03/08/2012 4:42PM

Oaklawn Park: Tapizar, Alternation square off in Razorback Handicap

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Tapizar has shipped into Oaklawn Park for the Grade 3, $125,000 Razorback Handicap.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Tapizar and Alternation distinguished themselves on different coasts last year at 3, with Tapizar taking the Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita and Alternation accounting for the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont Park. Both horses have already won stakes at 4, too, which makes their first meeting Saturday in the Grade 3, $125,000 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn a real look at a pair of colts poised to be serious players in the older-horse ranks in 2012.

The Razorback, at 1 1/16 miles, is a stepping-stone to the Grade 2, $350,000 Oaklawn Handicap. It’s also half of a stakes double Saturday. The Grade 3, $125,000 Honeybee for 3-year-old fillies goes with eight, including On Fire Baby.

Tapizar came out swinging in January, with a 3 1/2-length win in the Grade 2 San Fernando at Santa Anita. He set a strong pace and won the 1 1/16-mile race in a sharp 1:41.80, for a Beyer Speed Figure of 97. The effort made him an odds-on favorite in the Grade 2 Strub at Santa Anita on Feb. 4. But after attending a sweltering pace of 1:10 for six furlongs and 1:33.60 for the mile in the nine-furlong race, he ended up fourth, 10 lengths behind front-running winner Ultimate Eagle.

“The race went really fast from three-quarters to a mile,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Tapizar for Winchell Thoroughbreds. “After three-quarters, they went [the next quarter] in 23 and change. Sometimes, they just go faster than you do.

“This is definitely not going to be an easy spot. But the timing and the distance is good for him. I think this gets him in a little better rhythm, keeping him running. To this point, he’s had some big races and some flat races, and I want to keep him in a better rhythm.”

Tapizar has shown brilliance at times, winning the 1 1/16-mile Sham in 1:40.20 with a career-high Beyer of 98. He nearly matched that number in the San Fernando, his first start since finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs in November.

Corey Nakatani has the mount from post 6.

Alternation won his seasonal debut last out in the $100,000 Essex Handicap, a 1 1/16-mile race at Oaklawn on Feb. 4. For his effort, he earned a career-high Beyer of 100 as well as the assignment of 120 pounds for the Razorback, making him co-highweighted with the comebacking Win Willy.

“I thought his last race was a good effort,” said Donnie Von Hemel, who trains Alternation for Pin Oak Stable. “He broke slow, but then some pace developed in the race and he was able to lay about comfortable fourth. He ran to them at about the head of the lane and was able to hold off [Color Me Blue’s] charge in the end.

“For his first race of the year, it was a good effort and something we can build on. He’s trained super since and is just a great horse to have in the barn.”

Luis Quinonez will be aboard from post 2.

Win Willy will be making his first start since capturing last year’s Oaklawn Handicap with a career-high Beyer of 107. A popped splint delayed his seasonal debut, but he has been working forwardly of late for Jer-Mar Stable and trainer Mac Robertson.

“It seems like the last three weeks he’s been awful strong,” Robertson said. “He’s liking what were doing with him, liking the training, and usually happy horses run well, and that’s what we’re hoping for.”

Cliff Berry has the mount Saturday.