Oaklawn News

Hebbronville Readies for Monday’s Smarty Jones Stakes

After working a half-mile in :50.20 Thursday morning at Oaklawn, trainer Lynn Whiting said Hebbronville will make his 3-year-old debut in Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes. The 1-mile Smarty Jones, which is ex-pected to draw a large field, is the first of three local preps for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 11.

From the first crop of Majesticperfection, runner-up for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion sprinter of 2010, Hebbronville won his first two career starts by a combined 11 ¾ lengths last summer at Parx in suburban Philadelphia. Although Hebbronville has yet to win farther than 5 ½ furlongs, Whiting said he believes his colt can carry his considerable speed a mile.

“He’s a talented horse,” Whiting said.

Whiting said Hebbronville did miss a “little bit” of training recently because of winter weather, but noted he had three published workouts last month at Churchill Downs, including a 5-furlong bullet (:59) Dec. 26.

“He didn’t miss anything at Churchill,” Whiting said. “December was very kind to us up there. He did every-thing he was supposed to do.”

Whiting saddled Dryfly to win the 2010 Smarty Jones for Oaklawn owner Charles Cella.

The 2015 Smarty Jones closed Saturday with 44 nominations.
Frankly Speaking

Oaklawn lost its first three scheduled days of racing last week to winter weather, at the same time Frank Mirah-madi was under the weather.

But Mirahmadi, Oaklawn’s track announcer since 2012, said his streak of 1,509 consecutive races called in Hot Springs wouldn’t have been in jeopardy.

“Would have made it – no problem,” Mirahmadi said Wednesday afternoon, about 24 hours before the start of Oaklawn’s live season. “Little bit of decongestion was needed. I’ll tell you one thing: I’m a big believer of Alka-Seltzer Plus. It came to the rescue. It’s the real deal.”

Mirahmadi replaced Terry Wallace, who retired following the 2011 season after calling races at Oaklawn for 37 consecutive seasons.

Wallace’s tenure was highlighted by calling 20,191 consecutive races until the streak ended Jan. 28, 2011.

Mirahmadi called the fifth race that afternoon and served as Oaklawn’s backup announcer in 2011 before being hired permanently.

Mirahmadi said Oaklawn’s opening day – even delayed six days – is always special.

“It’s show time now,” Mirahmadi said. “This is what it’s all about. This is a big event. It’s time to get it going.”
Claim to Fame

Last year may have been the most active claiming meet in Oaklawn history, with 423 claims totaling $6,253,000 during the 53-day meeting.

Those figures surpassed the 2006 meeting (351 and $6,118,005), when numbers during the 52-day season were skewed after Oaklawn became a melting pot for Fair Grounds-based trainers displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

There was no racing that season at the New Orleans track.

Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope said he believes claiming at the 2015 meeting will be more intense than 2014.

“Claiming here will be like the stock market was last year – very robust,” Pope said. “There’s so much money here.”

Daily purses during the 54-day season are projected to average approximately $435,000, which would be an Oaklawn record.

Oaklawn’s minimum purse to begin the meeting is $18,000.
Finish Lines

Grade I winner The Big Beast took another step toward his 4-year-old debut by breezing a half-mile in :52.20 over a fast surface Thursday morning. Trainer Tony Dutrow said The Big Beast will have one yet-to-be-determined prep race before his major Oaklawn target, the $300,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 9 at Oaklawn. … Nasa, a stakes-winning son of 2004 Arkansas Derby winner Smarty Jones, is an early bird nominee to Oaklawn’s $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3), $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). Like Smarty Jones, Nasa is trained by John Servis.