Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Uncontested Headed to Southwest Stakes

 

After splashing to a record-breaking victory in his 3-year-old debut, Uncontested will be pointed to the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 20 at Oaklawn, trainer Wayne Catalano said.

 

Uncontested launched his 3-year-old campaign Monday at Oaklawn, coasting to a 5 ¼-length wire-to-wire victory over Petrov in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes to earn 10 points toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.

 

Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep series continues with the Southwest, $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 18 and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 15. The plan, Catalano said, is for Uncontested to start in all four races.

 

“That’s what we’re here for,” Catalano said.

 

Under Catalano’s son-in-law, Channing Hill, 6-5 favorite Uncontested ran the mile over a sloppy, sealed surface in 1:36.32, shattering the previous stakes record of 1:38.05 (set last year by Discreetness) and recorded the most lopsided margin of victory in the race’s 10-year history.

 

Uncontested’s co-owner, Harry Rosenblum of Little Rock, Ark., purchased Uncontested with an eye toward the Arkansas Derby, a race he was third in last year (Whitmore) and second in 2015 (Far Right).

 

“As a 2-year-old before today, I felt that this horse was a better horse than either one of them,” Rosenblum said of Uncontested, a $20,000 Keeneland September Yearling bargain. “Not knocking either one of them because I still own both of them, or part of both of them. But his numbers are better. I think he’s got a much longer stride, and he’s got a very, very mature mind for a horse of his age. He’s easy to handle. Nothing bothers him.”

 

Uncontested won 1 of 2 starts last year, narrowly missing Keeneland’s 6 ½-furlong track record in a front-running six-length debut victory Oct. 19 before finishing fourth in the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs.

 

Uncontested, after breaking from sluggishly from post 12, shot to the lead before tiring in the final furlong to finish five lengths behind unbeaten McCraken, a leading Kentucky Derby candidate.

 

Racing on an off track for the first time Monday, Uncontested was never pressed in the Smarty Jones, recording the fastest splits for a half-mile (:46.21), 6 furlongs (1:10.70) and 7 furlongs (1:23.48) in race history.

 

“The speed that he has, he can do it,” Catalano said. “That will help him. When you’ve got controlling speed, it can kind of control races like that. And then it can always put you in the race.”

 

Uncontested, a son of Tiz Wonderful, earned a career-high 96 Beyer Speed Figure for his Smarty Jones victory, the colt’s second in three starts. He has earned $135,300.

 

Trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said Petrov will “probably” try Uncontested again in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest.

 

Moquett noted that Petrov, in his two-turn debut, was in chase mode during most of Monday’s race to try and apply some pressure to Uncontested, 1 ½ lengths clear after a half-mile and three-quarters of a mile.

 

“Today, everything went his way,” said Moquett, also Petrov’s co-owner. “We’ll see if it goes his way the next time. He’s a great horse, a nice horse, but today everything went his way.”

 

Moquett saddled Far Right to win the 2015 Smarty Jones and originally had Uncontested before Rosenblum moved his horses to Catalano last fall. Moquett and Rosenblum still co-own Whitmore, a powerful third-level allowance/optional claiming sprint winner in Sunday’s eighth race at Oaklawn.

 

Whitmore ran second in the Southwest and Rebel.

 

Rosenblum owns Uncontested and Far Right in partnership with Robert LaPenta.

 

Milestone for Asmussen

 

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen recorded his 500th career victory at Oaklawn in Monday’s seventh race, according to Equibase, racing’s official data organization.

Asmussen, 51, reached the milestone when favored Hence, a 3-year-old Calumet Farm homebred colt, broke his maiden at 1 1/16 miles under Ramon Vazquez.

The late Bob Holthus – nine Oaklawn training titles between 1967-1991 – and four-time Oaklawn training champion David Vance, who won a single-season record 50 races in 1974, are among only a handful of other trainers with 500 career victories in Hot Springs.

Hence was also the 7,500th North American victory for Asmussen, who trails only the late Dale Baird (9,445) on the all-time career list.

“It’s a great win here, it really is,” Asmussen said. “Oaklawn has always been very good to us and hopefully that will continue. Seventy-fifth hundred lifetime and 500th at Oaklawn, I kind of thought that was neat. Hopefully, we’ve got another 500 wins in us here.”

Asmussen, who has collected seven Oaklawn training titles since 2007, started his first horse in Hot Springs March 24, 1989 (Dawns Clever Trick ran ninth in the $35,000 Second Pleasure Stakes).

Asmussen’s first Oaklawn winner was Feb. 9, 1996 (Honest J). The trainer’s first of 68 local stakes victories to date came the following day when older brother, American and European riding champion Cash Asmussen, guided Valid Expectations to a seven-length victory in the $50,000 Mountain Valley for 3-year-old sprinters.

“He wasn’t kind of, he was my first big horse,” Asmussen said. “My first stakes winner here. He was my first stakes winner in a lot of states.”

Asmussen won the $75,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) in 1999 at Oaklawn with Dreams Gallore, who would become the trainer’s first Grade I winner later that year in the $250,000 Mother Goose at Belmont Park.

Asmussen has won Oaklawn’s biggest race, the now-$1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) three times – Private Emblem in 2002, Curlin in 2007 and Creator in 2016.

Curlin, in his first start for Asmussen and straight from a dazzling career-debut victory at Gulfstream Park, won the $300,000 Rebel Stakes (G3), Oaklawn’s major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.

“You talk about taking it to a different level,” Asmussen said.

Curlin was named Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008 and retired as the all-time leading money winner for a North America-based horse ($10,501,800). The colt also provided provided Asmussen his first Triple Crown victory (2007 Preakness). The trainer’s third came in last year’s Belmont Stakes with Creator. It was Asmussen’s first Belmont victory.

Asmussen won Eclipse Awards as the nation’s outstanding trainer in 2008 and 2009, when he won a North American-record 650 races and led in purse money ($21,884,695). He was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.

Asmussen won 46 races at last year’s meet, setting a single-season record for purse earnings ($3,448,729). Overall at Oaklawn, he has 500 victories from 2,289 starters and purse earnings of $20,314,872 since 1989, according to Equibase.

Asmussen saddled Terra Promessa to win the $125,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares Saturday at Oaklawn.

Asmussen, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in August, had his 7,000th career North American winner April 1, 2015, at Oaklawn, according to Equibase.

Asmussen’s Oaklawn division is overseen by longtime assistant Darren Fleming.

Finish Lines

New York-based and 2016 Eclipse Awards finalist Jose Ortiz finished the first four days of the meeting tied for first in mounts (25) and victories (five) and was first in purse earnings ($317,437). Ortiz, at the invitation of trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, was riding at Oaklawn for the first time after leading the country last year in victories. Moquett put the jockey on four winners at Oaklawn. Ortiz’s other victory came for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen in Saturday’s $125,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares (Terra Promessa). … Saratoga maiden graduate Vertical Oak will make her 3-year-old debut in Saturday’s $125,000 Dixie Belle Stakes at 6 furlongs, Asmussen said Monday. … There were 26 claims totaling $306,000 during the first four days of racing. … Betting favorites won 13 of 36 races (36.1 percent) the opening four days. All 13 victories came in the last three days. Six favorites won Monday, including Uncontested ($4.40) in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds. Uncontested (6-5) was the shortest-priced winning favorite in the 10-year race history.

 

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