Oaklawn Barn Notes - Jan. 18

Richards to Oaklawn with Derby Dreams

 

Trainer Rodney Richards has five horses at Oaklawn Park. Two begin the year as candidates for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 16.

 

Richards entered Black Ops in Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones at a mile, while unbeaten American Dubai is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in an entry-level allowance/optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles Thursday. Both Churchill Downs fall meet maiden graduates are owned by Richard Keith, an oil and gas company executive from Hobbs, N.M.

 

American Dubai, who has never raced around two turns, was also under strong consideration for the Smarty Jones. Black Ops broke his maiden at 1 1/16 miles in his second career start.

 

“We just had to weigh out who fit,” Keith said. “Black Ops makes more sense, I think. He’s got the route already. I’m just itching, like everybody else, to see American Dubai go. We’ll just have to wait three days.”

 

American Dubai, a son of E Dubai, was a 2 ¾-length winner of his Nov. 13 career debut at 6 furlongs.

 

Under Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel, American Dubai uncorked a bullish 5-furlong bullet workout (:59) Jan. 12. Borel is named to ride Thursday. He is the 9-2 third choice in the program for Thursday's race.

 

“It’s going to be interesting,” Keith said.

 

Borel is also scheduled to ride Black Ops in the Smarty Jones, which will mark his first start since breaking his maiden Nov. 28. He is a gelded son of 2007 Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun.

 

Keith purchased American Dubai and Black Ops for $50,000 and $20,000, respectively, last year. The goal, Keith said, is the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.

 

“I want a Derby horse,” Keith said.

 

Seeking Answers

 

Unexplained is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in Thursday’s eighth race at Oaklawn, an entry-level allowance/optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles.

 

The race, which will be the two-turn debut for Unexplained, also attracted unbeaten American Dubai and two horses entered in Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn – Cutacorner and Charming Deputy.

 

Unexplained was nominated to the Smarty Jones, but trainer Chris Richard opted for Thursday’s spot, which he terms an audition for the gelded son of 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper.

 

“This will kind of give us an idea of what we’re going to do with him,” Richard said. “I really like the mile and a sixteenth for him.”

 

Unexplained won his Nov. 1 career debut at 7 furlong before finishing second behind Conquest Big E in a Nov. 28 entry-level/optional claimer at a mile. Conquest Big E was exiting an eighth-place finish in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Oct. 31 at Keeneland. Both races came on Churchill Downs “Stars of Tomorrow” cards, which showcase 2-year-olds.

 

“A really nice horse beat us,” Richard said. “I’m excited to go two turns with him. I think he’s a true two-turn horse.”

 

Unexplained races for Chicago-based Midwest Thoroughbreds, Oaklawn’s leading owner in 2011, 2012 and 2013. He worked 5 furlongs in 1:01 Jan. 12. He's the 2-1 program favorite for Thursday's race.

 

Memorable Victory

 

Trainer Randy Morse’s voice choked with emotion in the post-race interview with Oaklawn paddock analyst Nancy Holthus following Street Strategy’s victory in Saturday’s $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses.

 

The Fifth Season marked Street Strategy’s first race for owner Randy Patterson, who privately purchased the 5-year-old son of Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense following the death of another one of Morse’s major clients, Dave Clark, 74, who succumbed to cancer Oct. 18 in Little Rock, Ark. Clark, the former head of noted equine air transporter H.E. “Tex” Sutton Forwarding Co., purchased Street Strategy for $425,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training in 2013.

 

“The bottom line is I wouldn’t have had that horse if it wasn’t for him,” said Morse, who saddled his first winner in 1981. “He was the first guy that ever gave me the chance to buy those big-time horses.”

 

Street Strategy was making his first start since finishing seventh in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) Oct. 30 at Keeneland. The Dirt Mile was the final time Street Strategy raced under Clark’s name (Iron Horse Racing LLC). Clark was also the former owner of Iron Horse Farm, about 45 miles northwest of Little Rock.

 

Morse began training for Clark in early 2012, inheriting his horses following the death of Bob Holthus, Oaklawn’s all-time leading trainer, in November 2011. They teamed to win the $60,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Stakes in 2013 at Oaklawn with private purchase Jan’s Perfect Star, who counted a victory against open company at Saratoga among her biggest wins.

 

Street Strategy broke his maiden at the 2014 Oaklawn meeting before finishing sixth in the $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2). Morse said Street Strategy tore the main supporting ligament in his stifle in the Rebel, an injury that sidelined the gray horse for the remainder of 2014. Street Strategy returned to win two allowance races last year at Oaklawn before finishing fifth in the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2).

 

“That guy was so unlucky in this game,” Morse said of Clark. “It was unbelievable, I mean, with horses. He was a very wealthy man.”

 

Morse said he had approximately six horses with Clark at the time of his death, but is down “to a couple of maidens” as his family phases out its racing operation. The two horses will also be sold, Morse said. 

 

Morse said Street Strategy will be pointed to the $300,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) March 19 at Oaklawn. His other top older horse, multiple stakes winner Cougar Ridge, is pointing for the $100,000 Essex Handicap Feb. 13 at Oaklawn. He has won his last four starts.

 Finish Lines

 

Multiple stakes winner Heykittykittykitty will be bred to multiple stakes winner Sky Kingdom, according to trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs. Moquett trained Heykittykittykitty for Little Rock, Ark.-based Westrock Stables (Joe and Scott Ford), which campaigned Sky Kingdom with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Heykittykittykitty won two allowance races at the 2015 Oaklawn meeting for the Fords, former executives of telecommunications giant Alltel. … Moquett said he would have run Churchill Downs fall meet maiden graduate Piracy in Friday’s $100,000 Dixie Belle Stakes at Oaklawn, but the 3-year-old filly suffered a recent minor setback (leg cuts). Moquett said he has no next-race plans for Piracy. … Chris Richard, fifth-leading trainer at the 2015 Oaklawn meeting, said he’s engaged to his assistant, Mallory Greiner, adding the couple is looking at a spring 2017 wedding.

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