Oaklawn News

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Don Von Hemel Brings Strong Momentum Into 2016

Don Von Hemel of Hot Springs was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 1981. He’s not slowing down at age 81, either.

Von Hemel did big things with his small stable in 2015, winning 23 of 69 starts for a gaudy 33.3 percent strike rate. Fueled by multiple stakes winners Smack Smack and Ghost Locket, Von Hemel’s stable amassed $799,887 in purse earnings – the trainer’s highest total since 2011.

“Pretty good year for an old guy, wasn’t it?” said Von Hemel, the father of Oaklawn-based trainers Donnie K. and Kelly Von Hemel. “I only had like eight or 10 horses all summer.”

Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, also credited Don Von Hemel with his 2,500th career victory when Shaboxxo captured the third race Oct. 30 at Remington Park. The trainer said he has a winner’s circle picture for every victory and believes his career total is higher because of sketchy record keeping during his 50-plus years in the business.

“It’s just what it is,” Von Hemel said. “But between me and the two boys, I’m sure we’ve won right at 5,700 races.”

Von Hemel’s 10-horse Oaklawn contingent is led by Smack Smack, who has won four of his last five starts, including $175,000 Governor’s Cup Aug. 15 at Remington Park, $55,000 Veterans Stakes Nov. 2 at Zia Park and $150,000 Zia Park Championship Handicap Nov. 25 at Zia Park. Bred and owned by country music star Toby Keith, Von Hemel said Smack Smack is scheduled to make his 5-year-old debut in the $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 16 at Oaklawn Park.

Ghost Locket, an allowance winner last March at Oaklawn, has won her last three starts and has finished first, second or third in 16 of 20 career races. In her last start, Ghost Locket, also bred and owned by Keith, won the $75,000 Ricks Memorial Stakes Sept. 27 at Remington Park.

Von Hemel said Ghost Locket could make her 6-year-old debut midway through the Oaklawn meeting.

Von Hemel also has an unstarted 2-year-old half-sister to Smack Smack (Sister Smack) and an unstarted 2-year-old full sister to multiple stakes winner Now I Know (Girl Power). Von Hemel saddled Now I Know to six victories in seven career starts, including the $500,000 Delta Princess Stakes (G3) in 2011 at Delta Downs and the $50,000 Dixie Belle Stakes in 2012 at Oaklawn.

Girl Power, in blinkers, worked 3 furlongs in :36.60 Tuesday morning.

“She’s a problem child, but I’m going to do my best to run her here,” Von Hemel said of Girl Power. “She’s got talent, but she’s a head case, too.”

Synchrony Continues Preparations for 2016

Pin Oak Stable’s Synchrony took another step toward his 3-year-old debut with a 5-furlong workout on a sunny, unseasonably warm Christmas Eve at Oaklawn for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel.

Synchrony, who breezed shortly after the break to renovate the fast-rated racing surface, was caught in 1:01.40 by clockers and galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:15.

“I was happy with him,” Von Hemel said. “Finished up nice. Looked good doing it.”

Von Hemel said Synchrony, a winner of 2 of 3 career starts, remains under serious consideration for the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18, Oaklawn’s first major prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 16.

The 1-mile Smarty Jones would mark the stakes and two-turn debut for the son of Tapit out of the Von Hemel-trained multiple stakes winner Brownie Points. Synchrony, in his first work at Oaklawn, breezed 5 furlongs in 1:02.80 Dec. 17.

Von Hemel said Synchrony “should be on a pretty regular” workout schedule leading up to his 3-year-old debut.

Back to Work

Whitmore, among Oaklawn’s promising soon to be 3-year-olds, worked a half-mile in company in :49 Christmas Eve morning for co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs.

Whitmore, who was flanked by two stablemates, galloped out 5 furlongs in 1:02.80 over a fast-rated surface, a work that occurred about 40 minutes after the track opened for training at 7 a.m. (Central).

Following a Nov. 6 career debut victory at Churchill Downs, Whitmore, in his only other start, finished fifth in the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3) Nov. 21 at Delta Downs.

“He’s doing great,” Moquett said. “Just a little maintenance work.”

Moquett said Whitmore could make his 3-year-old debut in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18 or in an early season entry-level allowance race at Oaklawn. The trainer saddled Far Right to win the 2015 Smarty Jones Stakes.
Discreet Talk

Discreetness is the most accomplished 2-year-old in Jinks Fires’ barn, but the trainer said his most talented 2-year-old is Discreetly Firm.

“He’s a horse we’re really high on,” Fires said.

Discreetly Firm, a son of Grade 1 winner Discreetly Mine, ran second in both career starts this fall, including a maiden special weight sprint Sept. 24 at Churchill Downs. The colt hasn’t run since, having bone fragments removed from an ankle shortly after that race, Fires said.

“They’ve been aggravating him a little bit, but this morning he went completely sound,” Fires said after training hours Monday. “He was the one I was looking forward to the most. I think he’s the best horse we’ve got, but he’s also had some problems.”

Barring any other physical setbacks, Fires said he expects Discreetly Firm, a $100,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sales graduate, to run early in the Oaklawn meeting.

“We’re going forward with him right now,” Fires said.

Fires is pointing $250,000 Springboard Mile winner Discreetness, a son of Discreet Cat, for the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18 at Oaklawn. He worked 5 furlongs in company in 1:01.40 Tuesday.

Both Discreetness and Discreetly Firm are owned by Xpress Thoroughbreds LLC (Dwight Pruett and Paula Barnes).

On the Work Tab

It was a busy Tuesday morning for workouts included two Breeders’ Cup participants breezing within five minutes of each other and a potential Smarty Jones Stakes runner preparing for his 3-year-old debut.

Street Strategy, prepping for the $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 16, worked 5 furlongs in company in :59.60 for trainer Randy Morse.

A three-time Oaklawn winner, Street Strategy finished seventh in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) Oct. 30 at Keeneland in his last start.

Shortly after Street Strategy completed his work, Alsvid sizzled 5 furlongs in :58.40 for trainer Chris Hartman.

Alsvid went an eye-popping :45.60 for his first half-mile. The gelding worked from the half-mile pole to the 7-furlong marker.

Alsvid won the $300,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) in April at Oaklawn and ran 13th in the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint Oct. 31 at Keeneland.

Street Strategy and Alsvid breezed after the break to renovate the surface, which was rated good by clockers.

Smarty Jones prospect, Gray Sky, worked a half-mile in company in :50.20 just after the track opened for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Bold Conquest, fifth behind future Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in last April’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), worked 5 furlongs in company in 1:02.20 just after the track opened for six-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen.
Back to Work for ‘Tressa’

Take Charge Tressa, an unstarted 2-year-old half-sister to champion Take Charge Brandi, worked 3 furlongs in :39.80 over a sloppy surface Saturday morning for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Take Charge Tressa was up to half-mile in her workouts in August at Saratoga before suffering a stress fracture in a hind leg, an injury that delayed the daughter of War Front’s projected debut until the Oaklawn meeting.

“She’s a ways off yet,” Lukas said.

Owner Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark., who campaigned Take Charge Brandi, the champion 2-year-old filly of 2014, purchased Take Charge Tressa for $1,250,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga August Yearling Sale.

Take Charge Tressa worked in company with an unnamed stablemate, a 2-year-old filly by Quality Road out of Tempus Fugit.
Finish Lines

There were 1,079 horses on the grounds Tuesday morning. … Horses for newcomer Ignacio Correas are now training at Oaklawn. … Other recent training arrivals include Ingrid Mason, Tim Ritchey and newcomer Jimmy DiVito.