Oaklawn Barn Notes
Oaklawn’s Grade 2 Rebel winner, Malagacy will attempt to run his record to 4 for 4 in the Arkansas Derby, and beyond that become the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing at age 2 since Apollo in 1882. Malagacy did not start until Jan. 4, when he won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race in the Gulfstream Park slop by 15 lengths. He subsequently won a 6 1/2-furlong allowance by seven on a fast track and the 1 1/16-mile Rebel by two over Arkansas Derby rivals Sonneteer, Untrapped and Petrov (who were within a nose of one another).
It wasn’t like the word was out on Malagacy early on. The $190,000 2-year-old purchase went off at almost 6-1 odds in his first start.
“He never really tipped his hand until maybe his final breeze before his debut, and he looked good there,” Pletcher said. “Obviously in his debut he was very good. But no, he’s not what I would describe as an impressive horse to watch gallop on a daily basis.
“He’s pretty laid back, pretty borderline lazy really. He’s one of those horses in his breezes that he does however much his workmate will do. So depending on how you have him matched up in the mornings, he’ll stay with whoever his workmate is. But he’s not what I’d describe as an overachiever in the mornings. He’s laid back to the point to where you’re not 1,000 percent sure how good he is until you start running him.”
Pletcher is seeking a fifth Arkansas Derby victory, following Graeme Hall in 2000, Balto Star in 2001, Overanalyze in 2013 and Danza in 2014. But it was his 2010 Arkansas Derby runner-up — Super Saver —that provided him a Kentucky Derby victory.
Some observations from Pletcher in a phone interview from Florida, where he’s overseeing preparations for his other Kentucky Derby horses:
On any horse winning its first three races: “It’s very difficult to do. I don’t know over the years how many horses we’ve had to that, but it’s probably a handful or so, or a little more. It takes a special kind of horse to win their debut. And it certainly takes an extra special kind of horse to win their debut and preliminary allowance condition and then, in this case, stretch out around two turns and ship across the country to win a stakes.
“Look, all races are hard to win. To win three in a row is hard to do. But to win your first three at three different distances at two different tracks is really difficult. A lot of it is about his own natural ability and his own professionalism, to show speed and rate at the same time. The thing I’ve always said is that I’m not sure how far he wants to go. But I think his disposition and his laid-back attitude (will help). As Javier (Castellano) said, he can ask him to break, get into the flow of the race and he can also turn off for him. That’s sort of a rare combination.”
On post 12 in the Arkansas Derby: “I think it’s fine. He’s got to break alertly, and you always worry when you’re on the outside like that and are in front of a big crowd and the stands. You just hope they break straight. As long as he get aways cleanly, Javier, regardless if he was 1 or 12 or anywhere in between, he’s going to ask him to leave the gate and establish some position going into the first turn. None of that changes. (The outside) does open up some options so he can see how the race unfolds inside of him. Ideally, you want to break well enough that you get to the first turn in good position and not hung out too wide.”
Complexion of the field, which on paper shapes up as basically the Rebel, plus 2-year-old champion Classic Empire and the speedy Rockin Rudy: “I didn’t necessarily anticipate that Classic Empire was going to be there, when I was thinking about it a while back. I think the question mark everyone has in their mind is how he’s going to run. When he’s on his A game, he’s exceptionally good. That’s what we all will be interested to see.”
Malagacy and stablemate Madefromlucky, who runs in the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap, galloped Friday morning under assistant trainer Adele Bellinger.
UNTRAPPED and LOOKIN AT LEE
Owner Mike Langford of Jonesboro, Ark., was on hand to watch his 3-year-old colt Untrapped gallop early Friday morning for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby. Untrapped will race in blinkers for the first time and picks up Hall of Famer Mike Smith as jockey.
After winning a Churchill Downs’ maiden race in his second start, Untrapped has had a pair of seconds and a third in the Rebel (a nose out of second) in graded stakes. Langford said he liked post 9 in the 12-horse field for his nearly-black son of Trappe Shot.
“There’s true speed on the rail,” he said of California-based Rockin Rudy, who comes out of two grass sprints, and champion Classic Empire. “And then next to him is Classic Empire, and they both have speed. Then Malagacy is to our outside (in post 12). Being separated like that, I think Mike will be in a good spot, in the catbird seat.”
Langford said trainer Steve Asmussen asked him what he thought about riding the 51-year-old Smith, who rode at Oaklawn Park as a teenager. “I said, ‘Are you really asking me that question?’ That was a no-brainer.”
Of adding blinkers, Langford said, “He kind of got lost on the backside in the Rebel. Steve just wanted him to be a little more focused. I think he has been.”
Asmussen’s trio of Saturday stakes horses, which includes Holy Boss in the Count Fleet, had controlled gallops, loping along with their necks bowed.
“It’s a home track. They’re both settled in here and very comfortable training here,” Asmussen said of his Arkansas Derby horses. “No surprises that way, and I expect them both to perform at their best.
“The racetrack has been playing very speed-favoring, I think, the whole meet, which is a concern for Lookin At Lee, and traffic of course. But the opportunity is upon us, and they will do well. The ability level of Classic Empire and Malagacy is quite impressive, and we will have to step it up to beat either.”
Making his first start in a graded stakes, Rockin Rudy comes from the same combination (trainer Doug O’Neill and owner Paul Reddam) that sent out Irap a week earlier to become the first maiden to win Keeneland’s $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. Rockin Rudy is extremely fast, but O’Neill believes the colt will relax early in the race with the blinkers coming off.
Exercise rider Gabriel Planchard said he watched a few of the Oaklawn races Thursday and was pleased to see speed faring well. He also liked the way the way Rockin Rudy galloped Friday morning. “He was pretty relaxed, so that’s a good thing,” he said. “It’s a fast track, and that’s good for him, having speed. We’re going to be all right, I think.
“They were going pretty fast at the races, so for him that’s good.”
Rockin Rudy will be ridden by Mario Gutierrez, who teamed with O’Neill and Reddam to win the Kentucky Derby in 2012 with I’ll Have Another and last year with Nyquist.
Four entrants in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) Saturday at Oaklawn Park are scheduled to make equipment changes for the 1 1/8-mile race, including Silver Dust for trainer Randy Morse. The colt will be adding blinkers following a fifth-place finish in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles March 18, the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.
Morse said he hopes the equipment will help the gray son of Tapit, a $510,000 2-year-old purchase, become more focused and not run in spurts.
“We had them on him in the summer,” said Morse, who trains Silver Dust for prominent Texas automobile dealer Tom Durant. “There was a time we put them on him when he was doing his tricks. We put them on him for a while and then ended up taking them off.”
Silver Dust, who has never started in a race under a mile, was beaten 3 ¼ lengths in the Rebel and 12 ¼ lengths in his 3-year-old debut, the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 20.
Morse has worked Silver Dust twice since the Rebel – both in company – and said after the race that he believes added distance could work in his favor Saturday.
“If he’ll improve as much off his first race here as he did going into his second, and now to this one, maybe we’ll have a chance,” Morse said.
Silver Dust has a 1-0-0 record in four lifetime starts.
Untrapped will also be adding blinkers for the Arkansas Derby. Rockin Rudy and One Dreamy Dude will be racing with blinkers off.
Ron Moquett is happy with how Petrov has progressed since March 18 Rebel Stakes where he was a close fourth.
“He’s doing great,” Moquett said. “During this time of the year you want them to keep to moving forward in maturity and developing and he is doing all the right things. We are pumped up.”
Ricardo Santana Jr. is getting the mount this weekend. When asked if there were any planned instructions for him?
“Just going to tell him to ride him like he did Creator,” Moquett said.
CONQUEST MO MONEY
Judge Lanier Racing’s Conquest Mo Money (15-1 in the program) could be a live long shot for the Arkansas Derby.
Trained by Miguel Hernandez, Conquest Mo Money is coming off a second-place finish, beaten 3 ¾ lengths, in the $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3) March 26 at Sunland Park, the colt’s first loss in four career starts.
“I’m telling you, he’s something else,” Hernandez said outside the horse’s stall in the Davona Dale barn. “Look at him? He’s like, ‘whatever.’ He does everything right. Classy horse.”
A son of champion Uncle Mo, Conquest Mo Money won his first three career starts this year at Sunland Park in New Mexico, where Hernandez is among the leading trainers.
Conquest Mo Money won two stakes leading up to the Sunland Derby, captured by Oaklawn maiden graduate Hence.
Conquest Mo Money, who has tactical speed, broke from post 11 in the 11-horse Sunland Derby field. He is scheduled to break from post 11 in the projected 12-horse Arkansas Derby field.
“When he ran in the Sunland Derby, I didn’t want a short field because if he qualifies for the Kentucky Derby, there’s going to be 20 horses,” Hernandez said. “He’s ready. I want to cross my fingers, have a lot of luck (Saturday) and win.”
Conquest Mo Money has twice beaten Irap, who broke his maiden in last Saturday's $1 million Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland.
Only the maiden, One Dreamy Dude, is higher on the Arkansas Derby morning line than Wayne Scherr's Grandpa’s Dream (30-1), who needed four career starts at the meeting to break his maiden March 25.
“We’re sending a prayer up and hoping for a blessing,” trainer Chris Hartman said. “We have our back up against the wall.”
Hartman is also scheduled to saddle the more accomplished Balandeen in Saturday’s $150,000 Northern Spur Stakes, but the Bernardini colt was never an Arkansas Derby candidate, the trainer said.
“The owner of Grandpa’s Dream really wanted to run in this race,” Hartman said. “Balandeen, I was just looking for something where he could be maybe a little more competitive.”
Hartman was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015.
ONE DREAMY DUDE
One Dreamy Dude won’t be the first maiden Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg has started in the Arkansas Derby.
Film Fortune ran seventh in the 2006 Arkansas Derby before breaking his maiden at Hollywood Park in his next start.
One Dreamy Dude (50-1 on the morning line) is winless in six career starts, including five at the meeting.
“This is a good horse,” Van Berg said.
Van Berg, 80, trains One Dreamy Dude for Muddy Waters Stable (Mike Waters), Oaklawn’s second-leading owner this year with 10 victories.
Waters purchased the son of First Dude for $25,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co.’s June 2-year-old and horses of racing age sale.
“He was big and well-balanced,” Van Berg said. “Had a beautiful stride to him galloping.”
Van Berg was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 1983 and 1984. He is tied for sixth in the standings this year with 19 victories, his highest total in Hot Springs since 1986.
Van Berg won the 1987 Kentucky Derby with Alysheba.
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer will try to sweep Oaklawn’s last two major two-turn races for 3-year-old fillies with Spooky Woods, the 4-1 third choice in the program for Friday’s $400,000 (G3) Fantasy Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
The Southern California-based Hollendorfer won the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 11 with It Tiz Well.
Hollendorfer had considered returning It Tiz Well to Arkansas for the Fantasy, but opted to keep her at Santa Anita for last Saturday’s $400,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G1).
It Tiz Well finished third behind runaway winner Paradise Woods.
“Spooky Woods has been doing real well,” Hollendorfer said. “Several of the horses that ran in the Honeybee aren’t running and we understand that the race is tough. But we wanted to give our horse a chance.”
Spooky Woods hasn’t started since finishing a distant third behind heralded stablemate Unique Bella in the $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) March 4 at Santa Anita.
Unique Bella had been ticketed for the Santa Anita Oaks, but is sidelined with a sore shin.
“As it turned out, we gambled and ran It Tiz Well and it turned out to be another monster in that race,” Hollendorfer said. “So maybe I should have waited for the Fantasy.”
Spooky Woods has a 1-2-2 record from six lifetime starts and earnings of $78,945.
Hollendorfer won the Fantasy in 1991 with Lite Light and in 2010 with Blind Luck.
Ron Moquett on Whitmore entered in the Count Fleet:
How has he been doing since his impressive win in the Hot Springs?
“He is moving forward and acting happy. He is exactly how you would want him to be before going into a big race.”
Best outcome Saturday, do you have a plan for him?
“There are several different options, but obviously we are very focused on the Count Fleet.”
Owner Danny Keene has had a successful meet and is ranked among Oaklawn’s top ten owners with eight wis leading into the final two days of the season. His meet would become even that much better with a win Saturday in the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2). The reigning Texas-bred Horse of the Year will be making his first start since the Breeders’ Cup Mile last November.
“He is doing fantastic,” trainer J.R. Caldewell said. “He took some time off. He had a hard campaign as a 3-year-old so we gave him some time off. He has comeback as a mature 4-year-old and has been training perfect. I just want him to show up and run the best he can that day and come back well. We will be happy with that. Of course we’d love to win it, but it’s hard to do coming off of a layoff like that and off of just training. I would have liked to get a prep in him, but timing didn’t suit us to do that. Seven horse field for $750,000, so we will take a crack at them.”
Leading rider Ricardo Santana Jr. will have the mount on Texas Chrome Saturday.
“He rode him last year here in the Bachelor,” Caldwell said. “He knows him, and been working him all along. The horse is pretty easy to ride, he’s pretty push button. When you want him to go he will go, when you want him to sit, he’ll sit. He’s a pretty easy and laid back horse.”