HOT SPRINGS, AR — Grade 1 winner Collusion Illusion takes on track record holders Hollis and Nashville and defending champion Boldor in the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters on Saturday in Oaklawn. The likely departure time for the King Cotton is 4:55 p.m. (Central). It goes like 10and of 11 races. The race starts Saturday at 12:02 p.m.
The projected field of nine King Cotton horses from the rail: Hollis, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 122 pounds, 4-1 on the morning line; Long-range Toddy, Jon Court, 115, 20-1; Home port, Francisco Arrieta, 115, 12-1; Illusion of collusion, John Velazquez, 115, 3-1; Double Crown, David Cabrera, 115, 12-1; Nashville, Florent Géroux, 115, 5-2; Bob’s Edge, Luis Quinonez, 119, 5-1; Boldor, David Cohen, 117, 8-1; and Seven Nations Army, Ramon Vazquez, 115, 8-1.
Southern California-based shipper for trainer Mark Glatt, Collusion Illusion began his career with five straight sprint wins, 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 Twirling Candy’s son has lost his last five starts, including a 12and behind Whitmore and CZ 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 debut on grass, the $100,000 Green Flash Handicap (G3) last August in Del Mar.
Collusion Illusion has only started one other time in 2021, finishing fifth behind stablemate Dr. Schivel in the $200,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2) on Oct. 2 at Santa Anita.
Glatt said Collusion Illusion was refreshed after the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and shipped to Arkansas for his 5-year-old debut (he flew on Wednesday) largely because he would be able to run on Lasix for more a year. Major California tracks began banning use of the anti-hemorrhagic drug on race day for most stakes early last year.
“He had to take a break after the Malibu,” Glatt said. “He’s had a pretty good campaign up to this point. Really, the lack of Lasix was the reason his form completely reversed. We tried it on grass there once. It certainly didn’t seem to be to his liking, at least that day. Going back to the Breeders’ Cup, he drew inside that day and he’s not the best when he’s inside. When he draws an inside post, he’s not at his best. Although he won from an inside post, an inside post with a relatively wide field is difficult for him to overcome. He trained very well for this race. He seems to be the same horse he was when he was in good shape and we just hope that back on Lasix his career will resurrect.
Collusion Illusion is also losing 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 CZ Rocket and Flagstaff in the 2020 edition).
Flagstaff was King Cotton’s betting favorite in 2021. CZ Rocket was dispatched from Southern California to win Oaklawn’s last 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 fast Nashville, which suffered its first career loss with a fourth-place finish at the 2020 Malibu. Nashville had set Keeneland’s track record over 6 furlongs (1:07.89) in its previous starting ($125,000 Perryville Stakes for 3-year-olds) on the Breeders’ Cup (Day 2) undercard in November 2020.
“He’s got enough tactical speed, I think, that he can hopefully get a position,” Glatt said of Collusion Illusion. “More on the outside, keep the dirt out of his face. I know there is a certain speed that is drawn to him during the race, but hopefully he has a good trip and can stay out of the way as much as possible. It will be up to Johnny V. to sort of negotiate from this 4 holes a bit of an outside trip hopefully and we will see if he doesn’t bounce back to some of his old tricks.
The King Cotton will only be the second start for Nashville since the Malibu. He finished second in his allowance comeback race on Dec. 10 against Hollis, who used stalk and pounce tactics to set Oaklawn’s track record over 5½ furlongs (1:02.17) in a victory by 4 ½ lengths. Hollis, who earned a showy speed number of 109 Beyer, escaped from the same location as Nashville in December after leaving Station 6, the far outside, when they last met.
“It’s a big concern for me, but it’s a horse that’s pushing its way forward,” said John Ortiz, who trains Hollis. “Ricardo already knows him and he has a winner. From pole to three eighths, he will take the race and he will fight to the wire.
Ortiz is looking for his first career victory in the Oaklawn Stakes. Asmussen has a career-high 96 Oaklawn Stakes winning runs, 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 allocation sprint at Churchill Downs.
The King Cotton is the first of three Oaklawn sprint stakes for older horses in 2022. The streak continues with the $200,000 Whitmore (formerly Hot Springs) on March 19 and the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) of $500,000 on April 16. Both races are 6 furlongs.
Oaklawn Park Press Release
Photo: Boldor wins the 2021 King Cotton Stakes/Coady Photography