Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Arkansas Derby Top Two Finishers Headed to Belmont Stakes with New Riders 

Arkansas Derby winner Creator worked 5 furlongs in 1:02 Monday morning at Churchill Downs in advance of the Belmont Stakes, where he will have a new rider for the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Working in company with stablemate Gold Hawk, the son of Tapit recorded fractions of :13 and :37.80, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:15 and seven-eighths of a mile in 1:28.80 with jockey Florent Geroux in the irons.

“He felt really good,” Geroux said. “That was my first time on his back. It was a steady work; nothing crazy, but it was nice and steady and he felt very good.”

Trainer Steve Asmussen designed Monday morning’s work to prepare Creator for the Belmont’s mile-and-a-half distance.

“We wanted to keep him in a nice long rhythm,” Asmussen said. “The Belmont is on his agenda obviously, so staying is going to come into play. I thought that he put in a nice, smooth work today and galloped out really well. I think that his weight has rebounded nicely since the Derby and we plan on sending him up to Belmont tomorrow. That will give us a shot to get a little look of the Belmont racetrack and hope for the best.”

Asmussen believes that Creator’s breeding will help him in excelling at the distance.

“You get a lot of comfort from his pedigree and how much stay is in his pedigree,” Asmussen said. “He is a very efficient horse. I’m just a little concerned right now with the possible pace scenario with this year’s Belmont. He’s a really nice horse. I think we’ve seen his attitude has improved and his energy level is very high right now. We’re excited about this prospect for the Belmont.

“I think for us the race is from Point A to Point B and you have to do what’s right for the individual. The lack of pace is a concern or the possibility of it. Sometimes a lack of pace on paper sets it up.”

Asmussen’s confidence level was equally high going into the Kentucky Derby, but Creator had a troubled trip and finished 13th.

“I liked his chances in the Derby, it’s just that the trip didn’t work out,” Asmussen said. “I think when horses are this well matched, being good enough is one of the scenarios, but how the racetrack sets up and how the pace sets up has to be favorable to us as well.”

New York-based Irad Ortiz Jr. is scheduled to ride Creator for the first time in the June 11 Belmont for seven-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen. Ortiz, third in the country this year in purse earnings ($7,284,406), replaces Ricardo Santana Jr., who has ridden Creator in his last four starts, including a last-to-first victory in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 16 at Oaklawn.

Arkansas Derby runner-up Suddenbreakingnews worked 6 furlongs in 1:12.40 Sunday morning at Churchill Downs,

Churchill Downs clockers caught the son of Mineshaft in splits of :24.40, :36.60, :48.60 and 1:00.20 before galloping out seven furlongs in 1:25.20.

“I thought he looked good,” trainer Donnie Von Hemel said. “He went real smooth and picked up as he went, galloped out real smooth. Everything seems to be in order; it’s just what we’re looking for. I realize that the pace won’t be :45 in the Belmont, but we also won’t be 20 lengths back either. I just think this horse can run a mile-and-a-half – his pedigree says he can. I think it’s our best chance to get a Grade I is in that race.”

Von Hemel had always been confident in the horse’s ability to perform at a high level, but never thought he would reach the level that he has.

“I think last fall he ran some nice races and he would have a chance to be a graded stakes type horse,” Von Hemel said. “But, I think he’s exceed that and being a trainer is all about managing expectations for your clients and for yourself and for your horses so you don’t over match them. In his case I think he can handle them. I think with 99.9-percent of the horses that don’t make it to the Derby, this is above anything you can hope for because it’s so difficult to get there. So any horse that makes it to that point with very few exceptions is exceeding what you could have hoped for.”

Like Creator, Suddenbreakingnews will also have a new rider for the Belmont. Hall of Famer Mike Smith replaces Luis Quinonez, who has ridden the ridgling in all nine career starts for his longtime client, trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel. He finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby in his last start.

Smith, like Ortiz, has ridden extensively in New York and won the Belmont in 2010 aboard Drosselmeyer and in 2013 aboard Palace Malice.

A third Oaklawn-raced horse, Cherry Wine, is also scheduled to run in the 1 ½-mile Belmont. He finished fourth in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 19 at Oaklawn. The Dale Romans trainee ran second in the May 21 Preakness in his last start.

Court’s Journey

Jockey Jon Court surpassed $98 million in career purse earnings when Discreetly Yours finished third in Sunday’s first race at Churchill Downs. Court, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2000, reached the milestone aboard a horse trained by his father-in-law, Jinks Fires of Hot Springs.

According to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, Court has $98,006,291 in purse earnings since he began riding in 1980. He has 3,972 career victories.

Court, 55, was Oaklawn’s sixth-leading rider this year with 29 victories. His $1,337,341 in purse earnings represented his second-highest meet total at Oaklawn. He began riding at Oaklawn in 1981 and has 615 victories in Hot Springs.

Court rode Discreetly Yours to victory in a conditioned race for $7,500 claimers Jan. 24 at Oaklawn.

Breaking the Code

Oaklawn-raced Code West and Domain’s Rap ran 1-2 in the $65,000 Jim Rasmussen Memorial Stakes Monday at Prairie Meadows.

Code West, in his 2016 debut, edged Domain’s Rap by a neck in the 1 1/16-mile race under Oaklawn regular Israel Ocampo. Trained by Boyd Caster, Code West ran second in the $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes and sixth in the $100,000 Essex Handicap in 2015 at Oaklawn.

Domain’s Rap won three races this year at Oaklawn before finishing second in the track’s $350,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) March 19 and sixth in the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 16.

Domain’s Rap is campaigned by Danny Caldwell, Oaklawn’s leading owner the last three years.

Finish Lines

Black Bear, unraced since a third-place finish in the $100,000 King Cotton Stakes in 2014 at Oaklawn because of a leg injury, worked a half-mile in :51.20 Tuesday morning at Churchill Downs for Chris Hartman, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015. … Shotgun Kowboy, fourth in the $350,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) March 19 at Oaklawn, finished second in the $200,000 Lone Star Park Handicap (G3) Monday at Lone Star Park. Rocket Time, winner of a March 26 allowance/optional claimer at Oaklawn, finished third. … Oaklawn maiden graduate Big Changes, in his turf debut and first start outside Hot Springs, was an allowance/optional claiming winner Monday at Churchill Downs for trainer Brad Cox and owner Steve Landers, a prominent Arkansas automobile dealer. Big Changes, who has won three consecutive starts, represented the 483rd career victory for Cox, who finished fourth in Oaklawn’s trainer standings this year. Landers is a new member of the Arkansas Racing Commission. … Storm Power, fourth in a March 24 allowance/optional claimer at Oaklawn, won the $65,000 Ed Skinner Memorial Stakes Saturday at Prairie Meadows. Multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Apprehender finished second in his comeback from an ankle injury. Powerful April 15 Oaklawn allowance/optional claiming winner Wings Locked Up finished third in the 6-furlong race. … Ready to Confess, third in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies April 9 at Oaklawn, was an allowance winner Saturday at Churchill Downs for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel and owner/breeder Josephine Abercrombie (Pin Oak Stable). Ready to Confess won an allowance/optional claimer Jan. 15 at Oaklawn, the same day Abercrombie turned 90. … Ralis ran second in the $200,000 Snow Chief Stakes for California-breds Saturday at Santa Anita. Ralis finished 10th in his 3-year-old debut, the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 19 at Oaklawn.

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