Oaklawn News

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Gray Sky Pointing Toward Smarty Jones

After working a half-mile in :49 over a fast track Wednesday morning at Oaklawn, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Gray Sky will make his 3-year-old debut in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18. The 1-mile Smarty Jones is the first of three major local preps for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 16.

Gray Sky, a $700,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sales graduate, broke his maiden Nov. 28, on Churchill Downs’ “Stars of Tomorrow II” program.

Lukas also considered another Churchill Downs fall meet maiden winner, Z Royal, for the Smarty Jones, but said he opted for Gray Sky because the distance (mile races at Oaklawn begin and end at the sixteenth pole) is a better fit for the son of Tapit.

“You’ve got that short stretch,” Lukas said.

Other locally based 3-year-olds confirmed for the Smarty Jones are Discreetness, Synchrony and Knights Key.

Trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs said Discreetness will work Thursday, weather permitting. The colt won the $250,000 Springboard Mile Dec. 13 at Remington Park in his last start.

Two more Churchill fall meet maiden winners, Black Ops and American Dubai, are under consideration for the Smarty Jones, trainer Rodney Richards said. Richards said he plans to start at least one horse in the Smarty Jones and was leaning toward Black Ops Wednesday morning.

Richards said he plans to breeze both horses this weekend, probably Sunday.
As the ‘Pearl’ Turns

Trainer Will VanMeter’s first career winner came at Oaklawn. Now that winner, Pearl Turn, has a date with Oaklawn’s most famous winner.

VanMeter said Pearl Turn, co-owned by his father Tom VanMeter, is targeting Oaklawn’s $100,000 Pippin Stakes Jan. 17 and $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 14 before being bred to Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, who will begin his stallion career this year at Ashford Stud near Versailles, Ky.

“It’s really cool,” said VanMeter, 32, who went out on his own in late 2013.

Pearl Turn, a 6-year-old daughter of Bernardini, provided VanMeter with his first career training victory in a March 14, 2014, entry-level allowance race at Oaklawn. She won a second-level allowance race March 14, 2015, at Oaklawn – roughly three hours before American Pharoah, in his 3-year-old debut, won the track’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2).

“Maybe she’ll be bred on 3-14,” VanMeter said.

After winning the Rebel, American Pharoah returned to Oaklawn to capture the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) before sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner and first since Affirmed in 1978.

VanMeter’s family has already had a significant role in the American Pharoah story.

Tom VanMeter, a prominent consigner and equine reproductive veterinarian, owns Stockplace Farm on the outskirts of Lexington, Ky., which formerly housed mares for Ahmed Zayat, who bred and raced American Pharoah. American Pharoah was born at Stockplace and spent the next few months at nearby Pretty Run Farm, also owned by VanMeter.

“My dad was the first person to touch American Pharoah,” Will VanMeter said. “That’s his new claim to fame. He’s very hands on. He foals all the mares.”

Tom VanMeter purchased Pearl Turn, who began her career in Europe, for $200,000 at Keeneland's 2014 January Horses of All Ages Sale. Now co-owned by VanMeter and Texan Brad Grady, Pearl Turn has a 3-2-4 record from 22 lifetime starts and earnings of $181,394.

The mare is still seeking her first career stakes victory, but ran third last year in the Pippin, fourth in the Bayakoa and $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at Oaklawn and fifth in the $100,000 Groupie Doll Stakes (G3) at Ellis Park.

“There’s nobody that deserves a marquee win more,” VanMeter said. “She’s run so gamely against some of the best horses in the country. There’s very few race horses that have run as competitive as she has for as long as she has.”

VanMeter said a stakes victory, particularly a graded event, would make Pearl Turn more valuable as a broodmare. The trainer said he believes his father’s plan is to sell Pearl Turn – in foal to American Pharoah – at Keeneland’s November Breeding Stock Sale, hopefully, as “kind of a hot commodity.”

“It’s really neat,” VanMeter said of his father reconnecting with American Pharoah through Pearl Turn. “I think that’s kind of why he wants … I’m sure he was going to breed a mare to him, anyway.”
Staying Busy

Bold Conquest, under the watchful eye of six-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen, worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.80 Tuesday afternoon at Oaklawn over a fast surface.

Fifth in last year’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), Bold Conquest breezed in company about 15 minutes after the track opened.  It was the fifth published workout at Oaklawn for Bold Conquest since Dec. 9.

Asmussen said his hope is the son of Curlin can develop into a candidate for Oaklawn’s biggest two-turn races for older horses, including the $100,000 Essex Handicap Feb. 13, $300,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) March 19 and the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 16.

A Kentucky Derby hopeful last spring, Bold Conquest only has a maiden and entry-level allowance victory on his 13-race resume. But, the chestnut colt has never finished worse than fifth in his career. Top three finishes last year included the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn, $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico and $200,000 Zia Park Derby at Zia Park.
“I don’t want to say he wasn’t as good as we were hoping,” Asmussen said. “He made some money. He lacked a little consistency. Put in a couple of very good races. Still have high hopes for him because he’s a very good, very sound horse.”

Bold Conquest won 1 of 9 starts at 3, bankrolling $242,266.

Bold Conquest breezed a half-mile Dec. 9 – the first day of officially timed works for the 2016 Oaklawn meeting – but his last four moves have been at 5 furlongs.
Finish Lines

Ribbon of Darkness worked a half-mile in :49 over a fast track Wednesday morning at Oaklawn. Two-time defending Oaklawn leading owner Danny Caldwell said Ribbon of Darkness, runner-up in two stakes races at the 2015 Remington Park meeting, is pointing for the $100,000 Pippin Stakes Jan. 17 at Oaklawn. … Trainer Brad Cox said he doesn’t expect Grade 3 winner Call Pat to race this month following a recent minor setback. Cox said Call Pat had been under consideration for the Pippin and $400,000 Houston Ladies (G3) Jan. 30 at Sam Houston Race Park. … Cox said Cash Control is “possible” for the Pippin and Twirling Cinnamon is “possible” for the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 18 at Oaklawn. … Multiple graded stakes winner and millionaire Departing worked a half-mile in :49.40 Saturday at Fair Grounds in preparation for his Oaklawn debut in the $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses Jan. 16. Departing is trained by Al Stall, who will have a 10-horse string in Hot Springs this year. … Owner Mike Langford said he still hopes to make the Fifth Season with 2015 winner Carve, now with trainer Steve Asmussen at Fair Grounds. Carve is battling a foot bruise, Langford said. … Bagg O’Day, who broke his maiden at the 2015 Oaklawn meeting, is pointing for the $100,000 King Cotton Stakes Jan. 30, trainer Steve Hobby of Hot Springs said. The King Cotton is the first major local prep for the $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 10. Bagg O’Day set a track record for 6 ½ furlongs (1:13.74) in the $50,000 Don Bernhardt Stakes July 18 at Ellis Park and won the $80,000 Bet On Sunshine Stakes Nov. 21 at Churchill Downs in his last start. … Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said he’s pointing unbeaten 3-year-old filly My Master Plan for the $100,000 Martha Washington Stakes Feb. 6 at Oaklawn.