stage with the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap, featuring Owendale among other older males.

They Would Have Had Derby Stage to Themselves

Essential Quality, Jackie’s Warrior, Spielberg and the other Derby hopefuls in the Southwest don’t claim a Derby prep monopoly this weekend. The $300,000 Grade 2 Fountain of Youth gives us Greatest Honour gunning for his second consecutive Derby prep win at Gulfstream. He won the Holy Bull by 5 ¾ lengths last month.

And Friday gives us the Listed John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park in Kentucky. That Derby prep gives us Gretzky the Great leading a crew competing for 10-4-2-1 Derby points.

Gulfstream also gives us the Grade 2 Dayona Dale, a Kentucky Oaks prep where Champion 2-Year-Old Female Vequist opens her 2021 campaign. The south Florida track also brings us two Grade 2s for older horses. The first is the $200,000 Mac Diarmida on turf. The second, the $200,000 Gulfstream Mile.

OG News takes a closer look at this weekend’s selected races.

Friday

Listed John Battaglia Memorial Stakes/Turfway Park

You don’t often see Derby preps at one of Kentucky’s outlying tracks. But this 1 1/16-mile jaunt on synthetic does give Derby points. It also serves as a prep for the Grade 3 Jeff Ruby Stakes March 27. Expected favorite Gretzky the Great seeks a return to the form that produced three consecutive wins, not the form that produced a sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

Saturday

Grade 3 Southwest Stakes/Oaklawn

After the two weekend delays, Keepmeinmind bows out of this 1 1/16 mile Derby prep in favor of the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes next month. But Essential Quality and Jackie’s Warrior stay put. Bob Baffert’s manic-depressive Spielberg, who is 2-for-7 after getting pasted by stablemate Medina Spirit in the Robert B. Lewis, joins them. So does Santa Cruiser and Notable Exception, who is double-entered in the Battaglia, but is likelier here. Either way, this race offers the same 10-4-2-1 Derby points as the Battaglia – with a much higher-profile field.

Grade 2 Fountain of Youth/Gulfstream

This 1 1/16-mile event is the second “Win and You’re Pretty Much In” Derby prep, offering 50-20-10-5 Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers. Holy Bull winner Greatest Honour, who just closed as the 9/1 third individual choice in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool 3, leads the top five finishers from that January Derby prep. The only one who was in his neighborhood was runner-up Tarantino. However, keep an eye on Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner Fire At Will, who returns to dirt for the first time since breaking his maiden at Saratoga in September. Another threat is Saffie Joseph’s Drain the Clock, who won all four of the races he finished.

Grade 2 Davona Dale/Gulfstream

Say “hello” to Vequist for the first time since she won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in November. The daughter of Nyquist will take much of the betting action and most of the attention away from Curlin’s Catch and Dreaming of Drew. The former finished fourth in the Princess Elizabeth at Woodbine in October, but won her last two starts. The latter won the Princess Elizabeth, but hasn’t run outside of Woodbine.

Grade 2 Mac Diarmida/Gulfstream

The 1 3/8-mile turf jaunt offers up Aquaphobia, who hasn’t won since stealing the Grade 1 United Nations last July. Last out, he finished a well-beaten eighth in the Pegasus World Cup Turf. It also gives us Admission Office making his third start since coming off a seven-month hiatus. This produced a seventh in the Grade 3 Tropical Turf and a third in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby.

Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Mile/Gulfstream

Performer comes in with six victories in his last seven starts, a streak snapped by his third in last December’s Cigar Mile to True Timber. He rebounded by winning the Fred Hooper last out. Eye of the Jedi finished second to Performer in the Hooper and before then, second to Tax in the Harlan’s Holiday.

Grade 3 Razorback/Oaklawn

A busy Brad Cox, who trains Essential Quality and Monomoy Girl, keeps occupied in this 1 1/16-mile trek for older horses with Owendale. He comes in off a third in the Grade 1 Clark in December. That followed a fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and a pair of graded-stakes seconds: in the Alysheba and Pimlico Special. This gives him the edge over Long Range Toddy, who takes a long-range view to winning. He hasn’t won since the 2019 Rebel Stakes and hasn’t run since last May. Rated R Superstar rates a mention here.

Sunday

Grade 3 Bayakoa/Oaklawn

This 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares, 4-and-up is a race worth watching more than wagering. That’s because prohibitive favorite Monomoy Girl is a mortal lock to go off a deep odds-on. Should you try beating a mare who is 13-for-15 in her career, the likely candidate is Finite, who finished fourth in the Grade 1 La Brea. That followed a win in the Grade 3 Chilukki.

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