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Submitted by John Piesen on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 12:00 AM

I CAN SEE ARKANSAS

By John Piesen

Good news in southcentral Arkansas. Oaklawn Park, hard by the Hot Springs resort area,  is open for racing business (it conducts casino/simulcasting business 24/7 except for Christmas).

The weather broke just in time. The stands are filled. The fields are large.The trainers are prime. At a track function this week, one D. Wayne Lukas received two standing ovations -- one BEFORE he spoke, and another AFTER he spoke. Jack Van Berge is there to sell some books, and run some horses. Not many, but a few. And Mark Casse, the DWL of Canada, is on the grounds, and, for the first time, with a lot of horses. Steve Asmussen is back, locked and loaded, a must-use in the gimmicks, and he’s brought his go-to rider Ricardo Santana, Jr. -- the next John Velazquez -- with him.

The restaurants are thriving  -- the crawdads are running -- and the boys are running after the prettiest girls west of the Mississippi.

This all comes under the category of good news.

The bad news?

Picking winners, especially the first half of the 64-day meeting, is about as easy as getting across the George Washington Bridge at rush hour, especially in September.

We leave the evils of GWB driving jams to more qualified folks , but after spending two decades on the scene at Oaklawn Park I have formed as good an opinion as anyone in finding winners at OP. Did so for years for Daily Racing Form as well as for two of the hottest beer joints this side of Texarkana.

Lord, there were days business was so good, the lines would stretch out and into Central Avenue. Same can be said for the bad days. They call Hot Springs the "Saratoga of the South", and with good cause. They love their racing in good old Arkansas.

And when I couldn’t pick a winner I would find someone who could.

One April morning I invited old buddy Mike Smith to drop by and offer some hints to the thirtsy thirsty masses.

"Do ya like your horse in the Apple Blossom?," he was asked by Billy Bob.

Mike was in from California to ride an unknown  filly named Zenyatta in her third start.

Zenyatta was going as the second choice to Bobby Frankel.

"You can tap on my filly," Mike told Billy Bob. "She’s a cinch."

You can imagine the party that night.

But as I said, picking winners at OP is not for the faint of heart. Horses come from virtually all parts of the United States to race there, and often you’ll see eight horses from eight different states.

Is the Texas horse better than the Kentucky horse? Is the Chicago horse better than the Oklahoma horse? Is the California horse better than the Florida horse? Or is the West Virginia horse better than the New York horse? It often is.

One year I went by numbers. That didn’t last long. Never saw a horse yet who bothered to count. 

Speed for years was king. Whoever made the lead held the lead. But then they went and spoiled things by sprinkling some magic dust and making it a fair and honest track. No more days like the one on which the first "sevens" won.

Some folks went the simple route. Follow the chalk. But it soon became obvious and costly that two chalks a day constituted a good day for the faves.

But as the years went by I discovered some little secrets about figuring if the Texas horse would beat the Chicago horse, and left my fellow handicappers in the Razorback dust.

Still do well there. I have OP picks up and running daily online at www.nationalracemasters.com and on the red-hot John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-777-4155). It’s as good a way as any to handicap Oaklawn.

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Unlike Oaklawn Park, things are not going so great at Aqueduct. The weather is treacherous, the crowds are three-figures, David Jacobson seems to win all the races, and the Ruthless Stakes, scheduled for Saturday, didn’t fill, and was shifted to Sunday (McLaughlin will be 4-5).

The Saturday features instead will be a pair of allowances for New York-breds.

But the Big A will offer its customary Saturday entrée -- the 250K guaranteed late four on the sixth thru ninth races.

Let’s take a look ---

RACE SIX

No less than eight of the dozen New York-bred fillies are first-time starters, but the players do have the option of watching the board. Throwing darts, I like:

#11   Saratoga Shoes
#5     Rumble Doll
#9     Bossy Boots

RACE SEVEN

Never eager to play against Jacobson, but he can’t win ’em all. That said, I like:

#9   Twillerbee
#2   Score Boyera
#6   Warmhearted Sandy

RACE EIGHT

Taking a shot with a Holy Bull colt unsighted since April:

#8   Billythebull
#7   Ed’s Magic
#5   Marriedtothemusic

RACE NINE

Tons of cheap speed in the finale, so I’ll look for an outside closer:

#9   Blue Ballerina
#7   Exclusively Yours
#4   Peggy Virginia

(Note: This is just what I’m looking at so far. Since conditions and odds are sure to change, you need to DEFINITELY check-in with me either online at www.nationalracemasters.com or call 1-888-777-4155 for the final say.)

Thanks for tuning in. Good luck at Oaklawn and elsewhere, check out the old hotline. go Saints, and see you back here next Friday.

                                    

 

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