First Set of O’Neill Horses Arrive at Oaklawn
Doug O’Neill didn’t train Lady’s Secret, but the Lady’s Secret barn is home to his first Oaklawn division of horses, 11 of whom arrived Wednesday for the two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer who is based in Southern California.
O’Neill’s contingent, scheduled to grow to 20 early next month, is under the supervision of assistant Jack Sisterson, whose two previous trips to Hot Springs deputizing for the trainer were to saddle Avare in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes in 2013 and Sammy Mandeville in the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) in 2015.
“Doug knows coming in here, competition-wise, it’s very tough,” Sisterson said Thursday morning. “We’ll go through the first condition book and pick out horses that will be competitive as possible at all levels. It’s a mixed-matched group at the moment.”
O’Neill saddled Classy Cara, his first of 10 Oaklawn starters to date, to win the $200,000 Fantasy Stakes (G2) for 3-year-old fillies in 2000.
A Sporting Chance
Sporting Chance is targeting Oaklawn’s $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 19 and $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 17 to start his 3-year-old campaign, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Thursday morning.
Sporting Chance, a son of 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow, hasn’t started since winning the $350,000 Hopeful Stakes (G1) Sept. 4 at Saratoga. Sporting Chance had a knee chip removed shortly after the race, an injury that sidelined the colt 60 days, Lukas said.
Lukas said Sporting Chance won’t make the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 15 – Oaklawn’s first of four major Kentucky Derby preps – but “we’ll look at the next two.”
“We haven’t had any serious works or anything, but we’ve got six or eight weeks,” Lukas said. “More than that, I guess. We should be in great shape. Really, a talented horse.”
Sporting Chance, who won 2 of 3 starts this year, was purchased for $575,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale by the trainer’s longtime clients, Robert Baker and William Mack.
Lukas said he’s also excited about another 2-year-old for Baker and Mack in Transgress, who worked a half-mile in :48.80 over a fast track Thursday morning. Unraced since a runner-up finish in his June 15 career debut at Churchill Downs, Transgress, a son of Into Mischief, was purchased for $225,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s Saratoga Select Yearling Sale.
Following the Smarty Jones, Southwest and Rebel, Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep series concludes with the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 14.
Canterbury Park sensation Amy’s Challenge, a speedy 2-year-old Artie Schiller filly who is unbeaten in two starts, is on the grounds for trainer Mac Robertson in advance of her 2018 debut.
Owned by Robertson’s longtime client, Novogratz Racing Stables Inc., Amy’s Challenge won her Aug. 6 career debut at Canterbury Park by 16 ½ lengths and the $75,000 Shakopee Juvenile Stakes Sept. 16 at Canterbury Park by three-quarters of a length.
Amy’s Challenge, who beat males in both races, earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 91 in her debut and 92 for the stake, both ranking among the 10 highest in the country this year for 2-year-olds through Wednesday. Robertson called Amy’s Challenge, who led at all but one point of call in both starts, a standout from Day 1.
“She was working in Arkansas faster than anything’s worked down here,” Robertson said Tuesday morning. “Was working faster than Hamazing Destiny, as a young horse. Half-second faster, and that was a fast horse.”
Robertson was referring to Amy’s Challenge breezing last spring at a farm near Oaklawn.
As for Hamazing Destiny, Robertson saddled the son of Salt Lake to a 10 ½-length career debut victory sprinting at the 2009 Oaklawn meeting before he was sold privately and transferred to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. Hamazing Destiny earned $853,008 in a 33-race career and finished second in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).
Amy’s Challenge was scheduled to make her two-turn debut in the $400,000 Alcibiades Stakes (G1) Oct. 6 at Keeneland, but Robertson said she “tied up” on consecutive days, a physical ailment that causes severe muscle cramping.
“The blood work wasn’t very good,” Robertson said. “Luckily, the owner erred on the side of caution.”
Robertson said Amy’s Challenge was turned out at an Arkansas farm following the incident at Keeneland, but will “probably” breeze next week for her yet-to-be determined 3-year-old debut.
“She had two months off, but she gets ready pretty fast,” Robertson said.
Five of a Kind
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen won five consecutive races Tuesday at Remington Park, including the fourth, a second-level allowance for fillies and mares, with Taxable ($8.60), runner-up in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies in 2016 at Oaklawn.
Asmussen also won the third race with Wily ($5.60), fifth race with favored Tiz Alluptome Now ($5.40), sixth race with favored Notation ($4.40) and seventh race with Pemba ($6.20).
The first four winners were ridden by Ramon Vazquez, Oaklawn’s second-leading jockey in 2017.
Asmussen has collected eight training titles at Oaklawn since his first in 2007, when he capped a five-win day with Curlin’s romp in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G2).
Asmussen also won two other stakes on Oaklawn’s 2007 closing-day card, claiming the $100,000 Northern Spur with Takedown and the $100,000 Instant Racing with Cream Only.
There were 709 horses on the grounds Thursday morning in advance of the Jan. 12 opening. Among the latest arrivals was Oaklawn maiden special weights graduate and West Virginia Derby winner Colonelsdarktemper for trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs. … Someday Soon, a powerful allowance/optional claiming winner at the 2017 Oaklawn meeting, worked a half-mile in :50.60 over a fast track Thursday morning for trainer Will VanMeter. Someday Soon is scheduled to make her 4-year-old debut in the $125,000 Pippin Stakes Jan. 13 at Oaklawn, VanMeter said. Following her allowance/optional claiming victory, Someday Soon finished eighth in Oaklawn’s highly productive Honeybee Stakes (G3), third in the $500,000 Ashland Stakes (G1) and won the $75,000 Tomboy Stakes May 14 at Belterra Park in her last start. … Following the renovation break Thursday morning, the VanMeter-trained Lone Rock, a 2-year-old Majestic Warrior colt, recorded a sharp half-mile work (:48). Lone Rock finished 10th in the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) Oct. 7 at Keeneland. … Multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Far Right is entered in the $75,000 Tenacious Stakes Saturday at Fair Grounds. Far Right won the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) in 2015 before finishing second to eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). Also entered in the mile 70-yard Tenacious are Oaklawn winners Dazzling Gem and Leofric. Probable post time for the Tenacious, which goes as race 10, is 5:35 p.m. (Central).