Thursday, December 03, 2015

Knights Key Targets Smarty Jones

Knights Key, an eye-catching career debut winner last month, is targeting the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18 at Oaklawn for his 3-year-old debut, trainer Steve Hobby of Hot Springs said. After breaking in a tangle, the colt was a last-to-first winner of a Nov. 20 maiden special weights sprint at Churchill Downs under Joe Rocco Jr.

Owned by Alex and JoAnn Lieblong of Conway, Ark., Knights Key is by Giant’s Causeway, among the world’s most influential stallions, and a half-brother to Grade 1 turf standout Lochte. The 1-mile Smarty Jones would mark the two-turn debut for him. Hobby and the Lieblongs teamed to win the 2012 Smarty Jones with Junebugred.

“Natural order of things,” Hobby said.

Hobby said he wasn’t necessarily surprised Knights Key won his career debut – the colt had a series of fast workouts leading up to the 6 1/2-furlong race – but how he won his career debut. Following the sluggish start, Knights Key passed the entire field on the outside after being last approaching the quarter pole.

“He gave up a lot at the start,” Hobby said.

Because Knights Key was his best 2-year-old, Hobby said he schooled him at the starting gate about four days before the race.

“He did perfect, and then son of a b****,” Hobby said. “It was just bad timing. He just turned his head as the gates opened. He got a lot of education in one race. Joe did such a nice job that day of sitting and waiting, instead of chasing down the backside. It was amazing that a 2-year-old would do that – sit and wait. That was maybe the most impressive thing he did that day.”

Knights Key is already at Oaklawn, along with Hobby’s other top prospects, including multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Spring Included and Sassy Miss Sue, an unstarted 2-year-old full sister to Grade I winner and millionaire Tiz Miz Sue.

Hobby said Spring Included is pointing for the $100,000 American Beauty Stakes for older filly and mare sprinters Jan. 23 at Oaklawn. Sassy Miss Sue could run early in the meeting. Hobby saddled Tiz Miz Sue to victories in Oaklawn’s Azeri Stakes (G3) in 2012 and 2013.
 
Gold Medal Dancer Retired

Gold Medal Dancer, who beat champion Untapable in the $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares this year at Oaklawn, has been retired and will be bred to War Front, trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said.

Gold Medal Dancer, a 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, retires with a 7-4-4 record from 20 starts and earnings of $639,669 for owner/breeder Josephine Abercrombie (Pin Oak Stable).

Gold Medal Dancer won an allowance/optional claiming race at the 2013 and 2014 Oaklawn meetings before scoring her biggest career victory in the Azeri. After that race, Gold Medal Dancer finished third in Oaklawn’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), and, in her final start, third in the $200,000 Chilukki Stakes (G2) Nov. 7 at Churchill Downs. She began 2015 with a third-place finish in the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn.
 
Finish Lines

There were 341 horses on the grounds Thursday morning. … Three-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. needs nine victories and $83,188 in purse earnings this month to set career yearly highs, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Santana has 144 victories and $5,942,731 in purse earnings in 2015. … Al Cates of Hot Springs has set career highs for starts (122), victories (26) and purse earnings ($636,514) this year, according to Equibase. Cates saddled his first career winner in 2005. … The Truth Or Else, who ran second in the Southwest, fourth in the Rebel and seventh in the Arkansas Derby earlier this year at Oaklawn, won a second-level allowance/optional claimer Friday at Churchill Downs. … Gray Sky broke his maiden on Saturday’s “Stars of Tomorrow II” card at Churchill Downs for two-time Oaklawn training champion and Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. Gray Sky, a 2-year-old son of Tapit, is out of Trickski, who raced during the 2001 and 2002 Oaklawn meetings for K.K. and Devi Jayaraman, among the most successful owners in Oaklawn history. K.K. Jayaraman is scheduled to make his training comeback at the 2016 Oaklawn meeting that begins Jan. 15. Jayaraman won seven races at the 2000 Oaklawn meeting, his last year as a trainer. … Uncle Brennie is pointing for the $250,000 Springboard Mile for 2-year-olds Dec. 13 at Remington Park, owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs said. Uncle Brennie is trained by Brad Cox, among the leading trainers in 2015. … Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said he could run two horses in the Springboard Mile. Von Hemel’s Suddenbreakingnews won the $100,000 Clever Trevor Stakes Nov. 6 at Remington; stablemate Secret Passage is unbeaten in two starts at the meeting.

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