Oaklawn News

Grade 1 winner Sporting Chance has returned to the track to begin preparations for his scheduled start in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 17, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Saturday morning.

Sporting Chance, in his 3-year-old and two-turn debut, finished a troubled third in Monday’s $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3), Oaklawn’s second of four major preps for the Kentucky Derby.

Making his first start since winning the $350,000 Hopeful Stakes (G1) Sept. 4 at Saratoga, Sporting Chance was beaten seven lengths by a ground-saving My Boy Jack in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest, which was run over a muddy track.

“It was good, coming off the layoff,” Lukas said. “We only started training him Dec. 10. I was really pleased.”

Lukas noted the trouble Sporting Chance and jockey Luis Saez encountered approaching the eighth pole, when they were squeezed by Combatant on the outside and Mourinho, a tiring front-runner, on the inside.

Sporting Chance rallied from fourth in the final sixteenth of a mile to nip Mourinho for third, 2 ½ lengths behind runner-up Combatant. There was a stewards’ inquiry into the stretch run, but no change in the order of finish.

“He recovered, but for them to look at that and not think that he was impeded in his progress, when he was making his move, is ridiculous,” Lukas said. “They broke his momentum. It was obvious.”

Lukas said Sporting Chance was where he needed to be in the Southwest, stalking Mourinho along the inside, which yielded winner after winner on Monday’s 10-race card, before shifting out a path turning for home.

“He was placed well,” Lukas said. “The way the race turned out, I guess, if Luis would have stayed on the rail, it would have really made a difference. He had the rail. He was inside there, and I think he thought he might get trapped, so he angled out. But had he stayed inside, he might have been really been prominently placed, and he would have probably avoided the traffic problem, too. I mean, that’s race riding. What the hell?”

Lukas said he could breeze Sporting Chance three times in advance of the 1 1/16-mile Rebel, which will offer 85 points to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. The Southwest was a 17-point race (10-4-2-1).

“Going to be a lot tighter in the Rebel,” Lukas said. “A lot tighter, having that race underneath his belt.”

The Rebel is the final major local prep for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 14.

Lukas has two other prospects on the Kentucky Derby trail.

Bravazo, a Jan. 13 entry-level allowance/optional claiming winner at Oaklawn, is pointing for the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) March 24 at Fair Grounds, Lukas said. Bravazo secured a starting spot in the Kentucky Derby with his victory in last Saturday’s $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) at Fair Grounds.

Bravazo, who races for Calumet Farm, ranks No. 1 on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 54 points. The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters, with points earned in designated races like the Southwest and Rebel used to determine starting preference if the race overfills.

Sporting Chance ranks 26th with two points, according to a news release Monday from Churchill Downs.

Lukas said he plans to run Transgress, a sharp maiden specials weights graduate Jan. 13 at Oaklawn, in the $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3) March 25 at Sunland Park. Transgress finished second, beaten a neck, in a first-level allowance/optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles Monday.

Sporting Chance, a son of 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow, and Transgress are owned by Lukas’ longtime clients, Robert Baker and William Mack.
Power Point

Pin Oak Stable’s Higher Power remains under consideration to make his stakes debut in the $900,000 Rebel (G2) March 17, trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said Saturday morning.

Higher Power, who is unbeaten in two career starts around two turns, was a three-quarter length winner of a split first-level allowance/optional claimer at mile Jan. 13 in his 3-year-old debut. The runner-up, New York Central, returned to clear his first allowance condition in Monday’s 10th race.

The colt had been under consideration for last Monday’s $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) before missing about a week of training because of a minor illness, Von Hemel.

Higher Power has breezed twice since the illness, including a half-mile move over a muddy track Monday morning.

“Just waiting for a (dry) track to work again,” Von Hemel said with a laugh. “He’s doing great.”

Higher Power is a half-brother to millionaire and 2012 Oaklawn Handicap winner Alternation, who was also campaigned by Pin Oak and Von Hemel. Higher Power is by Medaglia d’Oro.

Early Pick 4

The Arkansas Racing Commission approved moving the start of the early Pick 4 from Race 2 to Race 1 at their regularly scheduled meeting Saturday, Feb. 24.

“We appreciate the Racing Commission working with us to improve our wagering menu,” Director of Mutuels Milena Erceg said. “This has been something our players have been wanting and we’re happy to now offer the Pick 4 starting with Race 1.”

Starting Thursday, March 1, the early Pick 4 will begin with Race 1.

Finish Lines

The track was rated sloppy for workouts Saturday morning. Heavy fog obscured much of the course following the renovation break. … Santo Sanjur escaped serious injury in Friday’s seventh race after being unseated when first-time starter Frijolilla stumbled shortly after the start of the 6-furlong race. Frijolilla was captured by an outrider following the race without incident. … Scotty’s Model is pointing for next Saturday’s $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes for older filly and mare sprinters, trainer Norman McKnight said Saturday morning. Scotty’s Model finished sixth in the $125,000 American Beauty Stakes Jan. 27 in her last start. … American Beauty fifth Okie Diva is under consideration for the Spring Fever following her allowance/optional claiming victory Feb. 16, trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said Saturday morning. “She was more what we hoped she’d be when she came over here,” Von Hemel said. Okie Diva represented Von Hemel’s 296th career victory at Oaklawn. Okie Diva had won three consecutive starts at Remington Park before finishing fifth in the American Beauty. … Warrior’s Club will make his next start in the $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes for older sprinters March 10, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Saturday morning. Warrior’s Club, who races for the non-profit Churchill Downs Racing Club, is coming off a powerful 3 ¾-length victory in a Feb. 8 allowance/optional claiming race. Other locally based horses pointing for the Hot Springs include defending champion Whitmore, Ivan Fallunovalot and Wilbo.