Friday, March 13, 2015

Weather Doesn’t Damper the Spirits of Rebel, Razorback and Azeri Contenders

You can’t fight Mother Nature was the mantra on Friday morning from the connections of contenders for Saturday’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2), $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) and $250,000 Razorback Handicap (G3). Despite heavy rains that interrupted training so the sloppy racing strip could be sealed after the break, preparations progressed without problems.

“Everybody is in the same boat with this rain,” said Jim Barnes, who will saddle Rebel overwhelming favorite American Pharoah and Razorback hopeful Midnight Hawk for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. “Our horses are ready to run and at this stage of the game one day isn’t going to make any difference. With the track being so firm so close to race day, we don’t want any issues so they just had an easy one mile gallop.”

Todd Pletcher will send out Madefromlucky, a son of 2010 Rebel and Preakness Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky, in the Rebel and Race Day, the 7-2 third choice in the Razorback.

“We just jogged them one mile but we would have galloped if the track condition had been better,” said assistant trainer Adele Bellinger, who was in the irons. “But our plans are still the same for the races. They’re both really happy and ready to run.”

All of Madefronlucky’s five races have been on a fast track, but with Smart Strike and Pulpit as his grandsires, he has the pedigree to handle the surface if the forecast for more rain holds.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of experience with him on an off-track, but he seemed to get over the track pretty well the other morning. You never know until race time, but I don’t anticipate it will be a problem,” Pletcher said via phone from his South Florid base.
 
Madefromlucky, who is owned by Mac Nichol and the National Basketball Association’s Oklahoma Thunder part owner Everett Dobson, will have an unlikely fan club rooting him home in the race. He is the only Thoroughbred among 25 harness horses in a venture named The Stable That God Loves, and one percent of his purse earnings throughout the year are dedicated to Chaplain Ken Carter’s homeless Standardbred Chaplaincy of Canada. The ministry provides for the emotional, physical, spiritual and human needs of the horse racing workforce in Southwestern Ontario.Nichol, who was on his way to Hot Springs, is the first Thoroughbred owner to be involved.

“I figured I’ll mix it up a bit on this Thoroughbred and maybe it will open some more doors for support for the chaplaincy,” said Nichol, who owns Ideal Training Centre, a 50-acre  showplace with  accommodation for 123 horses and a 5/8 mile Standardbred training track in Canada.

The connections of Razorback co-second choice and the locally-stabled Ride on Curlin had no quarrel with the forecast. The 4-year-old colt is a son of superior off-track sire Curlin, who won the Rebel in 2007 on the way to back-to-back Horse of the Year honors, and he broke his maiden here last year on a surface rated “good.”

“He loves a sloppy track and he’ll love this kind of track,” said trainer Billy Gowan, who elected to just walk the horse in the barn this morning instead of taking him to the track. “He’ll also love the mile-and-a-sixteenth distance.”

Owner Daniel Doughtery arrived from his Louisville, KY home on Thursday evening and is still enjoying quite a ride with Ride on Curlin, who in 2014 took them all the way from the $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3), the Rebel and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) to all three Triple Crown races.

“I told Billy that I’m the jinx. Every time I come here they have to cancel training,” Doughery said with a laugh. “I’mm thrilled to be back and it’s very exciting. This horse has been a lot of fun and we hope the ride continues for a long time.”

In related news, trainer Kenny McPeek, who will be represented in the Rebel by 4-1 second choice The Truth or Else, by Grade 1 winner Golden Ticket in the Razorback, and by Flashy American, who has two wins in eight tries on an off track, in the Azeri, elected to take no chances with them so they all walked in the barn in the morning.


Azeri News:


DIVA’S DIAMOND - Trainer Karl Broberg said Diva’s Diamond, despite heavy rain, was able to get out early and “backtrack” Friday morning in preparation for Saturday’s $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles.
Diva’s Diamond is 30-1 in the program – easily the longest shot in the projected six-horse field – after finishing seventh in the $100,000 Pippin Stakes Jan. 17 and fifth in the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 15.

“This isn’t where she needs to be, but the race just came up with such a short field and there were no allowance spots available,” Broberg said. “We’ve entered her in a couple of allowances at the meet that haven’t gone. She’s 30-1 in the morning line for a reason.”

Diva’s Diamond is owned by Texan Jerry Namy, who also co-owns Don’t Tell Sophia, a finalist for an Eclipse Award as champion older female last year.  Don’t Tell Sophia ran second in the 2013 Azeri and was third in last year’s race.

GOLD MEDAL DANCER  - Gold Medal Dancer jogged two miles Friday morning in preparation for Saturday’s $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2). Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said everything is good with the 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d’Oro, who is coming off a third-place finish, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 15.

“As long as she doesn’t see Untapable, she probably thinks she’s going to win,” Von Hemel said with a laugh.
 
Untapable, the 1-2 Azeri program favorite, was the country’s champion 3-year-old filly last year.
 
MUFAJAAH  - Shadwell Stable’s Mufajaah galloped over a sloppy surface Friday morning as her trainer, Dan Peitz, continues to recover at home from partial knee replacement surgery March 6. Peitz said he won’t be physically able to saddle Mufajaah in Saturday’s $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares.

“I’m still hobbling around,” Peitz said. “I’m not even sure I’ll be there to watch the race.”

Mufajaah has continued to postpone a date with the breeding shed because of her success this year at Oaklawn.
The 4-year-old daughter of Tapit won the $100,000 Pippin Stakes Jan. 17 and the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 15. Peitz reiterated that Mufajaah will “probably” be retired with a loss Saturday. A victory, Peitz said, will “probably” mean a start in the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 10.

“No pressure,” Peitz said with a laugh.

Mufajaah fell well behind early before rallying to win the Pippin and Bayakoa at 1 1/16 miles, the same distance as the Azeri.

“Just hope we get enough pace in front of us,” Peitz said. “That’s going to be the big question.”
 
UNTAPABLE - Trainer Steve Asmussen, soaked following an abbreviated training session Friday morning, jokingly referred to champion Untapable’s mile gallop as a “butterfly” move over the saturated racing surface.
Untapable is scheduled to launch her 4-year-old campaign in Saturday’s $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares.

After going to the gate to school Thursday morning, Asmussen schooled Untapable and stablemates Tapiture and Bold Conquest in the paddock before Thursday’s seventh race.

“We tried to duck raindrops,” Asmussen said. “Waited until we felt it let up enough. We got rained on a little bit coming back. That might be the real schooling. We’ll probably get rained on again tomorrow.”

Untapable, the country’s champion 3-year-old filly, schooled in stall No. 1 Thursday afternoon, the same spot where she will be saddled for the Azeri. '


Razorback News:

CARVE - “Everything is still going well,” said trainer Brad Cox of his Fifth Season Stakes winner. “He did have a nice gallop today. He won over an off track when he won the Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows, so if we are sloppy here I’m not worried about it.”

I GOT IT ALL - I Got It All is scheduled to make his second graded stakes start in Saturday’s $250,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles.  I Got It All races for co-owner/trainer Tom Swearingen, who saddled the 4-year-old gelded son of Tiz Wonderful to a third-place finish in the $100,000 Essex Handicap Feb. 14. He has only run two poor races in 11-lifetime starts, one coming in last year’s $250,000 Iowa Derby (G3) in which he ran eighth. He hasn’t run worse than third in five subsequent starts.

“We hoped that he was competitive enough to be here,” Swearingen said. “It looks like he’s done good so far. We’re happy to get this opportunity to bring him over here. It’s been great.”

A stalwart on the Chicago circuit, Swearingen is wintering in Hot Springs for the first time this year.
 
TAPITURE – 2014 Southwest Stakes winner Tapiture galloped a mile Friday morning for trainer Steve Asmussen, who will saddle the striking chestnut son of Tapit for his 4-year-old debut in Saturday’s $250,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) at 1 1/16 miles.
Tapiture was one of Oaklawn’s leading 3-year-olds last year and went on to win sevearal other stakes, includuing the West Virginia Derby. He hasn’t started since finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) Oct. 31 at Santa Anita.

“I think he’s stronger,” Asmussen said. “He looks great. Hoping that we can get a little more distance in his races this year than we did last year.”

-30-