2022 Harlan’s Holiday Cheatsheet
By TwinSpires Editorial Team, Sponsored Content

By James Scully (TwinSpires.com)

1. O’Connor (8-5) – Chilean Group 1 winner exploded onto the U.S. racing scene, impressively winning a Oct. 16. allowance at Gulfstream Park by six lengths, and O’Connor will look to establish himself as a presence in the stakes ranks. The five-year-old was flattered when the runner-up from his U.S. debut came back to win a restricted stakes by open lengths, and O’Connor appears to be training forwardly in the 76-day interim for Saffie Joseph Jr. Morning line favorite probably doesn’t want to be too far back in the early stages, and O’Connor will be rallying with Edgard Zayas.

2. Pioneer of Medina (6-1) – Last seen recording an encouraging triumph over allowance rivals at Churchill Downs in mid-November, his first win since late January, Pioneer of Medina may be able to establish forward positioning in a field lacking pace. However, questions remain about his effectiveness at the graded stakes level. And he’s never faced older horses. After registering an 86 Brisnet Speed rating in his last two outings, Pioneer of Medina will need to run faster to offer a serious challenge.

3. Cooke Creek (20-1) – Unraced since June, Cooke Creek probably needs easier competition. The three-year-old performed admirably last fall/winter in one-turn mile stakes, but he was well-beaten in three consecutive appearances before heading to the sidelines. This looks like a comebacker for fitness.

4. Simplification (5-1) – Fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1), Simplification didn’t fire when finishing seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) last out, but he merits serious respect on the return to his favorite venue. The three-year-old has recorded all three wins at Gulfstream, including convincing wins in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Mucho Macho Man S. last winter, and the 1 1/16-mile distance is a perfect fit. Simplification’s tactical foot should ensure a favorable trip in a field lacking confirmed speed.

5. South Bend (6-1) – Exits a solid effort over a sloppy track, earning a field-best last-out 100 Brisnet Speed rating finishing a neck third in a Nov. 11 allowance at Churchill Downs, and returns to two turns after racing primarily at shorter distances this season. South Bend finished a non-threatening second in this race 12 months ago, but the competition is much stiffer on Saturday. The late runner also appears up against it given the projected pace scenario.

6. Strike Hard (20-1) – Little to recommend about his chances. He’s run his best races on Gulfstream’s main track, but Strike Hard is unplaced from five starts at the 1 1/16-mile distance. His recent efforts and off-the-pace run style offer little encouragement, as well.

7. Skippylongstocking (4-1) – West Virginia Derby (G3) winner rates as a major player, netting triple-digit Brisnet Speed ratings in three of his last five outings, and Skippylongstocking figures to show speed off the 98-day layoff with new jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. The Saffie Joseph-trained colt turned in several commendable performances this season, including third-placed efforts in the Belmont (G1) and Wood Memorial (G2), and Skippylongstocking may continue to show at age four.

8. Clapton (8-1) – Florida-bred sophomore enters on the upswing, recording a half-length second versus a solid group of elder allowance rivals on Dec. 8, but this represents a major class check. However, his recent Brisnet numbers are solid and if Clapton can secure favorable up-close positioning during the opening furlongs, the stakes-placed colt remains eligible to challenge for a minor award.