Options Abound in OP Handicap

The 17th Running of the G2 OP Handicap

Saturday, April 23, 2022

OP Race #2 Post Time 18:45

$1,000.000 11/8 Dirt

4+ Handicap Weights (117-121 Pounds)

Track/Stakes Record-1:46.45 (Obvious Intention-2008)

The final race on the final day of the OP stakes schedule is the $1,000.000 G2 OP Handicap.  Run at a mile and one-eighth for horses 4 and up, the fourteen runners signed-on will carry between 117 and 121 pounds.  At first glance the field appears a bit top heavy, but some of the lesser-credentialed runners are in career best form so we should be set for an exciting renewal.  Let’s meet the field for the 17th running of the G2 OP Handicap:

#1 Locamotive (Aer Stables/L. Saez 119): 4yo Colt has started his season with back-to-back ITM allowance finishes.  Winless since his G1 Haskell victory, he has been a bit inconsistent in his last five starts.  There is nothing wrong with the way he’s working in the mornings, and he is well-drawn; however, he needs to show that he still has the desire to run in these kinds of spots.  He likes to rally from off the pace, so while he should save ground, he will have to navigate some traffic.  Trainer wins nearly 20% of his races but this one may be at a tipping point.  Looking elsewhere for the top honors. 

#2 Pier Pressure (Gdp Inc/Ru. Gonzalez 117): Our second 4yo Colt, this guy enters here fresh off of an allowance score at HOU.  Ignoring the turf race two back in his seasonal bow, he gets another crack at graded company where his only ITM finish was a G3 3rd in November.  The latest work is about as good as you could hope for and he gets in at the minimum impost.  Still, he’ll need to produce a career-best effort to get a slice in here.  There are positives here, but he has some questions as well.  

#3 First Sargeant (High Voltage/M. Franco 118): 5yo gelding just missed at the FG in a similar spot last month and gets in at only 118.  He gets a good draw and shouldn’t have too much of a problem clearing the two horses drawn inside of him.  Hasn’t won a graded event, but he has been competitive going long/short on turf/dirt.  Looks to sit a very positive trip in here and has a lot of positives/momentum going his way.  Must show he’s ready to best these types, but you could do a lot worse than putting your money on a horse with this many positive signs.  Interesting. 

#4 Higher Drift (Asgar/J.R. Velazquez 117): It’s been nearly two years since this one tried going two turns, but he was two for three ITM when he tried routing.  He’s a listed winner and graded-placed around one-turn, so there’s quality here.  Going 9-furlongs isn’t for everyone as the race is run a bit differently than the flat mile or even the mile and a sixteenth, so 5yo will have to prove he can handle the trip against stiff opposition.  Form shows he can run from just about anywhere, but have to think he won’t want to lose position from this inner-third draw.  Not sure he wins, but feels like a pace-presence at the very least.

#5 Safer Dab (Gdp Inc/E. Maldonado 118 {+1 lb}): Colt was assigned 117, but (as of press time) he’ll carry 118.  Two wins from 12 starts came against much softer opposition and his first two graded attempts left plenty to be desired.  If we draw a line through the G1 SA Hcp, a case can be made that he’ll be able to sit just off of the pace and, at worst, travel in the two-path.  Must prove he is on the same level with the best of these before we can back him. 

#6 Quick Response (TwinTowersRacing/T. Gaffalione 117): Twice-claimed 4yo gelding almost pulled off a steal in $150.000 stake last out.  That was a dramatic shift in tactics as he was a stone closer prior to the latest claim.  Both wins came while running for a tag and the G1 effort after the first claim did not go well…..at all.  With speed drawn inside of him, he’ll have to be pushed a bit harder to get to the front of this group and questions still linger about how far he can take them even if he does find the front.  No thanks.

#7 King Que Niagra (D J C Racing Stables/S.X. Bridgmohan 119): MGSW on the lawn, 5yo gelding does own a pair of main track tallies, and he didn’t embarass himself in either of his latest graded tries on the dirt.  Been more than a minute since he ran on something other than the lawn, but he once was on the KYD trail.  While he’s shown to be capable of running competitive races from anywhere on the lawn, his dirt form seems to suggest he wants to be closer to the pace.  The lack of recent dirt form makes him hard to tout, but don’t think he is a toss-out either.

#8 Champion In Action (Night Rider Stables/B.J. Hernandez Jr 121): Undefeated in two starts in his 7yo campaign, the G3 and G2 wins have him carrying the high weight in this spot.  Only giving his rivals 2-4 pounds, but these are some talented rivals.  Can’t knock his current form and he can make a trip from the middle of the gate.  Retains the jock for the third consecutive start and he doesn’t show any visible signs of slowing down anytime soon.

#9 Sexy Back (Night Rider Stables/E.T. Baird 121): Drawn just outside of his older stablemate, 5yo will be making his fourth start of 2022.  G2 win at GP came at a monster price, but causes him to be the co-highweight in the field.  He’s an honest horse who likes to settle into a rhythm before making his move.  Now, deciding where that rhythm has him early is a bit of a guessing game and anything further than third flight makes his job a bit tougher.  Still, with horses as consistent as this guy, you just hope he times it right because he will make a run.

#10 Sports Page (John Henry/D. Van Dyke 117): 2021 KYD runner won a G2 in his final prep and then had to wait until 2022 bow before getting his picture taken…and even that was a DH in a tough SA allowance.  Drawing a line through the latest effort as the pace was a bit crazy, but he’s a bit on the inconsistent side to really back with a great amount of confidence.  He does get in at the minimum weight assignment and he should have some pace to help set up his rally, but a minor prize feels like his ceiling.

#11 Hint Of Sugar (Arindel/E. Jaramillo 119): 4yo gelding was a tough-luck loser in his latest effort after he set a strong pace before finally relenting late. Interestingly, the last two times he ran a 97 SRF fig he regressed pretty significantly the next time out.  If he can pair that number, he can be competitive; however, if he improves, he could be ready to take one of these.  He’s done nothing wrong in his morning preparations for this assignment, but there are some serious issues with the current form cycle and this post.  Like him a lot, but not enough to endorse.

#12 Rebel Storm (Nakamura Stables/V.R. Carrasco 117): $120.000 purchase back in February will make his first start for the new barn in a tough spot.  Trainer doesn’t make many mistakes, so for this to be his 2nd career start on the main track, you have to believe this guy has made a seriously positive impression to show up here.  With the barn switch, hard to read too much into his turf form and even harder to make any kind of educated guess as to how he’ll run here.  All we will say is that he is here for a reason and we expect he will make his presence felt when the money is on the line. 

#13 Expert Eye (TwinTowersRacing/D. Davis 121): Even though he’s proven as a dirt router, his first two starts this season make him a bit of an unknown.  That’s tough to say about a 6yo horse, but those two races can be tossed right out because of the crazy pace in each.  Add that to the fact that he is much more accomplished as a sprinter, and he’s drawn out here (again).  He’s a tough piece to figure in this puzzle.  It does look like the plan is to give him every opportunity to show that he can play the long game as well as he sprints, so respect for staying the course.  The G3 win to start 2022 and the sprint form have him carrying 121 so he may be a very square price come post time.    

#14 Charleys Latte (Fractious/C.J. Hernandez 119): 5yo is one of our favorite horses, but the former BC Classic winner hasn’t claimed victory in ten months.  Gets the far gate for his first start for a new barn that ponied-up $550.000 earlier this month and only receives two pounds from the three highweights in here.  Maybe the new barn can revive his racing career, but this one seems destined for the breeding shed sooner rather than later unless he starts showing he still has more left to give on the track.  Would be a surprise in this spot.

Final Analysis: We’re going out on the limb here, but we see it 12-8-3 in a very contentious G2 OP Handicap.  Good luck to all of the connections involved!

Categories: Grade II, Races, STAKES ARTICLES

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