The voice of Lone Star Park will be the voice of Oaklawn, at least for a few days. Jim Byers is scheduled to call Thursday’s final race and complete cards Friday, Saturday and Sunday while Vic Stauffer tests his handicapping skills in the 19th NTRA National Horseplayers Championship in Las Vegas.
Stauffer, a noted tournament handicapper, is in his second year as Oaklawn’s track announcer. Byers, track announcer the last two years at Lone Star Park, had been filling in at another Texas track, Sam Houston Race Park.
“Basically, Vic did all the leg work,” Oaklawn racing director David Longinotti said. “We have an agreement with Vic that if he qualifies for the national handicapping contest, then we allow him to go and compete because that’s important to him. But if that happens, he is responsible for finding a replacement that, of course, we have final approval over. I’ve known Jim forever.”
Byers has more than 30 decades of sports casting experience, including more than 15 as a track announcer.
A graduate of San Diego State University, Byers began his career in 1983 in the publicity department at Caliente Race Track in Tijuana, Mexico. Later that year, he joined the Los Angeles circuit as backup announcer at Del Mar and Santa Anita before being named Hollywood Park’s track announcer in 1984.
After four years at Hollywood Park, Byers became the first voice of Remington Park in 1988 and served 11 years as Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse announcer for the Oklahoma City track.
Byers has also been the play-by-play voice of the Oklahoma City RedHawks, then the top affiliate of the Texas Rangers, and the American Hockey League’s Oklahoma City Barons.
Stauffer is scheduled to resume his Oaklawn duties Feb. 15.
Wilbo did what his more heralded former stablemate couldn’t – he won the $125,000 King Cotton Stakes Saturday for older sprinters.
It was the second Oaklawn stakes victory for trainer Chris Hartman, who was runner-up in the King Cotton four consecutive years (2013-2016) with millionaire Alsvid.
Wilbo, a 6-year-old gelded son of Candy Ride, was exiting a victory in the Jan. 14 allowance prep for the King Cotton. In both races, Wilbo toppled the popular Ivan Fallunovalot, who is nearing $1 million in career earnings.
“He’s probably run two his best here, the last two,” said Hartman, who trains Wilbo for Oklahoman Chris Wilkins. “He’s actually beaten some pretty solid fields lately. I guess he would be in his best form.”
Wilkins purchased Wilbo for $120,000 at the 2014 OBS Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training (Alsvid came out of the same sale in 2011). He is a half-brother to Kodiak Kowboy, an allowance/optional claiming winner in 2008 at Oaklawn and the country’s champion male sprinter the following year.
“The horse worked really well,” Hartman said of Wilbo. “He was a good-looking horse on the lead shank. That’s what brought us to the horse.”
Hartman said he and Wilkins both worked the sale and decided that Wilbo should be gelded immediately after the purchase.
“The horse was getting thick in the wrong spots,” Hartman said. “He was getting real thick in the neck. Actually, when we looked at him, we thought the horse needed to be gelded for him to be the best we thought he could be. We gelded him right off the bat.”
Overall, Wilbo has a 9-3-6 record from 24 starts and earnings of $470,681.
Hartman said Wilbo will be pointed for the $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes March 10, the final major local prep for the $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 14. The trainer’s first Oaklawn stakes victory came in the 2015 Count Fleet with Alsvid. Hartman was Oaklawn's leading trainer in 2015.
Higher Power Update
Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said Thursday morning that his promising 3-year-old, Higher Power, should return to the track Friday after missing approximately a week of training because of a minor illness, a setback that cost the son of Medaglia d’Oro any chance of running in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 19.
A half-brother to Alternation, the Von Hemel-trained millionaire and 2012 Oaklawn Handicap winner, Higher Power is unbeaten in two starts around two turns, including a three-quarter length decision in an entry-level allowance/optional claimer at a mile Jan. 13.
Higher Power recorded a 5-furlong work Jan. 26, but didn’t breeze last week after developing a temperature. Higher Power had been under consideration for the 1 1/16-mile Southwest, Oaklawn’s second of four major Kentucky Derby preps.
“That would be unfair to everybody involved – horse, gamblers, owners,” Von Hemel said of running in the Southwest. “He only had the fever one day, but he had mucous. His appetite has been good the whole time, so that helped. But, he’s getting a little tough to handle now.”
Von Hemel said Higher Power will be considered for the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 17, the final major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 14.
“We’ll just have to see how things progress and see if we can be ready for that one,” Von Hemel said.
Von Hemel trains Higher Power for owner/breeder Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stable. Pin Oak also bred and owned Alternation.
Cresran LLC’s Miz K is scheduled to make her 3-year-old debut in a Feb. 19 entry-level allowance/optional claiming sprint, trainer Steve Hobby of Hot Springs said Thursday morning.
Miz K boasts one of the strongest pedigrees on the grounds, being by super sire Tapit out of Grade 1 winner Tiz Miz Sue, a daughter of 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow who captured Oaklawn’s Azeri Stakes in 2013 and 2013.
Hobby said Miz K would have been a candidate for two turns in her 2018 debut, but a Feb. 22 condition book race (an entry-level allowance/optional claimer for 3-year-old fillies) is 1 1/16 miles.
“I would have gone a mile, but the two-turn race is a mile and a sixteenth,” Hobby said. “I’m going to go ahead and sprint her one more time. It will probably be the last time she ever sprints.”
Miz K ran twice last year at Churchill Downs, finishing fifth in her Sept. 28 career debut before breaking her maiden Nov. 3. Both races were 6 ½ furlongs.
Although Miz K was nominated to Saturday’s $125,000 Martha Washington Stakes, Hobby said she was never a serious candidate for the mile race because “she wasn’t tight enough.”
Miz K recorded a 5-furlong bullet workout (1:00) Tuesday morning. Clockers caught the gray filly galloping out 6 furlongs in a sharp 1:12.60 and 7 furlongs in 1:26.
Hobby has maintained for months that he’s in no hurry with Miz K, noting Tiz Miz Sue didn’t become a Grade 1 winner until she was 6.
“One at a time,” Hobby said of Miz K’s racing schedule.
Cresran (Carol Ricks) bred Miz K and also campaigned Tiz Miz Sue, who earned $1,129,709 in her 32-race career.
Tiz Miz Sue, in her final career start, won the $400,000 Ogden Phipps Handicap (G1) in 2013 at Belmont Park.
The Martha Washington
A field of six is entered in Saturday’s $125,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at a mile.
Probable post time for the Martha Washington, the eighth of nine races, is 4:38 p.m. (Central). Doors open Saturday at 11 a.m., with first post 1:05 p.m.
The Martha Washington field from the rail out: Secret Passion, Edwin Maldonado to ride, 119 pounds; Sassy Sienna, Gary Stevens, 119; Red Ruby, Robby Albarado, 115; Grats Road, Rayan Gazader, 115; Cosmic Burst, Richard Eramia, 122; and Tyfosha, Alex Canchari, 115.
The Martha Washington is Oaklawn’s first of three major preps for the Kentucky Oaks, a series that continues with the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 10 and the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 13.
The track was rated fast for workouts Thursday morning. … 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. … Eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner won last year’s Razorback in his 4-year-old debut. Among the locally based horses pointing for the 1 1/16-mile Razorback are multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Far Right for trainer Wayne Catalano and Leofric for trainer Brad Cox. Far Right, then with trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, won the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) in 2015 before running second to eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). Leofric, owned by Arkansas Racing Commissioner Steve Landers, is unbeaten in four Oaklawn starts, including a Jan. 14 allowance event in his 2018 debut.