Oaklawn News

Following a slow start, training newcomer Norman McKnight continues to climb the standings at Oaklawn, ranking seventh through 26 days of racing.

McKnight, riding the momentum of his first training title at Woodbine in Canada, has a 7-4-3 record from 33 starts and purse earnings of $231,132. McKnight started the meet with approximately 25 horses and said Saturday morning that’s he still hovering around that total after losing several to claims and being active at the claim box.

“We’re getting a little lucky, that’s all I can tell you,” McKnight said.

McKnight was winless with his first six starters before Smart Spree won the fifth race Jan. 25, running 6 furlongs in a meet-best 1:09.50 in starter-allowance company.

Smart Spree was switching to dirt after making 22 of his previous 30 career starts on a synthetic surface. Woodbine has a synthetic surface known as Tapeta.

“We definitely have some that, I think, are not taking to it,” McKnight said of Oaklawn’s dirt surface. “Unfortunately, I don’t want to say they’re not taking to the dirt, as much as they’ve just been unfortunate with the weather. They’re always hitting wet tracks, and I don’t think they can handle the slop at all.”

McKnight has been one of the most active trainers at the claim box, losing four and taking eight, including five on behalf of major client Bruno Schickedanz.

McKnight said he’s not surprised about how intense claiming has been thus far, owing to Oaklawn’s reputation for buying and selling at a frantic clip.

“I was pretty warned before I came down here that I would probably lose a lot of horses, that they claim quite readily here,” McKnight said. “But I mean that’s just part of the business. We’re just fortunate enough that the people that lose horses replace them, and it keeps our business going.”

McKnight said he plans to start one of his most accomplished horses in the barn, Scotty’s Model, in Saturday’s $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes for older filly and mare sprinters.

Smart Spree, in company, worked a half-mile in :47.60 after the renovation break Sunday morning.  
Flying High

No owner has done more with less at the meeting than James Rogers’ Black Hawk Stable.

Rogers, who is in the oil and gas business in Elk City, Okla., moved to 6 for 8 following Fort Fortitude’s allowance/optional claiming victory in Friday’s eighth race.

Black Hawk won its first five starts at the meet.

“They were just like: ‘Wow! This is unbelievable. We’ve never started a meet like this,’ ” said Chris Hartman, who is Black Hawk’s trainer. “It’s pretty cool. No way can you plan stuff like this, but everything has just sort of fell in line for them.

Black Hawk has had two two-time winners at the meet – Conquest Hiosilver and Fort Fortitude – and also won races with Burgameister and Cash Bonus.

Black Hawk only has approximately five horses at Oaklawn, with one its latest additions being Black Bear, who was claimed out of a runner-up finish in a Feb. 10 sprint for $30,000.

Black Bear, an 8-year-old son of sprint champion Midnight Lute, began his racing career with Black Hawk and Hartman, winning his first two career starts at the 2013 Oaklawn meeting before a serious leg injury led to retirement following a third-place finish in the $100,000 King Cotton Stakes in 2014 at Oaklawn.

After being unable to secure a stud deal, Black Bear was returned to training and finished third in his comeback race for a $50,000 claiming tag June 4, 2016, at Churchill Downs. He won his next start later that month at Churchill Downs, but was claimed out of the victory for $62,500.

He’s scheduled to make his first start for his original connections in Friday’s seventh race, a sprint for older $40,000 claimers.

“Just glad to have him back in the barn,” Hartman said.

Hartman saddled eight consecutive winners for Black Hawk at the 2015 Oaklawn meeting (March 27-April 11) en route to his first training title in Hot Springs. Two of the victories were by millionaire Alsvid, including the $300,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3).
Million Dollar Man

Steve Asmussen ($1,028,766) became the first trainer to reach $1 million in purse earnings at the meet Saturday, the 26th day of racing.

The trainer has won eight Oaklawn training titles since 2007 and a set a single-season meet record for purse earnings in 2016 ($3,448,729).

According to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, Asmussen has started 2,602 horses at Oaklawn since his first in 1989, winning 554 races and earning $23,964,536 in purses.

Asmussen has at least one stakes every year at Oaklawn since 1996 and 72 overall, according to Equibase.

Asmussen was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2016.
Finish Lines

The track was rated muddy for workouts Sunday morning. … Warrior’s Club worked a half-mile in :49.20 Sunday morning for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas in advance of a scheduled start in the $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes for older sprinters March 10. … Next-race plans are pending for Bourne in Nixa, who won Saturday’s $125,000 Gazebo Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters, trainer Steve Margolis said, adding the son of More Than Ready is scheduled to return to his Fair Grounds base Monday. Bourne in Nixa is a homebred for Missouri owners Robert and Lawana Low, who have campaigned Grade 1 winner Capote Belle (winner of Oaklawn’s Northern Spur Stakes in 1997 and American Beauty Stakes and Spring Fever Stakes in 1998), 2001 Kentucky Oaks runner-up Real Cozzy and
2006 Arkansas Derby runner-up Steppenwolfer with trainer Dan Peitz. Peitz, an Oaklawn regular, saddled Bourne in Nixa in Margolis’ absence. … Blueridge Traveler, one of three Lasix-free winners at the meet for trainer Kenny McPeek, was a neck winner of the $100,000 Maxxam Gold Cup Stakes for older horses Saturday night at Sam Houston under Oaklawn regular Channing Hill. Blueridge Traveler, who came off Lasix to collect Oaklawn’s “Lasix-free Bonus” (10 percent of the winner’s share of the purse) in a Feb. 10 allowance race, also raced without the legal anti-bleeder medication in the 1 1/8-mile Maxxam Gold Cup.