March 27, 2013
I Know it isn’t Spring
As the song goes, “They say that I have spring fever, but I know it isn’t spring.” Or at least I think it isn’t spring. Judging by the weather of the last week, here and northeast of here, the idea of spring racing has changed. For what should have been a nice, spring Saturday in Arkansas, Saturday, March 23, turned into a day of downpour and dirty shoes. Racing was conducted over a muddy/sloppy strip and, as a result, failed to bring the kind of conclusive results you love to see when the going is fast and everything is equal. On Saturday there was pretty much of an advantage to be on the outside or at least down the middle of the track when the field turned for home. Most races were won out there. As a matter of fact that had been the case on Friday as well.
Even Terry Thompson, who rode Son of a General to victory in the eighth race on Friday down the inside rail for trainer David Vance, admitted that he preferred to be in a different spot. “But I knew the horse didn’t like to be hit with anything in the face, so we just stayed along the rail.” Son of a General managed to outrun the hanging runner-up, Speighter Man, to be the only winner to ride the rails to victory. Others deserved better fate, but the weather gods weren’t working in their favor. So they have to wait for another day.
Come Sunday at Oaklawn, what few fans decided to face Mother Nature were slapped in the face by a strong north wind. The actual temperature was just over 40 degrees, while the wind chill took the feel to below freezing. Much like Saturday, outside was not much of a consideration for the public. Good news for the crowd, the band which had been arranged for the infield prior to those activities being cancelled for the day, played for the grandstand crowd and that band was Hot, Hot, Hot. There was something festive about being inside the grandstand at the winding down of spring break and the 15,000+ who were on hand managed to have a good time.
There’s plenty of good reason to expect things to get better, although the long-range prospect for next Saturday is for rain to accompany more spring-like temperatures. For me the morning is important on Saturday, since I host the Dawn at Oaklawn show in front of the south grandstand for early risers. The free program has been well-received by those who took the time to attend. The highlight of the Dawn at Oaklawn series this year—as best I can tell—has been the free bus tour of the stable area, led brilliantly by Deb Keene, Oaklawn’s Director of Horsemen’s Relations. We have the Westrock Coffee Company of Joe and Scott Ford of Little Rock to thank for underwriting the program, but it seems to have once again worked some magic for the die-hard fans of the area. I’m just happy to be a part of it.
One of the more remarkable things of the weekend was Sunday’s featured filly and mare division of the Arkansas Breeders’ Stakes. The 1-2 favorite, Jan’s Perfect Star, held on for a front-running victory, but practically walked home through the final furlong to prevail in 1:51.1 for the 1 1/16 miles. Claimer Bag the Storm tried to get to the winner, but there was clearly a class difference. It wouldn’t appear that distance stakes racing will really be in the future of Jan’s Perfect Star, who was purchased privately by Dave Clark’s Iron Horse Stable, following her 12-length maiden score here in February. She can run fast at sprint distances, but the brutal north wind must have been a shock to her system on Sunday and the performance was nowhere near as brilliant as her maiden score.
It reminded me of Hamazing Destiny, who was retired in the past week. When that one was a three-year-old, he ran a brilliant six furlong win in his first career start and was subsequently purchased by the Fords of Little Rock and put in the barn of trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Hamazing Destiny did have an okay career, although nowhere near what was expected when he was purchased. I suspect we’ll say some of the same about Jan’s Perfect Star, although Hamazing Destiny did win a graded stakes, something I doubt we’ll see from Jan’s Perfect Star.
Weather, however, has been the topic of discussion this weekend. It hasn’t been racing or even March Madness. Pretty much everyone’s brackets in March Madness took a serious hit with all the many early round upsets. We’re only a short time until the Racing Festival of the South. And still there is precious little discussion about the major races of the Festival. That should change shortly, but there are still just a few willing to bank on the continued success of the Lukas barn in the three-year-old picture and there are few ready to count on the locals dominating in races like the Oaklawn and Apple Blossom Handicaps. Add to that the unlikely event that we’ve seen the Fantasy Stakes winner and you have a whole bagful of questions concerning the one staple item of racing at Oaklawn, the Racing Festival of the South.
I know that I can see the calendar and I know that I should have spring fever. But truthfully it still doesn’t feel like spring and next Sunday is Easter already.
The best sign you’re getting old is when time flies by faster than you can acknowledge. Let’s see –it’s not winter and it’s not summer. Then it might as well be spring. The Bradford Pear trees and the Daffodils are in bloom. That should be a hint. Hurry up spring!!!