Mitole Steps Up in Oaklawn Park's Gazebo Stakes
Six-furlong stakes races in February aren’t typically where handicappers look to find Kentucky Derby contenders, but Saturday’s $125,000 Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn Park could be an exception.Although the field is small with just six entrants, one of them—Mitole—is nominated to the Triple Crown and appears to have a very bright future. Trained by , the son of Eskendereya finished third and second in his first two starts going six furlongs at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn, but broke through in a huge way third time out, crushing nine rivals to win a six-furlong event at Oaklawn by ten lengths in the fast time of 1:09.75. Remarkably, that was a tenth of a second faster than older males ran in the King Cotton Stakes one race prior, and not surprisingly Mitole received huge speed figures for this dominating performance.
A repeat of that effort would make Mitole difficult to beat, and in the seemingly unlikely event that he runs below par, his Asmussen-trained stablemate Direct Dial could be the one to take advantage. The stakes-winning gray colt has cracked the exacta in four of his five starts and ran second the restricted Groovy Stakes at Sam Houston last time out, stamping himself as a quality runner in his own right. The stakes-placed gelding Inge and the experienced Drc All Inclusive--with eight starts under his belt--are other contenders.
Also on the Saturday card at Oaklawn is the Downthedustyroad Breeders’ Stakes, a six-furlong sprint for Arkansas-bred fillies and mares. On paper, the race looks more competitive than the Gazebo Stakes, though Ministry is surely the horse to beat. Trained by Jaime Gonzalez, the four-year-old daughter of Ordained won the Rainbow Miss Stakes over this track and distance last year and recently returned from a lengthy layoff to win a six-furlong Oaklawn allowance race for Arkansas-breds. With three wins from five starts over this track, Ministry’s experience should give her an edge, though Miss Shelby—2-for-3 at Oaklawn and a winner going longer on turf—could be a threat on the front end.
Adding further depth to the field is Easter Indy, who won this race last year with a sharp rally from just off the pace. Although she could only finish fifth last time out behind Ministry, she’s another with a strong overall record at Oaklawn and is a candidate to rebound while making her second start of the season.
Post time for the first race of the day is 2:05 p.m. Eastern. The Downthedustyroad is scheduled for 5:09 p.m., while the Gazebo will go as the day’s featured race at 5:38 p.m.