Area, from one of the most productive female families in Oaklawn history, is scheduled to make her career debut in Thursday’s sixth race for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs and owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong of Conway, Ark. The 6-furlong race is for fillies and mares, 3 years and old and upward.
Area is a 3-year-old by 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense and out of Isabell’s Shoes, winner of the $50,000 Martha Washington Stakes in 2005 at Oaklawn for Patricia Blass of Little Rock, Ark.
Area is a half-sister to Isabell’s Tiger, a Blass homebred who would represent her final Oaklawn starter after being claimed out of a career-debut victory at the 2017 meeting.
Alex Lieblong said he and his wife entered the business in the early 1990s, partnering with Blass on horses. Blass began phasing out her operation following the death of her husband, Gus, in May 2016. Area is the final horse Patricia Blass bred, according to her former racing manager, Pat Tanner.
“If you were writing a script, you couldn’t write one better than this,” Lieblong said.
In addition to Isabell’s Shoes, the Blasses campaigned, among others, Oaklawn stakes winners Prom Shoes, Pink Shoes, Fun Flight, Tricky Fun and Flight Forty Nine and Annihilate ’em, winner of the 1973 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
The Blasses’ foundation mare was Fun and Tears, who produced Fun Flight (1988 Martha Washington winner) and Tricky Fun (winner of Oaklawn’s $50,000 Mountain Valley Stakes in 1991).
Fun Flight produced Flight Forty Nine (winner of Oaklawn’s $75,000 Bachelor Stakes in 1994) and Pink Shoes (1995 Martha Washington winner).
Pink Shoes produced Isabell’s Shoes and Prom Shoes (winner of Oaklawn’s $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes in 2008 and $100,000 Essex Handicap in 2009).
Fun Flight and Fun and Tears are the fourth and fifth dams, respectively, of Bolt d’Oro, a leading candidate for this year’s Kentucky Derby. Fun Flight also produced stakes-winning Tour, the dam of multiple graded stakes winner Trip.
“It’s a hell of a family,” Lieblong said.
The Lieblongs purchased Area for $140,000 last May at Fasig-Tipton’s Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale.
Alex Lieblong said he already had Area’s catalogue page folded when, coincidentally, a horse breezing at the sale caught his eye while watching in real time on a computer in his Little Rock office.
Lieblong said he then asked Moquett, who was at the sale, to look at the filly. It was Area.
“Of course, I already had the catalogue page turned down because I knew the family was so strong,” Lieblong said. “It worked out perfect. She was a big girl. To go ask her to go something speedy, speedy an eighth of a mile, you weren’t going to get that kind of show. You weren’t going to get a dazzling burst of speed. But she looked like a freight train to me.”
Lieblong is chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission.
Inside Straight is the 2-1 program favorite for the $30,000 Turf Paradise Handicap Saturday at Turf Paradise, the 5-year-old Super Saver gelding’s final scheduled start before shipping to Oaklawn, trainer Robertino Diodoro said.
Inside Straight, owned by Canadian Randy Howg, won the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) last April in Hot Springs.
“If everything goes right, you will see him here for at least one stake appearance, if not two,” Diodoro said. “But he will be coming.”
The stakes races that Inside Straight would target, Diodoro said, are the $300,000 Essex Handicap March 17 and the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 14.
Inside Straight has started three times since last year’s Oaklawn Handicap. He finished 12th in the $1.2 million Met Mile (G1) in June at Belmont Park and refused at the start of the $100,000 Saginaw Stakes in July at Belmont Park before winning his comeback race, the $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile Handicap Jan. 13 at Turf Paradise.
The Cotton Fitzsimmons was a mile on the turf. Saturday’s race is 1 1/16 miles on the turf.
“I made some mistakes before,” Diodoro said. “He doesn’t need to be thrown to the wolves yet, to the big guys. Just taking our time and trying to get him in here right.”
Diodoro said he believes Inside Straight’s gate issues are behind him, noting the gelding’s 5-furlong work in 1:01.20 from the gate Jan. 30 at Turf Paradise.
“Worked very, very good,” Diodoro said. “Actually galloped out (1:10.40) for 6 furlongs. He was rolling.”
Inside Straight has an 8-2-4 record from 23 starts and earnings of $797,064.
Inside Straight began his career with trainer Todd Pletcher and WinStar Farm LLC before being privately purchased by Howg following a May 2016 race at Belmont Park.
Through the first 14 days of the scheduled 57-day meeting (two dates were lost to winter weather), David Cabrera and Brad Cox top the jockey and trainer standings, respectively, with a tie for leading owner.
Cabrera, riding at Oaklawn for the first time, has 13 victories, one more than another newcomer, David Cohen. Five-time defending Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. is third with nine victories.
Cabrera also leads all riders in purse earnings ($527,841).
Cox has 12 victories, five more than eight-time Oaklawn champion Steve Asmussen, Robertino Diodoro and Chris Hartman, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015.
Cox has won eight of his last 12 starts, scoring doubles Jan. 28, Thursday and Friday.
Black Hawk Stable (James Rogers) and M & M Racing (Michael Sisk) each have five victories to top the owner standings. Four-time defending Oaklawn leading owner Danny Caldwell is tied for fourth with three victories.
Black Hawk is 5 for 5 at the meeting.
Diodoro trains for Sisk, who has already started 30 horses and claimed a meet-high nine horses. M & M has also lost a meet-high seven horses through claims.
“The training chart looks a little bizarre,” Diodoro said. “Even dealing with the bookkeeper a couple of days ago, it was like, ‘Man, how many different horses do I have?’ ”
In all, 97 claims have totaled $1,437,750 at the meet.
Captivated ($8.40) represented the 500th career victory for trainer Paul Holthus of Hot Springs in Sunday’s fourth race, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. … Four-time defending leading owner Danny Caldwell won two races Sunday, including his 100th at Oaklawn in the first race with Darion’s Dream ($17.40), according to Equibase. … Georgia’s Reward is the even-money program favorite for Thursday’s third race, an entry-level allowance sprint for Arkansas-bred fillies and mares. Georgia’s Reward, a powerful maiden winner against state-breds Jan. 15, is using Thursday’s race, trainer Ron Moquett said, as a prep for the $100,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes March 31, a 6-furlong race restricted to 3-year-old Arkansas-bred fillies. Moquett trains Georgia’s Reward for Van Buren, Ark.-based JRita Young Thoroughbreds LLC. … Graceland is scheduled to make her 4-year-old debut in Thursday’s sixth race, a maiden special weights sprint, for owner/trainer Will VanMeter who named the daughter of Elusive Quality after Elvis Presley’s Memphis mansion. “I’m a big Elvis fan,” VanMeter said, adding he was surprised that he was able to obtain the name. … South Beach, a $1.8 million Fasig-Tipton Florida Select 2-year-old in training purchase in March 2016, is scheduled to make his career debut in Friday’s fourth race, a maiden special weights sprint, for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. South Beach is a 4-year-old son of Tapit. Turkish Tryst, the second dam of South Beach, produced Grade 1 winner Hard Spun, who was runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in Oaklawn’ $250,000 Southwest Stakes in 2007. … Entries were to be drawn Wednesday for Saturday’s $125,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile. … Nominations to the $150,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares Feb. 17 and $500,000 Southwest Stakes for 3-year-olds (G3) and $500,000 Razorback Handicap for older horses (G3) Feb. 19 close Friday.