HOT SPRINGS, AR – Grade 1 winner Collusion Illusion tackles track record holders Hollis and Nashville and defending champion Boldor in the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters Saturday at Oaklawn. Probable post time for the King Cotton is 4:55 p.m. (Central). It goes as the 10th of 11 races. Racing begins Saturday at 12:02 p.m.
The projected nine-horse King Cotton field from the rail out: Hollis, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 122 pounds, 4-1 on the morning line; Long Range Toddy, Jon Court, 115, 20-1; Home Base, Francisco Arrieta, 115, 12-1; Collusion Illusion, John Velazquez, 115, 3-1; Double Crown, David Cabrera, 115, 12-1; Nashville, Florent Geroux, 115, 5-2; Bob’s Edge, Luis Quinonez, 119, 5-1; Boldor, David Cohen, 117, 8-1; and Seven Nation Army, Ramon Vazquez, 115, 8-1.
A Southern California-based shipper for trainer Mark Glatt, Collusion Illusion began his career with five consecutive victories sprinting, including the $200,000 Best Pal Stakes (G2) for 2-year-olds in August 2019 at Del Mar, $100,000 Lazaro Barrera Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds in June 2020 at Santa Anita and capped by the $250,000 Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) in August 2020 at Del Mar. But the son of Twirling Candy has lost his last five starts, including a 12th behind Whitmore and C Z Rocket in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) in November 2020 at Keeneland, a third behind Charlatan in the $300,000 Malibu Stakes (G1) in December 2020 at Santa Anita and a seventh in his turf debut, the $100,000 Green Flash Handicap (G3) last August at Del Mar.
Collusion Illusion started just one other time in 2021, finishing fifth behind stablemate Dr. Schivel in the $200,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2) Oct. 2 at Santa Anita.
Glatt said Collusion Illusion was freshened following the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and shipped to Arkansas for his 5-year-old debut (he was flown in Wednesday) largely because he would be able to run on Lasix for the time in more than a year. Major California tracks began banning race-day use of the anti-bleeder medication for most stakes early last year.
“He was due for a break after the Malibu,” Glatt said. “He had a pretty good campaign to that point. Really, the lack of Lasix has been why his form has gone in complete reversal. We did try him on the turf there once. That certainly didn’t seem to be to his liking, at least on that day. Going back the Breeders’ Cup, he drew inside that day and he’s not the best when he’s on the inside. When he draws an inside post, he’s not at his best. Although he’s won from an inside post, an inside post with a relatively large field is difficult for him to overcome. He’s trained up to this race very well. He seems to be the same horse that he was when he was in good form and we’re just hoping that back on Lasix gets his career resurrected.”
Collusion Illusion also sheds blinkers after wearing them for the first time in his 11-race career in the 2021 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (he crossed the finish line third behind C Z Rocket and Flagstaff in the 2020 edition).
Flagstaff was the 2021 King Cotton betting favorite. C Z Rocket shipped from Southern California to win Oaklawn’s final two major sprint stakes for older horses last year – $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes and $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3).
Collusion Illusion draws inside the speedy Nashville, who suffered his first career loss with a fourth-place finish in the 2020 Malibu. Nashville had set Keeneland’s 6-furlong track record (1:07.89) in his previous start ($125,000 Perryville Stakes for 3-year-olds) on the Breeders’ Cup undercard (Day 2) in November 2020.
“He’s got enough tactical speed, I think, to where he can hopefully get some position,” Glatt said of Collusion Illusion. “More to the outside, keep the dirt out of his face. I know there’s some speed that’s drawn to the outside of him in the race, but hopefully he gets a good trip and can stay in the clear as much as possible. That will be up to Johnny V. to kind of negotiate from that 4 hole a bit of an outside trip, hopefully, and we’ll see if he doesn’t bounce back to some of his old stuff.”
The King Cotton will be just the second start for Nashville since the Malibu. He finished second in his Dec. 10 allowance comeback race to Hollis, who used stalk-and-pounce tactics to set Oaklawn’s 5 ½-furlong track record (1:02.17) in a 4 ½-length victory. Hollis, who earned a gaudy 109 Beyer Speed Figure, breaks from the same spot Nashville did in December after leaving from post 6, the extreme outside, in their last meeting.
“It’s a big concern of mine, but he’s a horse that works his way to the front,” said John Ortiz, who trains Hollis. “Ricardo already knows him and he’s got a winning move. From the three-eighths pole, he’ll take the race and he’ll battle all the way to the wire.”
Ortiz is seeking his first career Oaklawn stakes victory. Asmussen has a record 96 career Oaklawn stakes victories races, including at least one every year since 1996. Asmussen won last year’s King Cotton with Boldor.
Seven Nation Army finished second in last year’s King Cotton for co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs and beat Hollis in a November 2020 allowance sprint at Churchill Downs.
The King Cotton is Oaklawn’s first of three sprint stakes for older horses in 2022. The series continues with the $200,000 Whitmore (formerly the Hot Springs) March 19 and the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 16. Both races are 6 furlongs.
Oaklawn Park Press Reslease
Photo: Boldor wins the 2021 King Cotton Stakes/Coady Photography