Trainer Steve Asmussen said champion Untapable was a bit antsy in her new surroundings after arriving at Oaklawn in early March. It showed a few days later when Untapable, slow to settle early in the $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2), finished second in her 4-year-old debut, beaten a half-length by Gold Medal Dancer over a waterlogged surface.
But Asmussen said Thursday morning – on the eve of Friday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) – that Untapable seems to have finally settled into her early spring home.
“She’s doing really well,” Asmussen said. “I thought schooled great yesterday. I think she’s trained nicely over the race track. Obviously, a little concerned with what the weather does today. Pretty good chance of rain. It looks like it’s inevitable, but I think that the race track might be in a little better shape to handle some water now. It was so saturated all of last month.”
Untapable has had three published workouts since the Azeri, including two bullet moves (March 30 and April 6).
Untapable was last year’s 3-year-old filly champion after winning 6 of 7 starts. She was perfect in six starts against female competition.
Pletcher Takes Double Shot at Oaklawn Handicap
Trainer Todd Pletcher is taking a double shot in the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) with Golden Lad and Race Day and he hopes that history repeats itself on Saturday.
“They have both been training well and they’re doing very well, and they both have wins over the track and have been successful there. Everything is going according to plan,” he said when reached by phone in South Florida.
Race Day, the 5-2 favorite in the field that was reduced by nine with the scratch of Irish You Well, made his first and last visit to Hot Springs a successful one. He took the Razorback Handicap (G3), which is the local prep race for the Oaklawn Handicap, by a neck for owner Matthew Schera.
Mrs. Joyce Robsham’s homebred Golden Lad, who has been installed as the second choice at 7-2, was the runaway winner of the 2014 Razorback and this year captured the $100,000 Essex Handicap in his last start.
On Thursday morning each went out to the track for a 1 ¼ mile gallop under assistant trainer Adele Bellinger, who on Wednesday afternoon brought Race Day to the paddock and the infield, where the field will be saddled on race day, for a schooling session.
“Race Day is extremely professional and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by much,” she said. “Golden Lad didn’t need to be schooled. He knows the drill here.”
Golden Lad will be partnered with Hall of Famer Mike Smith for the first time while Pletcher is giving the return call on Race Day to fellow Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who will also be reunited with Madefromlucky in Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1).
Hard Aces Looking for Easier Company
When the connections of Shared Belief, arguably the top handicap horse in North America, decided to by-pass the Oaklawn Handicap, trainer John Sadler discerned that Hot Springs was the place for Hard Aces.
“That definitely encouraged us to go in the race,” said the multiple graded stakes winning trainer, who saddled Line of David for his victory in the 2010 Arkansas Derby.
The 5-year-old son of Hard Spun finished fourth behind Shared Belief in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) last out after being purchased privately by Hronis Racing following his dominating win in the Louisiana Handicap in mid-January.
“We bought him and then had to wait another week for the flight to get him out here, so we got him a little too late for the Big Cap. I just wish I’d had him a bit longer before that race,” said Sadler. “We thought he ran well, but it wasn’t quite what we were looking for. But he came out of the race really well so there’s always a plus and a minus. The Big Cap was the last race on the dirt here for him here until May so we were looking around and the Oaklawn Handicap fit well with our plans for him.”
The relationship between Hard Aces, a winner five times in 20 starts, and his conditioner is still in the exploratory stage.
“We’re definitely still new to each other and we’re just getting to know one another and figure each other out,” he said. “He ran well in the Big Cap, although I do feel that he’s capable of a bit more.”
Hard Aces, who jogged on Thursday morning and will gallop 1 ½ miles on Friday, gets the services of Victor Espinoza.
“It worked out great because Victor was already going to be there to ride American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby the same day. He rode him in the Big Cap and has been working him, so knows the horse and that’s always a plus,” said Sadler, who will be at Oaklawn on Saturday.
Hobby, Lieblongs Go for Second Stakes Win of the Festival
Trainer Steve Hobby will try to cap an outstanding meet when he saddles For Greater Glory in Saturday's $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses. For Greater Glory would have been one of the favorites for a conditioned allowance/optional claimer last Saturday, but Hobby decided to scratch the son of Afleet Alex after he drew post 10 in the mile race.
“We're taking a shot, we know that,” Hobby said Thursday morning. “But it's not so far out there, that if things go right, we can't get a big chunk.”
For Greater Glory finished fourth in the $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 16 and in the $100,000 Essex Handicap Feb. 14. In his last start, For Greater Glory won a March 12 conditioned allowance/optional claimer by a half-length under Joe Rocco Jr., who is scheduled to ride the 5-year-old Saturday.
For Greater Glory, a 15-1 long shot in the program, is owned by Alex and JoAnn Lieblong. Hobby saddled the Lieblongs' Spring Included to win Wednesday's $100,000 Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters. Spring Included's victory moved Hobby's record at the meet to 11 for 55. His horses have earned $484,677 in purse money.
“Just getting a piece of this would be wonderful,” Hobby said of the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap.
Trainer Brad Cox said Thursday morning that multiple stakes winner Carve will run in Saturday’s $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses. Carve has also been under consideration for the $200,000 Texas Mile (G3) April 24 at Lone Star Park.
Now, Cox said, it’s possible Carve could run in both races.
“I’m not opposed to running him back in 13 days,” Cox said. “He won a Grade 3 running back in 14 days. We’ll see what happens.”
Carve earned a career-high 106 Beyer Speed Figure in a 3 ½-length victory in the $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 16. The 5-year-old First Samurai gelding finished a flat fourth in the $250,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) March 14.
Among the country’s best claims of the last few years, Carve has bankrolled $784,915 after winning 7 of 20 career starts. On behalf of owner Mike Langford of Jonesboro, Ark., trainer Steve Asmussen claimed Carve for $30,000 out his Jan. 25, 2013, career debut victory at Oaklawn. Carve ran third in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) in 2013.
After moving to Cox before the 2014 Oaklawn meeting, Carve ran third to champion Will Take Charge in the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2). He went on to win the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (G3) at Prairie Meadows and run sixth in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) at Santa Anita.
“He’s a really cool horse,” Cox said.
Carve is scheduled to break from post 4 Saturday under Jesus Castanon. The gelding is 5-1 in the program for the Oaklawn Handicap.
On The Fence
Trainer Randy Morse said late Thursday morning that he wasn’t sure if his promising 4-year-old Street Strategy will run in Saturday’s $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses. Street Strategy is doing well physically Morse said, but the gray colt remains under consideration for the $200,000 Texas Mile (G3) April 24 at Lone Star Park and the $400,000 Alysheba Stakes (G2) May 1 at Churchill Downs.
Street Strategy drew the extreme outside post (10) for the Oaklawn Handicap, with regular jockey Calvin Borel named to ride.
“Tough race,” Morse said. “Very tough. My horse is just not seasoned. I think he’s a very, very good horse, but I think this is as good a Oaklawn Handicap we’ve had in the last 10 years, personally.”
Street Strategy has made all five career starts at Oaklawn, winning three times.
His 2014 campaign was cut short after Morse said the colt tore the main supporting ligament in his stifle in the $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2), a major Kentucky Derby prep race.
Street Strategy won his Jan. 30 comeback race, a first-level allowance at a mile, by 4 ¼ lengths, then cleared his second allowance condition by a neck March 8.
The son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense was purchased for $425,000 as a 2-year-old in training by Dave Clark of Little Rock, Ark. Morse said he will confer with Clark before deciding if Street Strategy will run in the Oaklawn Handicap.