Trainer Larry Jones has horses at Oaklawn for the first time since 2011, a 15-horse string that he said he believes is ripe with young talent.
Jones said maybe half of the horses ticketed to winter in Hot Springs could be unraced or have just one career start when the 2019 meeting begins Jan. 25.
But a pair of lightly raced 2-year-olds, Super Steed and Whoa Nellie, have already started building their resumes on what Jones said he hopes is a path to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.
That path, Jones said, would run through Oaklawn.
“That is a big reason that we’ve come, because the 3-year-old program here is second to nobody,” Jones said Monday morning. “They’ve got the best 3-year-old program in the country.”
Super Steed, a son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner and Arkansas Derby runner-up Super Saver, finished second in his Oct. 25 career debut at Keeneland before breaking his maiden in allowance company Nov. 24 at Churchill Downs.
Whoa Nellie, a daughter of 2013 Kentucky Derby winner Orb, won her Nov. 22 career debut at Churchill Downs.
“They kind of got started late,” Jones said. “I don’t want to give them any time off, per say, but I don’t want to race them super hard. But, I would like for them to race, like, once a month, to kind of keep moving forward and getting the experience and kind of get caught up with the rest of the crop.”
Jones said Super Steed and Whoa Nellie are targeting stakes races Dec. 22 at Fair Grounds, where the trainer has 24 horses after splitting his stable.
Super Steed is scheduled to run in the $75,000 Sugar Bowl, with Whoa Nellie headed for the $75,000 Letellier Memorial. Both races are 6 furlongs.
Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep series consists of the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 25, $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 18, $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 16 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 13.
The Kentucky Derby (G1) is May 4 at Churchill Downs.
Oaklawn has three major preps leading up to the Kentucky Oaks (G1), the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies, May 3 at Churchill Downs. They are the $125,000 Martha Washington Stakes Feb. 2, $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 9 and the $500,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 12.
Jones has had immense success in major 3-year-old prep races at Oaklawn, particularly with fillies.
Jones won the Fantasy in 2003 (Ruby’s Reception), the Martha Washington, Honeybee and Fantasy in 2008 (Eight Belles), the Honeybee in 2009 (Just Jenda) and the Honeybee and Fantasy in 2011 (Joyful Victory). Jones also won the Southwest in 2009 (Old Fashioned).
Eight Belles finished second against males in the Kentucky Derby.
Super Steed is co-owned by Mike Pressley, who campaigned Ruby’s Reception (Jones’ first graded stakes winner). Whoa Nellie is owned by Rick Porter, who raced Eight Belles, Old Fashioned and Joyful Victory.
Porter and Jones also campaigned Havre de Grace, who launched her 2011 Horse of the Year campaign with victories in Oaklawn’s Azeri Stakes (G3) and Apple Blossom Handicap (G1).
Making the grade
Oaklawn’s graded stakes races for the 2019 meeting:
GRADE I (2) $1 million Arkansas Derby, $700,000 Apple Blossom Handicap.
GRADE II (3) $1 million Rebel, $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap, $350,000 Azeri.
GRADE III (6) $500,000 Southwest, $500,000 Razorback Handicap $500,000 Fantasy, $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, $200,000 Honeybee, $200,000 Bayakoa.
Grades Are In
Eleven of Oaklawn’s stakes races during the 2019 meeting that begins Jan. 25 have received grades by the American Graded Stakes Committee.
All races retained their same grade as 2018, including the committee’s highest ranking – Grade I – for the $1 million Arkansas Derby April 13 and $700,000 Apple Blossom Handicap for older fillies and mares April 14.
Oaklawn had 251 horses on the grounds late Monday morning, the first day the track was open for training. Among the trainers with horses on the grounds included Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman, Randy Morse, Ron Moquett, Jinks Fires, Steve Hobby, Donnie K. Von Hemel, Gary Thomas, Paul Holthus, Dan Peitz, Al Cates and newcomer Dallas Stewart. Normal training hours are 7 a.m.-9:30 a.m. (Central) until further notice. There will be no break to renovate the racing surface. … In addition to David Cabrera, Oaklawn’s second-leading rider in 2018, agent Joe Santos said he will represent Israel Rodriguez at the 2019 meeting. Through Monday, Rodriguez was the seventh-leading rider at Camarero Race Track in his native Puerto Rico. Rodriguez won with his first United States mount, Feb. 28, 2014, at Laurel and later rode as an apprentice and journeyman in New York. Santos said Rodriguez is 23 and good friends with another Puerto Rican jockey, 2017 Eclipse Award winner Jose Ortiz. “I was not sure what I was going to do,” Santos said, referring to having a second rider in 2019 at Oaklawn. “I called up Jose Ortiz and he sent me him.” Cabrera is the runaway riding leader at the Remington Park meeting that ends Dec. 16. … Through Monday, Allen Milligan, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2009, had 996 career North American victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.