Monday, February 15, 2016

Toby Keith’s Gordy Florida Flying under the Southwest Radar

Three-time Oaklawn training champion Kenny Smith is poised to return to the Arkansas Derby trail with Gordy Florida, among 14 horses entered in Monday’s $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles. After winning his first two career starts late last year at Remington Park, Gordy Florida, in his 3-year-old debut, was beaten a neck in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18 at Oaklawn.

Smith finished second in the $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and third in a division of the $250,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) in 2012 with Reckless Jerry, who, like Gordy Florida, is a homebred son of Cactus Ridge for country music star Toby Keith’s Dream Walkin Farms. Reckless Jerry didn’t run in the Arkansas Derby following a 10th-place finish in the $500,000 Rebel Stakes (G2), another high-profile local 3-year-old prep race.

“Reckless Jerry had a lot of talent,” Smith said. “A mile and a sixteenth didn’t bother him, but this colt is better than him. I would have to think he’s probably the second-best young horse I’ve ever had.”

The equine benchmark for Smith is multiple graded stakes winner and millionaire Silver Goblin, who finished third in the $500,000 Arkansas Derby (G2) in 1994 and second to eventual Horse of the Year Cigar in the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G1) the following year. Silver Goblin ran eighth in the Preakness in his first start following the Arkansas Derby.

Gordy Florida wasn’t made Triple Crown eligible during the early nomination period that ended Jan. 16, but it wasn’t an oversight, Smith said.

“A mile and a quarter may be a little bit of a stretch for him,” Smith said, referring to the Kentucky Derby distance. “I told them when it had to be done, and I just think they’re waiting to see.”

The late nomination period – the fee rises from $600 to $6,000 – ends March 21. The $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2), the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby, is March 19. The $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) is April 16.

Gordy Florida, who will be ridden by Glenn Corbett, worked a half-mile in :47.40 Thursday morning for Smith, who topped the Oaklawn trainer standings in 1997, 1998 and 1999. He shared the 1997 title with Gary “Red Dog” Hartlage.

From A to Z

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas bids for his second victory in the Southwest Stakes when he sends out lightly raced Z Royal in Monday’s $500,000 Grade 3 event at Oaklawn.

Z Royal has trained in Hot Springs since December, but will be making his first local start after finishing fifth, beaten 7 ¾ lengths, in the $200,000 LeComte Stakes Jan. 16 at Fair Grounds. He drew post 7 for the Southwest, which has a projected bulky 14-horse lineup, and is 20-1 on the morning line.

“I think it’s wide open,” Lukas said before training hours Monday morning. “It may be a good time to have a decent post position, too.”

Z Royal will be ridden for the first time by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. Lukas and Stevens have collaborated for many memorable victories, including the 1988 Kentucky Derby with the filly Winning Colors and the 2013 Preakness with Oxbow, who finished fifth in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) in 2013 at Oaklawn.

“That won’t hurt, either,” Lukas said.

Z Royal, who will be making his fourth career start, races for Team American Pharoah (owner/breeder Ahmed Zayat).

On the Road Again

Jimmy Barnes, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s top assistant, logged more than 20,000 miles last year traveling with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, including stops at Oaklawn for the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1).

“Went by too quick,” Barnes said. “The amazing thing was he didn’t have a home track. We were at Santa Anita, but he never raced there.”

The Southern California-based Barnes returned to Hot Springs Friday with Collected, the 5-2 program favorite for Monday’s $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3), and another Triple Crown nominee, Hoffenheim, a Midnight Lute colt entered in the seventh race, a maiden-allowance event at 1 1/16 miles. Collected is coming off a victory in the $100,000 Sham Stakes (G3) Jan. 9 at Santa Anita.

“You’re always looking for the next one,” Barnes said, referring to American Pharoah.

The Southern California-based Baffert is seeking his record-tying fifth Southwest victory (all since 2010) and has a 21-8-5 record from 43 overall starts in Hot Springs since 1993, including 20 stakes victories and purse earnings of $5,197,152.

Hoffenheim is scheduled to be only Baffert’s third non-stakes starter at Oaklawn, following Broken Tango (seventh and first in 2010 maiden special weights races) and Title Contender (second in a 2013 maiden special weights race). Hoffenheim is winless in four career starts.

“Just a change of scenery,” Baffert said.

Trainer Talk

Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said he believes Monday’s $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn is one of the most challenging races of the meet for handicappers.

Whitmore, co-owned and trained by Moquett, is among 14 horses entered in the Southwest, a figure that would equal a race record if the field remains intact. He is the distant 5-1 second choice in the program.

“I think this is a very, very, very good gambling race,” Moquett said before training hours Monday morning. “There’s so many different angles and avenues. If you want to bet trips, if you want to bet pedigrees, if you want to bet trainers – there’s four Derby-winning trainers in there.”

One of those Kentucky Derby-winning trainers is Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who will send out Collected, installed the 5-2 program favorite after drawing the rail for the 1 1/16-mile Southwest. Baffert, who is based in Southern California, has dominated Oaklawn’s series of Kentucky Derby prep races in recent years.

“If it wasn’t Baffert training the No. 1 horse, I don’t think he’d have been the favorite,” Moquett said. “I think that Baffert’s success here makes everything he comes in here with get obvious favoritism, because he should. As far as being second choice? He’s the first choice in my barn.”

Finish Lines

Call Pat will be pointed for the $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 19 at Oaklawn, trainer Brad Cox said Monday morning. Call Pat won Sunday’s $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn. … Cox said Grade 2 winner Spelling Again breezed well Sunday at Oaklawn but will likely pass the track’s $100,000 Spring Fever Stakes Saturday because 5 ½ furlongs is “too short.” Cox said the goal for Spelling Again this year is a Grade 1 victory. … Cox said he will decide in the next couple of days whether to start Twirling Cinnamon in Saturday’s $50,000 WEBN Stakes at Turfway Park or await an allowance race at Oaklawn. The 3-year-old Twirling Candy colt, owned by prominent Arkansas automobile dealer Steve Landers, won the $50,000 Space City Stakes Jan. 30 at Sam Houston Race Park in his last start. … Weast Hill, also trained by Cox, recorded a 5-furlong bullet (1:00.20) after the break Monday morning at Oaklawn in advance of the $100,000 Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes Feb. 28. The local sprint is restricted to Arkansas-bred horses. … Trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said he’s not “100 percent sure” if multiple stakes winner Gentlemen’s Bet will make his two-turn debut in a Thursday 1-mile allowance race at Oaklawn or await the $100,000 Hot Springs Stakes at 6 furlongs March 5 at Oaklawn. Moquett said the major spring objective for Gentlemen’s Bet, last year’s Hot Springs winner, is the $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 10 at Oaklawn. … Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Super Saks “is all set” for the Spring Fever. … Wolf Man Rocket, who broke his maiden in last year’s $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes at Oaklawn for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and owner Frank Fletcher of North Little Rock, Ark., is now back in Hot Springs with trainer Tom Howard. Howard’s wife, Kathy Howard, is Fletcher’s racing manager and the trainer has had a long association with Fletcher.

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