Friday, March 18, 2016
Trainer Ignacio Correas said Idolo Porteno is probably best suited for 1 ½ miles on grass. So the 2014 Argentine Horse of the Year will make his American debut on dirt, at 1 1/16 miles, in the $350,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses Saturday at Oaklawn.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” Correas said.
Idolo Porteno will be making his first start outside Argentina, first start since June and first start for Correas, who began training the 6-year-old son of Jump Start in October. He was a dual Group I winner in 2014, including the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini in December, a 1 ½-mile grass event billed the most important race in South America.
Correas said Idolo Porteno has done “very good” adapting to his new surroundings.
“He’s where we want him to be to run his first race in America,” Correas said. “It’s not going to be the easiest one. When you have a horse that is a multiple Grade 1 winner, it’s going to be easy to find a spot.”
In addition to his 1 ½-mile victory on grass, Idolo Porteno is a Group 1 winner at 1 ½ miles on dirt.
Idolo Porteno has had a steady work pattern this winter at Oaklawn, highlighted by a 6-furlong move from the gate in 1:12 March 2.
“He’s kind of versatile,” Correas said. “If you ask me, I think he’s going to more like a grass horse, but you have to start somewhere.”
Idolo Porteno, a winner of 4 of 10 starts overall, will be ridden Saturday by Florent Geroux and is the longest-priced horse in the program (15-1).
Upstart, the 5-2 program favorite for the Razorback, walked the shedrow for an hour Friday morning under the supervision of Melissa Cohen, longtime assistant to trainer Rick Violette. The millionaire and multiple stakes winner, arrived in Hot Springs Thursday afternoon following a 57-mile van ride from Clinton National Airport in Little Rock, Ark.
Upstart, vanned to Oaklawn after a one-hour, 52-minute flight originating in Ocala, Fla., will be making his 4-year-old debut in the Razorback.
“He probably could have trained today, actually, he’s doing so good,” Cohen said. “But we had such a long day yesterday. We wanted to take it easy.”
Upstart, who has been based this winter in south Florida, will be making his first start since finishing fifth in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G2) Sept. 19 at Parx.
The Flatter ridgling recorded his biggest career victory in the $400,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) in his 3-year-old debut. In an 11-race career, he has already started in New York, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
“He’s a great shipper,” Cohen said.
Upstart schooled in the infield early Friday afternoon and will return to the track to jog Saturday morning, Cohen said.
He will represent the first Oaklawn starter for Violette, a prominent New York horseman.
Cohen said she will saddle Upstart in Violette’s absence Saturday.
Multiple stakes winner Shotgun Kowboy is scheduled to make his Oaklawn debut in Saturday’s Razorback for owner/breeder C.R. Trout, who watched the 4-year-old Kodiak Kowboy gelding train Friday morning.
Trainer Mike Johnson, who freelances as an exercise rider, took Shotgun Kowboy to the gate and for a one-mile gallop.
“Nice horse,” Johnson said. “Big, strong dude.”
Johnson often gallops horses for Bret Calhoun, Shotgun Kowboy’s trainer of record this year.
Shotgun Kowboy made his first nine career starts for Trout, including a victory in the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby (G3) Sept. 27 at Remington Park, before moving to Calhoun’s barn.
Shotgun Kowboy exits an even fifth-place finish sprinting in the $60,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes Feb. 20 at Fair Grounds.
The Razorback is 1 1/16 miles.
Johnson galloped American Pharoah before the future Triple Crown winner made his 3-year-old debut in last year’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn.
She defeated three of the other entrants in Saturday's Grade 2 $350,000 Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn Park in her last race, but it was a different story the last time Call Pat lined up in the gate with champion and even money favorite Untapable.
In the 2015 Grade 1 $600,000 Apple Blossom at this track, Winchell Thoroughbreds' homebred Untapbale added another Grade 1 victory to her lofty credentials while Call Pat came up empty in the stretch and was a well-beaten fifth. Untapable remains a most formidable foe, but that was then, and this is now.
“Untapable is a champion, and she's going to be tough to beat. I think we were four or five lengths behind her in the Apple Blossom last year. But Untapable is coming off a layoff so we'll see what happens. We're excited,” said Brad Cox, who trains the dual graded stakes-winning Call Pat.
Call Pat took full advantage of a hot pace and employed her patented late kick through the lane to best Streamline, Meshell and Sarah Sis last out in the Grade 3 Bayakoa Stakes on Valentine's Day. That race was her first start of the season and proved that the daughter of 2007 Grade 3 Oaklawn Handicap winner Lawyer Ron hasn't been diminished by age.
“I know she's six and she's got some miles on her, but she is as good as she has ever been,” said Cox. “She's the best right now that I've ever seen her. She was really good last year when she won at Ellis in the summer and then we took her to New York for a couple of races in the fall. They were really tough races and she ran really hard, so we gave her a little break in December and then got her back going. She's really, really good right now and we're real pleased with her.”
Untapable hasn't run since just being caught at the wire to lose the Grade 1 Spinster by a nose Oct. 15 at Keeneland. She was supposed to compete in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Distaff at the same track two weeks later but was forced to scratch due to a sudden illness.
With the Azeri being Untapable's initial start of the season, the situation is similar to last year's Azeri, when she ran in her first test since winning the 2014 Breeders' Cup Distaff. That day, she was out finished by Gold Medal Dancer and settled for second.
“Any time a horse comes off a layoff they're probably a little more vulnerable. I'd rather run against Untapable off the layoff with Call Pat than run against her with one race under her belt like she did in the Apple Blossom,” said Cox. “I just know my mare is doing really, really well and that's all I can say. Untapable is obviously the class of the field and the best mare in the race. She's probably going to have to stub her toe for anyone to beat her. She's a great mare, so it beating her would be a surprise. But I am excited about my horse.”
Cox is understandably enthusiastic about a lot these days. Six months ago, his wife Livia, who is an equine veterinarian, gave birth to their son, Brody. His charge, Chocolate Ride, has already won two graded stakes and Cox currently stands among North America's top five graded stakes-winning trainers for 2016.
“It's really exciting. I won ten stakes all of last year and so far I've already got eight, and three of them are graded. We're having a great start to the year to the start to the year and hopefully we'll keep it going,” said Cox, who also maintains a division at the Fair Grounds.
Sarah Sis, who won the Grade 3 Honeybee Stakes here last year before finishing her 2015 campaign with an upset victory in the Grade 2 Raven Run at Keeneland, was entered in the November sales by owner Joe Ragsdale but didn't meet her reserve price of $1.2 million.
That's just fine with trainer Ingrid Mason.
“If he got the right amount of money he was going to sell her. I was happy to get her back. She's my pride and joy and I love her. She's a sweet, sweet horse," said Mason.
Sarah Sis, whose namesakes are Ragsdale's late mother Sarah and his sister, is a talented one as well. Although Mason readily admits that the 4yo filly is better at distances shorter than the 1 1/6 miles of the Azeri and the presence of Untapable in the field makes the race tough, she thinks she may have an advantage getting to run at her home track.
She also thinks Sarah Sis will set the pace.
“I don't really like the fact that I'm inside of Untapable, so we have to strategize around that. I think she is the speed of the race and that all depends upon how things go. The reason I hired Channing (Hill) is because he's got a really good clock in his head and knows how fast he's going. If they go :23, :46, he won't be doing that. If he goes: 22, :48 I think we'll be sitting in a really good spot. It just depends on how things set up. You don't know what everybody's going to so. That's why I hire jockeys who can make those decisions," she said.
Trainer Steve Hobby won the 2012-2013 editions of the Azeri with Tiz Miz Sue 12-13 and the 996 running with Belle of Cozzene, but he knows it will be a tough task for High Dollar Woman to add to the trophy case this year with Untapable in the field.
“It is a tough spot, even though she couldn't be doing any better. We just have to see how it goes. She's capable on her best day of running with those horses, but it will take a big effort" he said. " want to see her forwardly placed in the race. That's where she likes to be. So we'll just see how far we can carry it. We're trying to get as many stakes earnings, and graded earnings as we can on her resume. This is probably her last year in training and we'll see how it goes,” he said.