Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Busy Morning for Southwest Participants

Five projected starters for Monday’s $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) completed their final major preparations Wednesday morning at Oaklawn, including Mr. Z, who worked a half-mile in :49.20 for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Lukas said he’s been “fooling with some different bridles” during training hours on Mr. Z, who is coming off a troubled third-place finish in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 19. The Malibu Moon colt opened a clear lead turning for home in the mile race, but ducked out sharply when struck left-handed by Jon Court. He also has had a habit of getting out in other races, and during training hours.

Lukas said Mr. Z was on his best behavior Wednesday, when he worked from the half-mile pole to the wire about 10 minutes after the track opened. Clockers caught his final quarter-mile in :22.80 and he galloped out five furlongs in 1:02.60.

“That’s about as good as I can get him,” Lukas said. “It was a pretty work, really pretty – without incident, straight as a string. Everything’s good.”

Four other Southwest probables also worked Wednesday.

Lukas said he also plans to start Majestico in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest after the Majesticperfection colt worked a half-mile in :51 about five minutes before Mr. Z breezed. He exits a fifth in a Jan. 19 allowance/optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles. The trainer said Corey Nakatani will ride Mr. Z and Terry Thompson will ride            Majestico.

War Story recorded a bullet half-mile (:47) for trainer Tom Amoss. War Story, who worked about five minutes after Mr. Z, covered his final quarter in :22.40 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:00.20.

Bayerd worked a half-mile in :51 (last quarter in :25) for trainer Steve Asmussen. Asmussen’s other scheduled Southwest starter, Bold Conquest, will work Thursday morning.

Mr. Z, Majestico, War Story and Bayerd worked before the renovation break.

Instant Replay, another projected Southwest starter, worked five furlongs in 1:03.20 after the break for trainer Wayne Catalano. The Jan. 19 first-level allowance winner galloped out six furlongs in 1:18.20.

Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope listed 11 probables for the Southwest late Wednesday morning. In addition to Mr. Z, Majestico, War Story, Bayerd, Bold Conquest and Instant Replay, Far Right, Private Prospect, Kantune, The Truth Or Else and J S Bach are expected, Pope said.  Post positions for the Southwest will be drawn Friday.

Pletcher Duo Arrives for Presidents Day Weekend Stakes Engagements

Todd Pletcher, who last month captured his record seventh Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding trainer,  sent two contenders from his South Florida base Wednesday to compete in stakes during Presidents Day Weekend at Oaklawn. JS Bach will attempt to compose his first stakes win in Monday’s Southwest Stakes, while stable mate and defending Razorback Handicap champion Golden Lad was one of eight horses entered in Saturday’s $100,000 Essex Handicap for older horses.

The Southwest, to be run at 1 1/16 miles, serves as the second of Oaklawn’s three major prep races for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11 and the Essex, to be contested at the same distance, is a precursor for the $250,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) March 14 and the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) Arkansas Derby Day.

JS Bach, a Tale of the Cat colt who races for owner-breeder Donald Dizney, has only made two starts but his conditioner has every reason to expect he’ll handle the class hike from the maiden ranks into graded stakes company as well as the distance of the Southwest. After the colt finished a good second by 2 ¼ lengths at Gulfstream Park in December, he made a strong statement on Jan. 17. Despite being bumped at the start, the 4-5 favorite in the field of 12 sophomores raced to the lead and then kicked clear through Gulfstream’s lane to graduate by an impressive 8 ½ lengths at 1 1/6 miles.

“He did look good in his last race, and he also ran well his first time, but five-and-a half furlongs was just a little short for him going out for his first time,” said Pletcher, who has given the mount to his go-to rider John Velazquez. “He definitely found his groove going two turns. He’s trained well and we’re looking forward to it.”

Although JS Bach, who tuned up for the race with a five-furlong breeze in 1:00.4 at Palm Beach Downs on Feb. 8, has yet to race anywhere, but over Gulfstream's strip, Pletcher was unconcerned about him being able to handle the trip to Arkansas, or the trip around Oaklawn’s oval.

“He’s a horse who seems to have trained well at Palm Beach Downs and he’s run well at Gulfstream, so he wouldn’t act like the kind that needs to take his track with him. We certainly hope that’s the case,” he said.

Pletcher also hopes that a return trip to Oaklawn will be just the ticket for Golden Lad. Mrs. Joyce Robsham’s homebred stepped up from the allowance/optional claiming ranks into the Razorback (G3) last March and notched his first stakes score by a dominating 6 ¾ lengths. He would return for the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) the following month, finished fifth and then disappointed again while ending up next to last in the Pimlico Special (G3) in May.

The son of Medaglia d’Oro then was given a break and returned to the races on Jan. 10, when he was fifth after encountering trouble in the Hal’s Hope (G3) at one mile.

“Golden Lad seemed to really take to the track that day he ran there in the Razorback,” Pletcher said. “In the Oaklawn Handicap, he got into a little bit of traffic issues down the lane and that compromised both him and (stablemate) Revolutionary a bit. He started to tail off after the Oaklawn Handicap, but we still feel as though he likes the surface there. We thought it made sense to bring him back.”

Golden Lad, who worked 5f in company with 4yo f Got Lucky in 1:00.4 on Feb. 8 at Palm Beach Downs, will get the services of  Ricardo Santana, Jr., Oaklawn’s defending leading rider, for the first time in the Essex.

A Royal Welcome

Unbeaten 3-year-old Hillbilly Royalty is under consideration for the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14 following his front-running 4 ½-length entry-level allowance/optional claiming victory at 1 1/16 miles Friday, trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said.

Von Hemel said it’s likely Hillbilly Royalty will make his stakes debut in his next start  – whether it’s the Rebel or a race like the $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3) March 22 – because he doesn’t see a “non-three” allowance race for 3-year-olds going in the interim.

“The Rebel is most likely because we’re here, but you’ve got to look and see what’s coming, too,” Von Hemel said. “Basically if you’ve won two races, you’re either going to run in a stake or you’re not going to run right now.”

Bred and owned by Dream Walkin Farms Inc. (country music star Toby Keith), Hillbilly Royalty wasn’t an early Triple Crown nominee. He debuted Nov. 22 at Remington Park and was a 2 ½-length winner at a mile. The gelding had a steady series of local works leading up to his 3-year-old debut, but Von Hemel said none were spectacular.

“He showed that he was probably all right in the morning,” Von Hemel said. “The two races, I think I’ve been surprised both times.”

Von Hemel praised Dream Walkin (Keith) for allowing him to take his time with the son of Langfuhr, the sire of 2006 Arkansas Derby winner Lawyer Ron.

“Kudos to them,” Von Hemel said. “They’ve never said, ‘When are you going to run? Run him here.’ He’s great to train for. He enjoys it. But as far as when and where to run – all that stuff – he leaves it up to you.”

The early Triple Crown nomination period ($600 fee) closed Jan. 17. The late period, which has a $6,000 nomination fee, runs through March 23. Von Hemel said Hillbilly Royalty will be a late nominee, if it’s warranted.

“If you’re going to spend $6,000, you wait until the deadline,” Von Hemel said.
 
Finish Lines

Ride On Curlin, under regular exercise rider Bryan Beccia, worked an easy half-mile in :49.60 after the break Wednesday morning in preparation for Saturday’s $100,000 Essex Handicap. … Super Saks, an 11-length maiden winner sprinting Jan. 30, will be pointed toward the $150,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 7, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. Terry Thompson, Lukas said, would ride the swift 3-year-old daughter of Sky Mesa in the 1 1/16-mile race. Lukas is also pointing champion Take Charge Brandi for the Honeybee. She worked a half-mile in :49.80 Monday morning. … Sarah Sis, narrowly beaten by Take Charge Brandi in the $100,000 Martha Washington Jan. 31, is pointing for the Honeybee, trainer Ingrid Mason said. … Trainer Wayne Catalano said Jan. 22 first-level allowance winner Oceanwave is probable for the Honeybee. … Multiple stakes winner Sugar Shock will pass Saturday’s $300,000 Barbara Fritchie Handicap (G2) at Laurel in Maryland and remain home to await the $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 14, trainer/co-owner Doug Anderson said. Sugar Shock won the $100,000 American Beauty Stakes Jan. 24 in her 4-year-old debut. Sugar Shock worked a half-mile in :49.40 Sunday morning under regular rider Channing Hill. … Zee Bros, third in the $100,000 Fifth Season Jan. 16, will run in the $250,000 General George Handicap (G3) Monday at Laurel, Lukas said. … Lukas said Brewing, a leg-weary fifth in Saturday’s $100,000 King Cotton Stakes after leading through an eye-popping :44.18 half-mile, will be pointed for the $100,000 Hot Springs Stakes March 7. … Trainer Lynn Whiting said Hebbronville is again training at Oaklawn following a recent stay at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., to treat several dislodged teeth suffered in a freak stall accident shortly after a sixth-place finish in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 19. …Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg is the special guest for Saturday’s “Dawn At Oaklawn.”
 
 

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