Do You Believe?

Jan. 14, 2014

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A number of questions have popped up, resulting from last weekend’s races and looking ahead at the coming week.  First, inside posts aren’t very productive, yes or no?  The Landers-Autrey connection will continue on fire through the meet, won’t they?  Will the Springboard Handicap at Remington Park play a major role in the outcome of Monday’s Smarty Jones Stakes?

Let’s address these one at a time.  What about inside posts.  Two things to consider.  The results of the first three days of racing and the kind of track which faced the horses on a daily basis.  Heavy rain hit the area on Friday, leaving the track a sloppy mess.  On the second day sunny skies came out and it was a bit breezy, with the track labeled “good” throughout.  On Sunday the sun returned, but the breeziness left it still somewhat dull.  The conclusion is that the track which produced the results of the week was not likely to be what the horses face through the majority of the meet.  There were the normal number of winners from inside posts, so the question and answer are likely to remain.

Second, on somewhat the same point, fast horses still tended to dominate.  Although there weren’t a lot of wire-to-wire winners, there were plenty of stalkers which did and the late closers who succeeded were few and far between.  What threw some of the players off was the speedy opening race win by A. P. Corsair in Friday’s first race.   That was one of the few races taken by the horse on the lead early, but was not accomplished from an inside post.  Neither was Drogue’s upset win in Saturday’s featured Fifth Season, when Calvin Borel put on one of his patented rail rides to get the Victory Gallop horse home nine lengths ahead of his heavily-backed stablemate and 2013 Oaklawn Handicap winner, Cyber Secret.  The pair were coupled in the wagering, since both are owned by Charles Cella.  But there was plenty of conversation and speculation about what Drogue would have paid at the windows had he been a separate wagering interest.  He had a fine record, but no stakes success prior to the Fifth Season.  Nevertheless, he would have paid a much juicier win mutual than the $3.00 he returned to his backers, as a stablemate to Cyber Secret.  It will be interesting to see what happens with this pair when they come back in the most likely spot, the Essex Handicap, on February 15.

The second question has to do with the success of the team of noted automobile dealer Steve Landers and his trainer, Cody Autrey through this meet.  In my recollection, Autrey started off a house on fire just a year ago and finished tied for fourth in the final standings with 17 wins, well behind guys like Steve Asmussen and Mac Robertson.  My guess is that we’re in for more of the same this time around.   Autrey’s hot owners last year were the Lucky Dog Stable, which like the trainer, finished fourth in the standings, with eight wins, most of them in the early stages.

Considering that Autrey established that trend a year ago, there is reason to suspect that more of the same will occur this time around.   Since two of America’s leading owners, Midwest Thoroughbreds, Inc. and Maggie Moss, both have large stables living in the Oaklawn stable area and many of the top owners and trainers around have not yet been in action, it’s easy to presume that the Autrey start is simply a repeat of what we’ve seen in the past.  Furthermore, with all the claiming that goes on at Oaklawn, if any of Cody’s best go unprotected in the claiming ranks, there will likely be a major turnover in his barn as others reach in for that stock.  Furthermore, let’s not forget that, although Cody saddled three winners on the Friday card, there was just one on Saturday and again one on Sunday.  Four of those winners were Landers’ claimers.  It’s still plenty early.  The leads which each holds is slight and not comfortable, nor is that held by Autrey’s stable jockey, Norberto Arroyo, who has six wins.  We have a five-day race week ahead this week, which could, and likely will, change the standings dramatically.

Thirdly comes the biggest feature of the week, Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, the one mile event which starts the Oaklawn path to the Triple Crown.  One year ago Will Take Charge started on his unlikely path to a presumed Eclipse Award as the champion Three-Year-Old of 2013.  With the win over Texas Bling, he reversed the one-two finish in the Springboard Handicap at Remington the previous month.  Both were 10-1 longshots in the program and ballooned to 12-1 and 18-1, respectively, at post time.  The rest is history.  But it begs the question about the influence of the Remington race in setting up a horse for this weekend’s race.  The only Springboard nominated for the Smarty Jones is Louies Flower, the winner at Remington, at odds of 23-1.  At this writing there is no guarantee that the son of Flower Alley will even be in the starting field, but, given the finish from last year, can the players let this colt get away at any price?

Furthermore, how good are a few we saw in allowance races.  Runners like Bourbonize, Son of Dixie and Ride on Curlin.  The former pair finished one-three in allowance company on Friday and are nominated for the Smarty Jones.  The latter, given a confident ride by Calvin Borel in a win on Sunday, will probably await the Southwest, especially since he’s not nominated for Monday’s feature.  Throw into the fray on Monday runners like Strong Mandate, Dunkin Bend, Boji Moon and other stakes winners like Tapiture, Smack Smack and Coastline and suddenly you have a very strong field of young horses with designs on the Triple Crown.

It won’t be lost on many that this is the weekend in which Will Take Charge and his trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, are honored with Eclipse Awards, both on the local scene, one getting an award for 2013 and one for decades of great success in the industry.  It seemed odd that the only Lukas win of the opening weekend came with a maiden claimer in Sunday’s first race, Roberto Gato, who races for famed country singer, Toby Keith’s Dream Walkin Farm.  We’re used to those silks on horses trained by Donnie K. Von Hemel, Kenny Smith and other, but in this writer’s recollection, it was the first by D. Wayne, who has lived through a lion’s share of musical trends and only recently, since he came full-time to Arkansas, a full dose of country.  Racing makes strange bedfellows and that’s something you can surely believe.  Everything else will be settled on the track, as it well should be.

Special kudos this week to track announcer, Frank Mirahmadi.  The talented announcer hit the ground running although he was seeing many full fields and nearly all horses which are new to him.  Frank has many special abilities, one of which is public speaking.  Some of his special abilities are only on display at those times and I encourage you to always take in one of his talks, if you get the chance.   Having both Mirahmadi and D. Wayne Lukas on the same program last Wednesday evening in the special kickoff for the Oaklawn season at the Wyndham Hotel in North Little Rock was a special treat, which will not soon be forgotten for those fortunate enough to be on hand.  Racing would be much better off around the country, if those two were speaking on its behalf to national audiences.  As a matter of fact, Mirahmadi, with his ability at different voices, could do both at the same time.  You can believe that.   Of course, the much younger Mirahmadi doesn’t have Wayne’s archive of great racing stories.  But what a job they could do teaming up!!

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