Friday, February 13, 2015

Kantune Ready to Take Step Up in Southwest

Kantune will be in the starting gate for Monday’s $150,000 Southwest Stakes (G3), which is the second of three major prep races for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11. But, he was just an ordinary young horse in Mark Casse’s stable until he was transferred to the Oaklawn division.

The switch certainly did the trick. After failing to graduate from the maiden ranks in six tries in Southern Cali-fornia last year, Kantune made it to the winner’s circle with an exciting 3 ½ lengths triumph in a $60,000 maiden special weight race at Oaklawn in his first 2015 start on Jan. 23.

“I thought we gave him plenty of opportunities at Santa Anita, but he just wasn’t getting it done,” said Casse. “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t the racetrack. You know what? I’ve seen horses go to Oaklawn and just love if it there, and they have as good of a three-year-old program as anywhere in North America, so that’s why we went there with him, and, you can’t beat the purses We tried it and it worked. It’s nice when a plan comes together, because sometimes it doesn’t.”

If all goes according to design, Gary Barber’s Kantune will keep progressing as he continues to stretch out as the races get longer in Oaklawn’s acclaimed series for 3-year-olds.

“Kantune couldn’t be doing any better,” said Casse. “We’re very happy with him. Our feeling is that he’s com-ing into this race even better than he did in his last. But, he’ll need to be better because this is a big step up for him. I was impressed with his last start, but now he gets to play with the big boys so we’ll see what happens.”

Casse, who currently has 86 horses in training at his three divisions at Oaklawn, Southern California and South Florida, notched a major career milestone by capturing his first Queen’s Plate, Canada’s most prestigious race, in 2014 by is still looking for his first Triple Crown victory.

“Right now we have three or four colts that look like they have the potential to maybe move to the top of the list, but everything has to go right and they have to continue to do well and keep improving. We just hope that they do and maybe Kantune can be one of them,” Casse said.

Amoss Changes Mind on Southwest

A full field of 12 was entered Friday morning for Monday’s Southwest Stakes. But, it won’t be a full field when the gates open. Shortly after his horse drew post position 11 for the 1 1/16-mile race, trainer Tom Amoss said the gelding will be scratched and leave Saturday morning to return to his primary base at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Amoss cited the outside draw – horses traditionally struggle to win from post 11 in route races at Oaklawn – and the forecast of possible winter weather as reasons passing the Southwest.

“It’s been well-documented that that post is tough to win from,” Amoss said early Friday afternoon. “And the weather forecast combined with that – it’s just too much.”

Even if the Southwest would have to be redrawn and run at a later date because of winter weather, Amoss said he’ll go to “Plan B” and point War Story toward the $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) Feb. 21 at Fair Grounds.

In other Southwest news, The Truth Or Else worked three furlongs in :35.20 shortly after the track opened Fri-day morning for trainer Kenny McPeek.  The Truth Or Else, who went in company with stablemate King of New York, galloped out a half-mile in :47.80. Surprise entry, Phenomenal Phoenix will race with blinkers on for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel.

Probable post time for the Southwest is 5:09 p.m. (Central). It is scheduled as the ninth race on a 10-race Presi-dents’ Day program. Monday’s card begins at 1 p.m. and features Oaklawn’s annual $55,000 progressive cash giveaway promotion.

The expected Southwest field, with riding assignments and weights, from the rail out: J S Bach, John Velazquez, 115; Far Right, Mike Smith, 122; Private Prospect, Alex Birzer, 119; Bayerd, Ramon Vazquez, 119; The Truth Or Else, Calvin Borel, 115; Kantune, Shaun Bridgmohan, 115; Phenomenal Phoenix, Cliff Berry, 115; Majestico, Terry Thompson, 115; Bold Conquest, Ricardo Santana Jr., 115; Mr. Z, Corey Nakatani, 115; and Bold Animaux, Israel Ocampo, 115.

Rocket Man

In a perfect world, Rocket Time would have run at Oaklawn last year since prominent Arkansas owner Frank Fletcher purchased the gelded son of Tiz Wonderful for $150,000 as a 2-year-old with the intent of winning the 2014 Arkansas Derby, a race he covets more than any other.

“That’s what they’re all bought for,” Fletcher said.

Instead, Rocket Time is scheduled to make his first local start in Saturday’s $100,000 Essex Handicap for older horses at 1 1/16 miles.

Just getting to the Essex, Fletcher said, has been a struggle for Rocket Time. Fletcher said Rocket Time was diagnosed with a “heart murmur” shortly after he was purchased, adding he was told by one veterinarian that the gelding would probably never be able to race. But, Rocket Time hasn’t had another problem with his heart after it was “shocked.”

Fletcher is still chasing his Arkansas Derby dream (he has horses with Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, Al Stall, Tom Howard and Al Cates), but he may have a potential Oaklawn Handicap candidate in Rocket Time, who is riding a three-race winning streak, including the $50,000 Tenacious Stakes, a Dec. 21 overnight event at
Fair Grounds.

Calvin Borel thought so highly of Rocket Time that the Hall of Fame jockey interrupted his annual December vacation in Florida to ride the gelding for Stall in the mile and 70-yard race. Rocket Time was a front-running 2 ½-length winner, boosting his career record to 4 of 6 overall.

“He’s a really nice horse,” Borel said Friday morning.

Borel has ridden Rocket Time in his last five starts and said it’s imperative that Rocket Time keep his cool Sat-urday. He then pointed to his head, noting horses normally parade in the infield after being saddled for Oak-lawn stakes races. The procedure means horses are subject to wind, passing tractors grooming the surface and flashing lights from odds changing on the tote board.
“If he has his head on, going to the grass … if it doesn’t blow his mind, he’ll run good,” Borel said. “He’s that kind of horse. Now, he can get a little rowdy.”

Borel said Rocket Time, for the most part, has settled down after being gelded last fall.

“That horse turned around,” Borel said. “He got focused, put some weight on. Totally different horse.”
 
Sure Bet?

Gentlemen’s Bet continues to test Harry Rosenblum’s patience. He said he hopes to be rewarded again.
Rosenblum, a Little Rock, Ark., financial advisor, owns Gentlemen’s Bet, who is scheduled to make his come-back in Saturday’s seventh race, an allowance/optional claiming sprint. Gentlemen’s Bet hasn’t started since finishing third in the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 2, 2013, at Santa Anita.

A foot injury sidelined Gentlemen’s Bet for all of 2014. He was also sidelined for more than a year after a small bone chip was removed from an ankle in early 2012. Saturday will mark just the 10th career start for the 6-year-old son of Half Ours.

“Sometimes this business will try your patience,” Rosenblum said.

Despite the physical setbacks, Rosenblum said he never considered retiring Gentlemen’s Bet or selling the horse privately. Rosenblum said he turned down to “seven-figure offers” before the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

“Gentlemen’s Bet, to me, is a once in a lifetime horse,” Rosenblum said. “He’s doing right now, knock on wood, better than he’s ever done.”

Gentlemen’s Bet recorded the first timed workout of the 2015 Oaklawn season Dec. 8 and has worked steadily the last month for Rosenblum and trainer Ron Moquett.

Gentlemen’s Bet, in company with Grade 2 winner Den’s Legacy, breezed a half-mile in :47.60 Sunday morn-ing, equaling the fastest of 66 works recorded at the distance.

Gentlemen’s Bet won his first three career starts before running third in the in the $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) in April 2013 at Oaklawn. His biggest career victory to date came in the $125,000 Iowa Sprint Handicap in June 2013 at Prairie Meadows.

Rosenblum said Saturday’s race is designed as a prep for a return to stakes competition.

“Our goal with him is to run in the Breeders’ Cup again,” Rosenblum said.

Dawn At Oaklawn Returns Saturday

Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg is the scheduled guest for Saturday’s Dawn At Oaklawn. Presented by Ar-kansas-owned Westrock Coffee, Dawn At Oaklawn will offer fans a behind the scenes look at the racing indus-try each Saturday from 7:30 a.m.-9:30 a.m. throughout the remainder of the meeting.

Hosted by Oaklawn paddock analyst Nancy Ury-Holthus, this program is free to the public and complimentary coffee and pastries will be served. In addition, there are barn tours at 7:30, 8, 9 and 9:30 a.m. Guests can park in the South lot and walk through the shipping and receiving area to access the South Apron on the Grandstand.

Van Berg, 78, ranks fifth in North American racing history in victories (6,429), according to Equibase. He shifted his base from Southern California to the Midwest before the 2014 Oaklawn meeting, and his Jan. 18 victory with Fine Cognac was his first in Hot Springs since 2008. The trainer, who now lives in Hot Springs, was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 1983 and 1984 and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985. He saddled Gate Dancer to win the Preakness in 1984 and won the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Alysheba. Alysheba was the 1988 Horse of the Year.

Finish Lines

Oceanwave worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.40 Friday morning for trainer Wayne Catalano, who called the 3-year-old daughter of Harlan’s Holiday “probable” for the $150,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 7. … Powerful Jan. 31 maiden winner Conquest Curlinate worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 Friday morning for trainer Mark Casse. Casse said one of his top 3-year-olds from last year, Illinois Derby winner Dynamic Impact, should be returning to Oaklawn in the coming weeks … Oaklawn surpassed $2 million in claims at the meeting in Thursday’s first race when Hunter Henry, a 3-year-old gelding named after Arkansas’ All-SEC junior tight end, was claimed by his original trainer, Ron Moquett, for $25,000 on behalf of owner Harry Rosenblum. Thursday was 18th day of the meeting … Longtime KATV weatherman Ned Perme will be at Oaklawn Saturday signing limited edition prints of his artwork, Oaklawn “The First Turn.” He will be located in front of the Winning Colors Gift Shop on the first floor of the Grandstand from 1 – 3 p.m.



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