Oaklawn Park: Early trends for 2023 meet

January 27th, 2023

Oaklawn Park’s meet for 2022-23 is now well underway. The Road to the Kentucky Derby that moves through the Arkansas venue heats up this weekend with the Southwest (G3), and there are more top-quality races to come for the next few months.

Most trends at Oaklawn Park are playing out as might be expected. But there have been a few interesting stats to start the year.

Inside gates are more useful than normal for sprints

In the previous two seasons, there was no obvious advantage for any gates. Last year, win percentage was between 9% and 13% for gates 1-11, and the previous year it was relatively similar, the only outlier being gate 6, which had 17.1% of its starters being successful.

This year, however, the advantage is clearly on the inside. Gates 1, 2, and 4 have won more than 16% of sprints at Oaklawn Park, though strangely, gate 3 has had just a 4.5% success rate. Whether these are outliers with a sample size that’s too small to tell is yet to be seen, but with a quarter of the season gone, the other gates have a bit of catching up to do.

Distance races are also favoring the inside more than usual

Route trips at Oaklawn Park, more so than sprints, have historically favored inside gates, and they’re doing so again, albeit at a greater rate. In the 2020-21 season, gates 1-7 all had winners at least 11% of the time, with gate 1 the best at 17.4%. Last season, they were more widely spread, with no gate having a higher success rate than the 14.9% for gate 4.

This year, however, gates 1, 2, 3, and 5 all have success rates of between 15.8% and 17.5%. Gate 4 was an outlier with an 8.8% success rate, while none of the others did better than a 9.8% success rate.

Distance races become more common as the season progresses at Oaklawn, so the success rates may even out, but it’s still an interesting start.

Oaklawn move paying off for Bejarano

Jockey Rafael Bejarano was a constant presence in the national top 10 by earnings between 2004 and 2015, but since then he’s become a less significant presence. Last season, he was 24th on the earnings table, and the previous two seasons he was in the 30s.

However, the 40-year-old Peruvian’s move from the Turfway Park New Year circuit to Oaklawn this season has been highly successful. He’s second in the Oaklawn rankings by wins (19) and third by prize money, with his earnings placing him 13th on the nationwide list. The five-time Breeders’ Cup-winning jockey will be hoping the trend continues.

Fantastic start for Torres

Cristian Torres has been gradually making his mark at Oaklawn Park, but this year he’s moved to another level. The 25-year-old Puerto Rican scored 19 wins at Oaklawn last year and 22 the year before that, but he’s already exceeded that level, winning 28 races at the meet. His win percentage has also shot up, from 11.9% last year to a fabulous 23.9% so far this season. He’s been particularly effective over sprint distances, with a 27.0% success rate. It will be tough to keep that level up, but he’s certainly a rider to watch.

Wins hard to come by for Asmussen

Steve Asmussen has dominated the training statistics at Oaklawn Park in the past two seasons. With more runners than any other trainer, he topped 60 victories in the 2021 and 2022 seasons, the only conditioner to top 50 in those years, and he had win percentages above 17% in both years. Once again, he’s the leading trainer by starts, but from 89 runners he’s had just six victories, a win percentage of just 6.7%. However, he’s also had 13 second-place finishes and 11 third-place finishes, so he’s not far off, and it would be no surprise if the victories start arriving more frequently.