Friday’s opening day card for the 2023-’24 season at Oaklawn Park gets underway at 1:30 pm ET and features 10 races. The headliner is the $150,000 Advent Stakes for 2-year-olds, a race inaugurated in 2021. It’s a long way until April’s Arkansas Derby, not to mention the stretch from 5-1/2 furlongs to 1-1/8 miles, but you’ve got to start the trail somewhere.
Let’s meet the contenders for the Race 9 Advent Stakes:
#1-SPIRIT’S MISCHIEF: $350,000 Into Mischief colt broke his maiden in the slop at second-asking during Keeneland’s Fall Meet for trainer Wesley Ward. Third prior in a turf sprint debut behind fellow Advent rival Ceepeegee at Churchill. Should show rail speed. Gerardo Corrales is listed to ride, but also is named on six mounts at Turfway Friday. Sire Into Mischief 3-11 with juveniles at Oaklawn.
#2-FROST FREE: Win-early prospect delivered on $100,000 April sales buy with a debut win in early June at Lone Star Park in his only appearance. Trio of Oaklawn works since leaving the local training center for Frosted colt who now appears for trainer Brett Creighton. MMA fighter-turned-jockey Chel-C Bailey rides.
#3-MARKET STREET: Most experienced runner in field makes eight start, but has lost seven straight since a debut score at Ellis Park in June. Peaked with runner-up in Saratoga Special with four dull efforts since at route distances. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, now 88, turns to jockey Cristian Torres, who was Oaklawn’s leading rider at last year’s meeting.
#4-MOLLY’S TOWN: Top Indiana-bred juvenile of 2023 won the Indiana Futurity among four straight victories to open his career. Underscored talent with solid fourth in the $222,000 Ed Brown Stakes at Churchill Downs last time vs. open company. Regular pilot Fernando de la Cruz stays at Turfway, so trainer Genaro Garcia pivots to Emanuel Esquivel.
#5-CEEPEEGEE: Pulled 32-1 upset last out in a Churchill turf sprint maiden special weight, wiring the field under return pilot Rafael Bejarano. Among those in his wake was next-out winner and Advent Stakes return foe Spirit’s Mischief. Dirt will be the question for the son of Army Mule after a poor debut on the main at Ellis Park. Third dam for Ron Moquett charge is the legendary mare Dance Smartly, who won on everything.
#6-SWEET SODDY J: One of America’s most traveled 2-year-olds this season makes his seventh start, sixth in a stakes, and at his seventh different venue. Colonial debut winner added the Timonium Juvenile in his second start in Maryland, but has lost four in a row while trying the Champagne in New York and the Bowman Mill at Keeneland among those. Home-bred by Bee Jersey has fit at this sprint and class level at most any locale.
#7-ANDY’S CANDY: Trainer Chris Hartman won this race two years ago with Kavod, and that one would go on to top-5 finishes in the Smarty Jones, Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby while taking every step of the Oaklawn trail. Practical Joke colt won his last start from off the pace sprinting at Keeneland in maiden claiming company. Sire Practical Joke has a strong 19% win rate locally and had two local stakes winners this spring in Skelly and Tejano Twist. Jockey Francisco Arrieta changes seats to General Shipman as Chris Landeros takes over in the saddle.
#8-DREWMANIA: Wet-track maiden winner at Delta Downs in his third start, this son of St. Patrick’s Day has improved in each outing. Has shown good speed in each start and expected to contest the pace. Trainer Lonnie Briley turns to veteran Jon Court, coming off a disappointing 9-112 Oaklawn season by his standards.
#9-GENERAL SHIPMAN: Nebraska-bred son of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Midshipman won the Prairie Freshman Stakes in Iowa to start his career 2-for-2. Since posted a solid third as the 8-5 favorite in Remington Park’s Clever Trevor Stakes. The blinkers come off as trainer Casey Schleis employs jockey Francisco Arrieta, last year’s clear-cut runner-up in the leading rider standings at Oaklawn.
#10-VALENTINE CANDY: Saratoga debut winner by Triple Crown champ Justify went on to a solid Keeneland meet with an allowance second and Bowman Mill Stakes third-place finish just 21 days apart in October. Based at Fair Grounds over the past month, he will be one of two Steve Asmussen trainees in the gate, breaking next door to stablemate Bye Bye Liam. The 2-1 morning line favorite gets jockey Ramon Vazquez in the saddle, a former perennial Oaklawn top-5 rider who returns this season after a very successful run at Santa Anita and Del Mar in recent years.
#11-BYE BYE LIAM: Modest rally to be fourth in this turf sprint debut behind Advent Stakes return rivals Ceepeegee and Spirit’s Mischief. Steve Asmussen trainee rebounded out of that race to pull 27-1 sloppy track upset at Churchill next out when rallying into an extremely hot pace. Father-son tandem looks for more late-season stakes glory as jockey Keith Asmussen also piloted Ryvit to victory in Mahoning Valley’s $300,000 Steel Valley Sprint in recent weeks.
#12-WILLY D’S: Delaware Park turf route debut winner shortens to sprinting after a poor effort in the mud in the Rocky Run Stakes. Trio of local workouts include a bullet December 1 for trainer Greg Compton. Sire Lookin at Lucky won Oaklawn’s Rebel Stakes en route to his 2010 Preakness score, and hits a strong 22% with his offspring here, including 2023 stakes winner Eyeing Clover.