The Unquestioned Ruler
American Pharoah was a unanimous choice for 2015 Horse of the Year during Saturday night’s 45th annual Eclipse Awards ceremony, marking the seventh time an Oaklawn stakes winner has received horse racing’s highest honor since 2002.
American Pharoah won the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) before becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. He closed his career with a runaway victory in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) Oct. 31 at Keeneland, his seventh in eight starts overall in 2015.
American Pharoah, also a unanimous choice for champion 3-year-old male, earned $8,288,800 in 2015, a North American single-season record.
Smarty Jones set the previous record ($7,563,535) in 2004, when he, like American Pharoah, captured the Rebel, Arkansas Derby and Preakness.
Azeri (2002), Curlin (2007-2008), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Zenyatta (2010) and Havre de Grace (2011) were also named Horse of the Year after racing at Oaklawn.
Azeri won the Apple Blossom a record three consecutive times (2002-2004); Curlin won the 2007 Rebel and Arkansas Derby; Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 Martha Washington and Fantasy; Zenyatta won the 2008 and 2010 Apple Blossom; and Havre de Grace won the Azeri and Apple Blossom in 2011.
Oaklawn will honor American Pharoah Monday with a bobble horse promotion. Fans will receive a bobble horse with a $2 donation to the Arkansas Racetrack Chaplaincy while supplies last. Guests will receive a coupon with their donation and can redeem that coupon starting at 2 p.m.
Two Turns Next?
“Ideally,” Saturday entry-level allowance sprint winner Whitmore will make his next start around two turns, trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said. Whitmore, despite being pinched at the start and boxed in around the turn, drew off to a 3 ¼-length victory in his 3-year-old debut under Didiel Osorio.
The 9-5 favorite ran 6 furlongs over fast track in 1:10.57 to earn a career-high 86 Beyer Speed Figure and high marks from Moquett, who ran the gelding in blinkers for the first time.
“To me, he showed us where we’re at,” Moquett said. “I think it was an excellent stepping stone to what we need to do. He answered the question yesterday, and we’re going to step him up and ask him more.”
Whitmore was entered in Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn, but Moquett opted for another sprint before returning to two turns.
Moquett said Whitmore is a candidate for the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3), Feb. 15 at Oaklawn, although nothing is set in stone for the gelding. The Southwest and $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 19 – both at 1 1/16 miles – are the final major local preps for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 16.
“Our end goal is the Arkansas Derby,” Moquett said. “We’re doing everything to try and get there with the best shot to run his best race that day. So everything I’m doing, I’m working backwards from that.”
After winning his Nov. 6 career debut sprinting at Churchill Downs, Whitmore, in his two-turn debut, ran fifth in the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes (G1) Nov. 21 at Delta Downs.
Knights Key Opts Out of Smarty Jones
Unbeaten Knights Key will scratch from Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn after drawing post position 14 – the extreme outside – for the 1-mile race, trainer Steve Hobby of Hot Springs said Sunday morning.
Knights Key worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 after the renovation break Sunday in preparation for his rescheduled 3-year-old debut in a Jan. 29 entry-level allowance sprint.
Horses traditionally struggle to win from far outside post positions in Oaklawn mile races, which begin and end at the sixteenth pole in the stretch.
“It’s just not a good place to go – first time around two turns with a second-time starter,” Hobby said.
Knights Key, a son of Giant’s Causeway, overcame a sluggish start to win his Nov. 20 career debut at Churchill Downs by a neck at 6 ½ furlongs. Although he was scheduled to make his two-turn debut in the Smarty Jones, Hobby said he’s not concerned about sprinting the colt in his 3-year-old debut.
“The way his race went the first time, and the way he’s trained – very aggressively since his first race – that it really won’t bother me running him short one more time and see if the speed will get away from him and let him settle a little,” Hobby said. “I’m afraid going long, if he happens to break, he’s liable to haul a**. He might not. He was very professional in his first race. But it cranked him.”
Knights Key races for Alex and JoAnn Lieblong of Conway, Ark., who won the 2012 Smarty Jones with the Hobby-trained Junebugred.
Julio Felix will ride Grade 2 winner Sarah Sis in the $100,000 American Beauty Stakes for older fillies and mares Saturday at Oaklawn, trainer Ingrid Mason said. He regularly rode Sarah Sis last year, including a victory in the $150,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn, but in her final start at 3, Florent Geroux guided Sarah Sis to her biggest career victory in the $250,000 Raven Run Stakes (G2) Oct. 17 at Keeneland.
Sarah Sis worked a half-mile in :51.60 Friday at Oaklawn in preparation for the 6-furlong American Beauty.
Mason said she’s using the American Beauty as a prep for the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 14 at Oaklawn.
Others scheduled to run in the American Beauty include Super Saks and Spring Included, who won the $100,000 Spring Fever Stakes and $100,000 Carousel Stakes last year at Oaklawn.
Spring Included lost her final four starts last year and will be retired to become a broodmare with another poor performance Saturday, owner Alex Lieblong said.
Lieblong said if Spring Included is retired, the 5-year-old daughter of Include will be bred to Grade 1 winner The Big Beast, who is standing his first season at Ocala Stud in Florida after being retired late last year. Lieblong and wife JoAnn also campaigned The Big Beast, who finished second in his 2014 career debut at Oaklawn before winning the $500,000 King’s Bishop Stakes (G1) that summer at Saratoga.
Super Saks broke her maiden by 11 lengths last year at Oaklawn before winning the $80,000 Dream Supreme Stakes Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs in her last start. She recorded a half-mile bullet workout Jan. 7 at Oaklawn for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
Trainer Randy Morse said Street Strategy, winner of the $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses Saturday at Oaklawn, will be pointed for the $300,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) March 19. The Razorback is the final major local prep for the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 16, a race Street Strategy finished fifth in last year. … Morse said Durango, runner-up in Friday’s $100,000 Dixie Belle Stakes, will be pointed for the $100,000 Martha Washington Stakes Feb. 6. The Martha Washington is Oaklawn’s first major two-turn race for 3-year-old fillies. … Trainer Ingrid Mason said Dixie Belle winner Marquee Miss will “probably” make her next start in the 1-mile Martha Washington. … Unbeaten Dubai American drew the rail for his scheduled 3-year-old and two-turn debut in Thursday’s eighth race at Oaklawn, an entry-level allowance/optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles. Churchill Downs debut winner Unexplained is scheduled to break from post 2 in his 3-year-old debut.