Get Ready for Another Great Oaklwan Park Meet

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D.S. Williamson

January 15th, 2018

One of the absolute best racing meets of the year had its opening day last week on Friday, Jan. 12. Anyone who's never wagered on races at Oaklawn Park, has missed out on some most competitive thoroughbred action anywhere in North America.

Oaklawn is the place where the mighty American Pharoah prepped for his Triple Crown run. It's also the place where some of the most storied horses in the past 20 years took down their biggest scores.

Below, I highlight 4 of Oaklawn's most important races.

Saturday, March 17

Grade 2 Azeri Handicap

Before there was Zenyatta, there was Azeri. Here she is winning the 2002 Breeders' Cup Distaff. Those of us who grew up on racetracks on the west coast, including wonderful Turf Paradise in Arizona, know all about Azeri. She was America's Female Champion Older Horse in 2002, 2003, and 2004. She was our horse of the year in 2002.

She also won the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park 3 straight years:  2002, 2003, and 2004. The Grade 2 Azeri Handicap is often a a prep for the Apple Blossom.

Grade 2 Rebel Stakes

American Pharoah won the Rebel Stakes in 2015. That was a springboard for Pharoah's 3-year-old success. In 2015, Bob Baffert trained the second best winter book 3-year-old in the nation in the brilliant Dortmund. Dortmund peaked early in his three-year-old season. He prepped for the Roses at Santa Anita. Santa Anita's loss was Oaklawn's gaini as Bob sent the best three-year-old I've ever seen to prep at Oaklawn Park.

Friday, April 13

Grade 1 Apple Blossom

2017 BC Distaff winner Forever Unbridled took home the 2016 Apple Blossom Handicap. She skipped the Apple Blossom in 2017. No worries. Skipping the Apple Blossom might have been one of the reasons she took home the Breeders' Cup Distaff at close to 4 to 1 odds.

In addition to Azeri winning the Apple Blossom 3 times, Zenyatta won it twice. Both Banshee Breeze and Escena won the Apple Blossom. Bayakoa won the race once. Paseana won it twice. Havre de Grace, Stellar Wind, and Untapable also all won the Grade 1 Apple Blossom.

Saturday, April 14

Grade 1 Arkansas Derby

American Pharoah also won the 2015 Arkansas Derby. Pharoah used both the Rebel Stakes and the Arkansas Derby on his way to the first Triple Crown win in 37 years. Pharoah isn't the only famous horse to win the Arkansas Derby.

The first Arkansas Derby took place in 1936. Starting in 1980, the race gained major popularity. Temperance Hill won the race in 1980. Tank's Prospect won in 1985. But, it was Victory Gallop's win in 1998 that made the Arkansas Derby what it is today.

Victory Gallop ended up a part of one of the great Triple Crown rivalries of all time. Real Quiet beat Victory Gallop in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. Gallop turned the tables on Real Quiet, by a nose, in the Belmont Stakes.

After Victory Gallop's win, horses like Smarty Jones, Curlin, Afleet Alex, Lawyer Ron, and Bodemeister all felt it was worthwhile to prep for the Kentucky Derby in the Arkansas Derby. We know Mr. Baffert's going to send a major three-year-old, probably McKinzie or Solimini, to Oaklawn Park for the Arkansas Derby.

We must wait and see who else shows up in the race!