STELLAR TAP FAVORED IN EVENLY-MATCHED OAKLAWN STAKES
By Robert Yates
Photo Credit: Coady Photography
HOT SPRINGS, AR (Friday, April 22, 2022) – An evenly matched field of seven is entered in the $150,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles Saturday at Oaklawn.
Probable post time for the Oaklawn Stakes, which goes as the eighth of 12 races, is 3:54 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 12:10 p.m., with the infield open because of expected pleasant weather. Saturday’s card also features the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles and the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles.
Stellar Tap is the 5-2 program favorite off three graded stakes races, including a ninth-place finish in the $1 million Rebel (G2) Feb. 26 for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. The Rebel was Oaklawn’s final major prep for the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2. Best known as Asmussen’s North American-record 9,446th career winner last summer at Saratoga, Stellar Tap exits a runner-up finish in an entry-level allowance race at 1 mile April 1.
The projected seven-horse Oaklawn Stakes field from the rail out: Clancy’s Pistol, Ramon Vazquez to ride, 118 pounds, 8-1 on the morning line; Stellar Tap, Joel Rosario, 118, 5-2; Kuchar, Florent Geroux, 118, 5-1; Home Brew, Jose Ortiz, 121, 3-1; Long Crow, Isaac Castillo, 118, 12-1; The Skipper Too, Ricardo Santana Jr., 118, 4-1; and Happy Boy Rocket, Martin Garcia, 118, 5-1.
Home Brew, who is trained by Brad Cox, hasn’t started since finishing a disappointing 10th as the favorite in the $250,000 Smarty Jones at 1 mile Jan. 1, Oaklawn’s first stakes race for 3-year-olds in 2022.
Kuchar will be making his stakes debut after breaking his maiden by a nose at 1 1/16 miles March 13 for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. Kuchar, who will race in blinkers for the first time Saturday, was a workout partner this year of stablemate We the People, who suffered his first career loss in the Arkansas Derby with a seventh-place finish as the second choice in the wagering.
Kuchar finished third in his career debut last summer at Ellis Park and a distant seventh behind We the People in his 2022 debut Feb. 12, which also marked the first start around two turns for the son of champion Uncle Mo.
“These are different horses,” Brisset said. “I think We the People, he doesn’t breathe the same air as Kuchar, the way he has shown so far. Now, 3-year-olds change and they progress. We were happy with his first race, Kuchar. Obviously, I ran him against We the People and we were hoping he would show a little bit more because if he had, he would have been one that would have moved on. But he did show more last time, so we had to map out a plan for him.”
The Skipper Too exits a runner-up finish behind We the People in a March 12 entry-level allowance race at 1 1/16 miles for trainer Juan Alvarado. It was the colt’s first start outside Florida. Now with trainer John Ortiz, The Skipper Too returns to stakes company after being considered for the Arkansas Derby.
“He’s a good horse,” Ortiz said. “He just shipped into us, so he’s fairly new. Comes from some really good connections. We’re just happy to have a horse like in the barn as well.”
Happy Boy Rocket wheels back after a troubled third-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile entry-level allowance race April 16 for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Previously based in south Florida, Happy Boy Rocket adds blinkers after breaking through the starting gate and breaking slowly last week.
Clancy’s Pistol will be making his stakes debut after finishing fifth behind Stellar Tap April 1 for 2020 Oaklawn training champion Robertino Diodoro.
“Taking a shot,” said Diodoro, who claimed the gelding out of a Feb. 21 maiden victory for $30,000. “I think the horse is getting better and I don’t know if there’s many horses in there that want to go that far. I think that was the problem the last time with him. He was running at the end, but a mile was way too short.”
Asmussen won the inaugural Oaklawn Stakes (then called the Oaklawn Invitational) in 2019 with Laughing Fox, who finished fifth in the Preakness in his next start. Cox won the 2021 running with Fulsome, who went on to win the $150,000 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs and the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes (G3) at Parx later in the year and the $400,000 Oaklawn Mile Stakes (G3) April 2 in his 4-year-old debut.