The Two Towers Of Graded Stakes, Oaklawn And Gulfstream, Align Saturday

Timberlake | Coady Photography


If you do not happen to be a Lord of the Rings devotee, then as a horse racing fan you might assume that Gandalf, Frodo, Saruman and Sauron were just names some eccentric owners concocted to toy with The Jockey Club.

Well, for true disciples of Tolkein, you understand the 'Two Towers' reference is a major theme in the trilogy, but for our purposes it simply denotes coverage.

This Saturday, both Oaklawn Park and Gulfstream Park are those poles of power when it comes to authoring graded stakes. Their cards feature Kentucky Derby and Oaks points races.

So, get your palantir ready–alright, alright–here is the slate for Saturday.


The Eye of Timberlake

The GI Arkansas Derby offers 100 Derby points to the winner at Oaklawn as the town of Hot Springs will be invaded by horse enthusiasts who are keen to watch a pair of 'TDN Rising Stars' do battle.

Timberlake (Into Mischief) earned that merit badge at second asking as a 2-year-old. Though he was fourth in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the Brad Cox trainee certainly came out of the break to put on a show in last month's GII Rebel S. The WinStar and Siena-owned colt has the Beyer figures to prove he belongs among the top contenders for the first Saturday in May.

“I really like the timing of the Arkansas Derby to the Kentucky Derby,” said Cox. “Obviously, he has the experience there now after winning the Rebel. I kind of thought the Rebel was the spot when we were getting started this winter. That worked out well and it leads nicely to the Arkansas Derby.”

Muth | Benoit

Opposing him are some other strong candidates like the winner of the GIII Southwest S. Mystik Dan (Goldencents), as well as Liberal Arts (Arrogate) and Time for Truth (Omaha Beach), but Timberlake's main rival is Zedan Racing's Muth (Good Magic). The $2-million 2023 OBS March topper is the latest shipper to Oaklawn for trainer Bob Baffert. Though his connections cannot collect Derby points, his front-running speed makes him a threat. The 3-year-old began his career with a 'Rising Star'-effort at Santa Anita back in June. After running second to Fierceness (City of Light) in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he cut back to take the GII San Vincente S. in early January.

The road to the GI Kentucky Oaks travels down Central Avenue and through the GII Fantasy S. The top three finishers from the GIII Honeybee S. return in Lemon Muffin (Collected), Tapit Jenallie (Tapit) and West Omaha (West Coast), but there are some true 'x-factors' drawn. One of them is Thorpedo Anna (Fast Anna), who was last seen as the runner-up in the GII Golden Rod S. at Churchill Downs in November. Also making the Fantasy gate are the top two runners from the Sunland Park Oaks–undefeated Recharge (Gun Runner) and Candy Aisle (Gun Runner).

One other graded race on Saturday in Hot Springs is the GIII Oaklawn Mile.


Fierceness In His Voice

Coming into the GI Curlin Florida Derby, champion 2-year-old colt and 'TDN Rising Star' Fierceness is looking to get back to the winner's circle after running third in his only start this year. Owned by Repole Stable, the Todd Pletcher trainee is going to get another crack at the horse that won the GIII Holy Bull S. Feb. 3, Hades (Awesome Slew).

Fierceness | Ryan Thompson

“Normally I'd be afraid of the outside post but Forte won from the 11 last year so you can overcome that,” said Pletcher. “Everybody knows Gulfstream two-turn races are tricky and I think that's why the start is so important, getting away cleanly. I think what happens in a lot of these two-turn races is the jockeys are so conscious of having to get to the first turn in good position that it can get a little rough leaving the gate sometimes. … The horse gives you a lot of confidence watching him breeze. It seems like he's in really good form, so we're expecting a good performance from him.”

Among the other challengers who are chasing the 100-point Churchill Downs offering is another 'Rising Star'. Conquest Warrior (City of Light) garnered honors from the paper when he won by five lengths going nine furlongs against optional claimers in Hallandale Mar. 1.

“I feel good,” said Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey about Conquest Warrior. “We've had two good races here and I still have a pretty fresh horse. He's trained good over it. He's had a race going a mile and an eighth here, which he handled, obviously, very easily. He came out of it good. I don't think we took anything out of him.”

In the GII Gulfstream Park Oaks–the local 100-point Kentucky Oaks feeder–'TDN Rising Star' Ways and Means (Practical Joke) gets back on track for trainer Chad Brown. The Klaravich homebred debuted a winner by 12 3/4 lengths at Saratoga last summer and was last seen running second in the GI Spinaway S. upstate.

Standing in her way is the heroine of the GII Davona Dale S., Fiona's Magic (St Patrick's Day), and Power Squeeze (Union Rags), who returns to South Florida after raiding the Suncoast S. at Tampa Bay Downs.

The Gulfstream Park undercard has three other graded races as part of the program, including the GII Pan American S., the GIII Ghostzapper S. and the GIII Orchid S.

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