Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hartman in Pursuit of First Oaklawn Title

With 12 days remaining in the Oaklawn meet, the trainer whose equipment is splashed in blue, tops the standings. But, it isn’t Steve Asmussen, who is seeking his fourth consecutive title, and seventh since 2007. Wednesday’s double for Chris Hartman allowed him to break an 18-18 tie with Asmussen and reclaim the outright lead as Oaklawn’s season enters the stretch run.

“It’s Steve’s race to lose,” Hartman said. “He’s got way more numbers. I don’t have the numbers to do it.”

But a hot stretch since Feb. 7 - the 16th day of the now-scheduled 52-day meeting - has allowed Hartman to surge to the top. He’s 14 of 51 during that stretch, a 27.4 winning percentage.

Hartman, 42, won 17 races at last year’s meeting to finish sixth in the standings. But he’s already cemented a much higher finish in 2015. His 35-horse Oaklawn string received a major boost late last year when prominent Texas owners James and Ywachetta Driver moved approximately 10 horses from trainer Cody Autrey to Hartman.

Hartman has saddled five winners for the Drivers at the meeting, including Guns Loaded, who nosed out Be a Hero in a second-level allowance sprint Wednesday. Hartman also has about nine horses for Oklahoma owner James Rogers’ Black Hawk Stable. The Black Hawk contingent is headed by multiple stakes winner Alsvid, who is entered in a tough allowance/optional claiming sprint Friday.

“This is by far the best barn I’ve had,” Hartman said. “This is the best horses I’ve ever trained, as a pile of horses, I’ve upgraded my livestock quite a bit.”

The upgrade coincides with the trainer shifting his base after the Oaklawn meeting ends April 11 from Prairie Meadows in Iowa to Churchill Downs in Kentucky. Hartman and wife Hillary accounted for 26 victories at last year’s Prairie Meadows meet.

“With the livestock I have, I’ve got to go to a spot like Churchill,” Chris Hartman said.

Hartman has three horses entered Thursday at Oaklawn – London by Night in the fourth race, Rivers Run Deep in the eighth race and Jamie’s Girl in the ninth race. Hartman enters Thursday with 1,041 career victories since he started his first horse in 1992. He has saddled more than 100 winners five times in a year since 2007, including a career-high 117 in 2009 to rank 33rd in North America.
 
Just a Fantasy

Sweet Opportunity, who is scheduled to make her next start in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies April 4, worked five furlongs over a fast track Thursday morning.

Under regular rider Luis Quinonez, Sweet Opportunity covered the distance in 1:02. A daughter of Distorted Humor, Sweet Opportunity won a March 13 entry-level allowance race in her last start for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel.

Also pointing for the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy are Sarah Sis, Oceanwave, who picks up Ramon Vazquez, Oaklawn’s second-leading rider this year,  and Pangburn, the 1-2-3 finishers, respectively, in the $150,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 7.

In addition, at least two shippers are scheduled to run in the Fantasy. Oaklawn leading rider Ricardo Santana Jr. is scheduled to ride the Florida-based Feathered for trainer Todd Pletcher. Feathered ran second to champion Take Charge Brandi in the $350,000 Starlet Stakes (G1) and was fourth to Take Charge Brandi in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) last year.

Achiever’s Legacy, who finished fifth in the Starlet, has been based in Southern California with Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Achiever’s Legacy scored her biggest career victory in last year’s $100,000 Desi Arnaz Stakes at Del Mar.
 
The 7,000 Win Man

Perennial Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen is approaching another career milestone. According to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, Asmussen enters Thursday with 6,995 career winners, the second-highest total in North American history.

Asmussen, who has won seven Oaklawn training titles since 2007, only trails the late Dale Baird (9,445 career winners). The trainer has 6,997 career victories worldwide, according to Equineline. The two additional victories were in 2008 when Asmussen sent Curlin to the United Arab Emirates and won both starts, including the $6 million Dubai World Cup (G1).

The trainer has three horses entered Thursday – all at Fair Grounds. He has won 18 races at this year’s Oaklawn meeting to rank second in the standings. He has 440 career victories at Oaklawn, where he recorded his 4,000th victory during the 2008 meeting. He surpassed 2,000 career starts at Oaklawn Wednesday.

Asmussen, 49, saddled his first career winner in 1986.
 
Finish Lines

Trainer Ron Moquett said he plans to breeze Far Right (Arkansas Derby) and Gentlemen’s Bet (Count Fleet Sprint Handicap) this weekend. … Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said he plans to breeze Gold Medal Dancer (Apple Blossom Handicap) this weekend. … Unbeaten Indian Brava cruised through a half-mile workout after the break Thursday morning in :49.20 for trainer Robertino Diodoro, who is pointing the 3-year-old filly for the $100,000 Instant Racing Stakes April 11. The work was the fastest of 10 recorded at the distance. … Hillbilly Royalty worked five furlongs in :59.80 Thursday morning for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel, who is pointing the gelding for the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes for 3-year-olds April 11. … Touchdown Arkansas, named for the signature call of Paul Eells, the late University of Arkansas play-by-play announcer, passed Sunday’s $75,000 Rainbow Stakes for another spot, trainer Tom Howard said. Touchdown Arkansas won the $50,000 Razorback Futurity for Arkansas-bred 2-year-olds last fall, but has lost both starts this year and was gelded after a 10th-place in a March 15 state-bred entry-level allowance race. The Rainbow is for 3-year-old state-bred colts and geldings. … Trainer Stanley Roberts said he’s now standing A.P. Delta, an 18-year-old son of A.P. Indy, at his farm in Forrest City, Ark. A.P. Delta, who previously stood in Louisiana, is the sire of 2014 Arkansas-bred Horse of the Year Delta Flower, originally owned and trained by Roberts. He also bred the 4-year-old filly in partnership with Bill Morrison of Camden, Ark.
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