Can City of Light Stretch His Speed in the Oaklawn Handicap?

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

April 12th, 2018

Although most of the attention on Saturday at Oaklawn Park will be focused on the Arkansas Derby (gr. I), there are three other stakes races on the card as well, and one in particular looks like a competitive event.

The race in question is the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II), a nine-furlong event for older horses that has attracted eleven starters. First and foremost among them (and the 9-5 favorite on the morning line) is #10 Accelerate, who enters off of a decisive 5 ½-length romp in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) last month. Although that race was held over ten furlongs, and Accelerate did receive a perfect trip stalking a slow pace, Accelerate has been just as effective at shorter distances and overcame a troubled trip to win the nine-furlong San Pasqual Stakes (gr. II) two starts back.

In terms of BRIS speed figures, Accelerate has a meaningful edge over his Oaklawn Handicap rivals, but I am concerned about his wide post draw. Accelerate generally does his best running from mid-pack, and while he can adapt to front-running tactics if necessary, I’m not sure if he has the pure speed to clear the nine horses to his inside and work out a ground-saving trip. Instead, I think there’s a chance that he gets caught wide heading into the first turn, and when you consider that Accelerate has historically been a bit inconsistent—falling short when you least expect it—I’m not sure I want to key him at a short price.

#11 City of Light is drawn even wider than Accelerate, but I’m not as concerned about City of Light getting a wide trip—in fact, I expect him to set the pace. The speedy son of Quality Road has never run farther than seven furlongs, but his last two starts at that distance yielded determined victories in the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) and the Triple Bend Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita, posting fast times of 1:21.21 and 1:21.35.

The fact that City of Light has never tried a route distance should ensure that he gets overlooked to some extent in the wagering, but I don’t view him as a pure sprinter. His pedigree suggests that he can stretch out around two turns, and while he’s very quick, he’s been most effective when rationing his speed over the first quarter-mile and maintaining a strong pace thereafter, which I think bodes well for his chances of handling nine furlongs.

#7 Hedge Fund and #4 Untrapped, first and second in the Essex Handicap at Oaklawn last month, look like the other main players in this competitive race. I’ll play them for second and third in the exotics while hoping to get Accelerate or City of Light (preferably the latter) home on top:

$2 exacta: 11 with 4,7,10 ($6) $2 trifecta: 10,11 with 4,7,10,11 with 4,7,10,11 ($24)

Good luck!