Jack Van Berg breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs - Coady Photography

Jack Van Berg breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs – Coady Photography

High-class Monday racing action isn’t common, but Oaklawn Park is making an exception by scheduling three graded stakes races for February 18, Presidents’ Day.

It’s a fun card with a lot of options, so let’s go through the fields and look for some spot plays….

Race 3: Maiden Special Weight

There are some promising first-time starters in this race, including #1 Good as Money (a Calumet Farm homebred trained by Steve Asmussen) and #3 Intrepid Heart (a Pletcher-trained half-brother to 2014 Belmont Stakes runner-up Commissioner). But I think they’ll have to be sharp to beat #8 Proud Nation, who crossed the wire second in a pair of seven-furlong maiden races last year while competing against quality competition on the Kentucky circuit, earning solid BRIS speed figures of 86 and 82. Among the horses he defeated last year are Mr. Money and Frolic More, two of the starters in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds. Trained by Joe Sharp, this son of Tapit has shown speed and figures to set the pace while adding blinkers and stretching out to a mile.

I’ll bet him to win and key him in the exacta with Good as Money and Intrepid Heart:

$8 to win on #8 Proud Nation
$3 exacta: 1,3 with 8 ($6)
$3 exacta: 8 with 1,3 ($6)

Race 5: Allowance Optional Claiming

#8 Jack Van Berg has seemingly found an ideal spot to secure his first victory against proven winners. Trained by Thomas Van Berg (son of the human Jack Van Berg), this speedy youngster has kept good company and ran well to finish second in a one-mile allowance event at Oaklawn last month. In that race, Jack Van Berg dueled for the early lead with eventual winner Jersey Agenda (who runs in the Smarty Grade 3 Southwest Stakes later on Oaklawn’s Saturday card), and while Jack Van Berg couldn’t keep pace in the homestretch, he did pull away from the rest of the field to finish a clear second. A repeat of that effort should land him in the winner’s circle, and he’ll be carrying just 116 pounds, three to six pounds less than his eight rivals.

$10 to win on #8 Jack Van Berg

Race 7: Bayakoa Stakes (gr. III)

One of the better three-year-old fillies in North America last year was #6 She’s a Julie whose summer/fall exploits included wins in the Iowa Oaks (gr. III) and Remington Park Oaks (gr. III) plus a game run in the Alabama Stakes (gr. I), in which she chased a fast pace before holding off the talented Midnight Bisou to secure the runner-up spot. She’s a Julie did falter without an obvious excuse in the Zia Park Oaks on November 21, finishing fourth, but that was her ninth run of the season and she’d been on the go without a meaningful break since January, so perhaps the winter freshening that she’s enjoyed since then will sharpen her up for the Bayakoa. Take note, she breezed five furlongs in a quick :59 4/5 on February 3, and she’ll race for the meet-leading trainer/jockey duo of Steve Asmussen and Ricardo Santana, Jr.

$10 to win on #6 She’s a Julie
$4 double: 6 with 11
$1 Pick 3: 6 with 1,5,11,12 with 3,5,7 ($12)

Race 8: Razorback Handicap (gr. III)

I don’t feel terribly confident backing anyone in this huge, competitive field, so I’m tempted to take a small shot with the Maryland shipper #11 Tiz He the One. The five-year-old son of Tiz Wonderful is 4-for-5 on dirt and 3-for-3 since being transferred to the barn of trainer Jeremiah Englehart. All three of those wins came going a mile at Laurel Park, and in every race he demonstrated the ability to stalk the pace and finish strongly through final quarter-mile times ranging from :23.02 to :24.31 seconds. With BRIS speed figures of 94, 99, and 95, he fits this field well enough on paper and might be able to strike at a price.

$10 to win on #11 Tiz He the One
$3 double: 11 with 3,5,7 ($9)

Race 9: Southwest Stakes (gr. III)

I’ve already previewed this race separately, but to reiterate, I’m taking a stand against the Smarty Jones starters and prefer the chances of #3 Cutting Humor, #5 Jersey Agenda, and #7 Sueno. I’ll use all three in the double and Pick 3 wagers outlined above.

Total cost of all plays: $75

Good luck!