Oaklawn News

Friday, June 09, 2017

Grade 1 Met Mile entrants Mor Spirit and Inside top large list of Oaklawn runners on Saturday’s Belmont Stakes Day card; Trainer Steve Asmussen remains confident in Lookin at Lee.

Three Oaklawn Stakes Winner on Belmont’s Undercard

Three Oaklawn stakes winners are entered on the Belmont Stakes undercard, including two in the prestigious $1.2 million Met Mile (G1) Saturday at Belmont Park.

Mor Spirit, winner of the $250,000 Essex Handicap March 18 at Oaklawn, is the 5-2 program favorite for the Met Mile. The Essex was the final major local prep for the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 15, which was won by Met Mile entrant Inside Straight.

Probable post time for the Met Mile is 3:41 p.m. (Central).

Recruiting Ready, winner of the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes April 13 at Oaklawn, is entered in the $500,000 Woody Stephens Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds at 7 furlongs.

Probable post time for the Woody Stephens is 2:15 p.m. (Central).

The 13-race card is highlighted by the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes (G1), the final leg of the Triple Crown.

Two Oaklawn-raced horses are entered, including Lookin At Lee, who ran third in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 15. Also entered in the 1 ½-mile Belmont is Senior Investment, a Feb. 18 allowance/optional claiming winner at Oaklawn.

Arkansas Derby winner Classic Empire (foot abscess) will miss the Belmont. Arkansas Derby runner-up Conquest Mo Money, who had been under consideration for the Belmont, is sidelined with a leg injury.

Probable post time for the Belmont is 5:37 p.m. (Central).

Other Oaklawn-raced horses entered Saturday at Belmont include Idolo Porteno ($400,000 Brooklyn, G2); Benner Island ($700,000 Acorn, G1); Hogy ($300,000 Jaipur, G3); and American Anthem and Petrov (Woody Stephens).

American Anthem finished 10th as the favorite in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 18, the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. Petrov and Lookin At Lee finished fourth and sixth, respectively, in the Rebel.

Friday’s Belmont card includes the $250,000 True North Stakes (G2) for older horses at 6 furlongs.

The projected nine-horse field is headed by 2-1 program favorite Whitmore, unbeaten in seven career sprint starts for co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs. The gelding was 3 for 3 this year at Oaklawn, highlighted by the $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes March 11 and $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 15.

Ricardo Santana Jr., Oaklawn’s leading rider the last five years, is named on Whitmore, who is scheduled to break from post 8 and carry top equal top weight of 124 pounds. He is seeking his sixth consecutive victory.

Also entered in the True North is Holy Boss, winner of Oaklawn’s $100,000 Bachelor Stakes in 2015 for Hall of Famer and eight-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen.

Probable post time for the True North is 3:42 p.m. (Central).

Asmussen Remains Confident in Lookin at Lee (from NYRA press notes)

Consider Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who won his first Belmont Stakes last year with Creator, the chief executive officer of Lookin At Lee’s fan club.

The gutsy and durable son of Lookin At Lucky, who is the lone entrant in this year’s edition to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown, has finished in the money in seven of 11 starts while taking on the top of the current 3-year-old class. Since winning his first stakes race August 6 at Ellis Park, the bay colt has contested only graded stakes, including five Grade 1’s, one Grade 2, and two Grade 3 tests to earn his conditioner’s reverence.

“Respect is the proper word for it,” Asmussen said. “When you can say that he’s the first horse since Risen Star in 1988 to [break from post 1] and run in the top three in the [Kentucky] Derby, I think that sorts him out from a lot of them. Nothing would be better than to see him win a race with the prestige of the Belmont so that he can get the adoration that we feel that he deserves. He’s doing very well. He deserved this chance.”

Lookin At Lee, who is owned by the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based L and N Racing partnership, has danced every dance, but Asmussen said that he hasn’t altered his training regimen in preparation for the grueling 1 ½ miles his colt is being asked to travel Saturday.

“I think he’s put the foundation in at the beginning of this year to be in this position,” Asmussen said of his charge, who returned from a fourth place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November to compete in all three legs of Oaklawn Park’s 3-year-old series [Grade 3 Southwest, Grade 2 Rebel, and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby] leading up to the Triple Crown. I think that the reason that he has continuously inched forward from a speed figures standpoint as the year goes on is because of his consistency in training. He’s very steady. I think that has put us in this position.”

Asmussen is in the position to be the first trainer to win back-to-back Belmonts since fellow Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas did it with Editor’s Note in 1996 and Thunder Gulch in 1995.

“There is less pressure this year, by far,” Asmussen said. “Being in a race you’ve won previously feels a lot better. You’re not defending anything because you’re not running the same horse. But you know that a scenario can work out that yields success,” he said.

While the trainer isn’t running the same horse, he is riding with the same jockey. Irad Ortiz, Jr., who also won his first Belmont with Creator, will be partnered with Lookin At Lee for the first time.
“I think that Lookin At Lee is a horse that will go wherever you want him to go. You’ve just got to know where you want to be,” said Asmussen, who reported that all systems are go with one more day left to go before the “Test of the Champion.”

Once the gates spring open, the race is anybody’s guess even though what figures to be a solid pace sets up to favor Lookin At Lee’s closing kick.

“I am very concerned that being capable of going fast and being fast in the Belmont are two different things. I was in a Belmont that had Hard Spun (2007) run three-quarters in 1:15,” said Asmussen, who trained second-place finisher and eventual Horse of the Year Curlin in that edition. “Once the gates open, it’s completely out of our hands.”
Finish Lines

Chanel’s Legacy made a winning return to the races, taking the $65,000 Panther Stakes at Prairie Meadows Thursday. The Lynn Chleborad-trained filly was making her first start since finishing second in the Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn April 13 … Power of Snunner, fourth in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares March 18 at Oaklawn, is entered in the $100,000 Obeah Stakes Saturday at Delaware Park. Also entered in the 1 1/8-mile Obeah is Oaklawn-raced Cced. … Several Oaklawn-raced horses are entered in the $50,000 Dark Star Stakes at 6 furlongs Saturday at Canterbury Park, including 5-2 program favorite Wings Locked Up and Wabel (7-2). … Oaklawn leading apprentice Katie Clawson rode two winners Tuesday at Indiana Grand, with the first (40th in her career) reducing her weight allowance from 7 pounds to 5 pounds. Clawson, 20, recorded her first career victory June 17, 2016, at Churchill Downs and has 42 overall. She won eight races at Oaklawn and has a meet-high 28 victories at Indiana Grand. … Lewys Vaporizer, seventh in the $100,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters last year at Oaklawn, was a 4 ¾-length allowance/optional claiming winner Wednesday at Indiana Grand. Gentlemen’s Bet finished fourth in his first start in almost a year. Gentlemen’s Bet won the $100,000 Hot Springs Stakes in 2015 at Oaklawn and was fourth in the 2016 King Cotton. … Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 1983 and 1984, turned 81 Wednesday. Van Berg was Oaklawn’s co-sixth-leading trainer this year with 20 victories, his highest total in Hot Springs since he won 24 races in 1986.