A day of firsts at Oaklawn, as several newcomers recorded their first career victories in Hot Springs.
Bolitar ($11.80) won the third race for Southern California-based trainer Peter Miller, who saddled two Breeders’ Cup winners in November.
Colour Guard ($23.80) remained undefeated in two starts with a victory in the fourth race for trainer Dane Kobiskie. Colour Guard is a son of Oaklawn stakes winners Archarcharch and Endless Parade.
Jockey Alan Garcia, best known for spoiling Big Brown’s Triple Crown bid aboard long shot Da’ Tara in the 2008 Belmont Stakes, won the sixth race aboard favored Naples Mist ($4.40).
In the fifth race, a starter-allowance sprint for older horses, Smart Spree powered to a front-running 2 ½-length victory for Canadian trainer Norman McKnight, wintering at Oaklawn for the first time after topping the standings at the 2017 Woodbine meeting. The trainer had been winless with his first six Oaklawn starters before Smart Spree roared to the fastest 6 furlongs of the young meeting (1:09.50).
“He’s very capable of doing that,” McKnight said Friday morning. “We really thought, from his previous history, that the dirt would move him up, which, obviously, it seemed like it did yesterday.”
Smart Spree had made 22 of his previous 30 career starts over Woodbine’s synthetic surface known as Polytrack. McKnight said his Oaklawn string – 24 strong to begin the meeting – has struggled in the transition to dirt.
“We tried to hand pick a lot of the horses that we brought, thinking they might handle the surface,” McKnight said. “But it’s been different, I think, just because the race track, because of the weather, hasn’t been consistent. It’s a work in progress and we’ve just got to get through it. I think once we get another two or three weeks here, we’ll be in better shape.”
McKnight is scheduled to saddle Scotty’s Model in Saturday’s $125,000 American Beauty Stakes for older female sprinters.
Our Majesty Returns a Winner
Dazzling 2017 Oaklawn debut winner Our Majesty was a three-quarter length winner of Thursday’s eighth race (a second-level allowance/optional claiming sprint for older fillies and mares) in her 4-year-old debut for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs and the It’s All About the Girls Stable LLC.
Our Majesty, who covered 6 furlongs over a fast track in 1:10.51 as the favorite, was making her first start since finishing second in the $150,000 Miss Preakness Stakes (G3) May 19 at Pimlico.
“We missed one work before this due to the weather,” Moquett said Friday morning. “That was my only concern. We obviously know she’s talented. The owners let me do the right thing by giving her some time to mature and grow. It looks like it’s paid off.”
Our Majesty was a 5 ½-length debut winner last February and crossed the finish line first in her next start – the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes last March at Oaklawn – but was disqualified for interference early in the 6-furlong race.
Moquett said he’s targeting a stakes race “somewhere” for Our Majesty’s next start.
“I’m just going to kind of let her tell me,” Moquett said.
In her only other career start, Our Majesty was 3 ½-length entry-level allowance winner last April at Keeneland.
Our Majesty ($4.40) represented the third victory on the card for newcomer David Cohen, who shares the lead in the rider standings with David Cabrera. Each has seven victories.
Whitmore, the top sprinter at the 2017 Oaklawn meeting, will make his 5-year-old debut in the $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes March 10, co-owner/trainer Moquett said Friday morning.
Whitmore was 3 for 3 last year at Oaklawn, including victories in the Hot Springs and $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3), before finishing eighth in the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 4 at Del Mar in his last start.
Moquett said the major spring objective for Whitmore is a return appearance in the Count Fleet.
Petrov, the trainer’s top 3-year-old Triple Crown prospect from 2017, is pointing for his comeback in an allowance race, Moquett said.
Asked if that race will be short or long, Moquett said, “I’m not sure yet.”
“He’s a tweener,” Moquett said. “His best distance will be seven-eighths, but I think he’ll be fine going a route of ground. We’ll have to figure out something.”
Petrov finished second in Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Derby preps last year, $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3), before returning to sprints in late summer and fall.
The track was rated fast for workouts Friday morning. … Farrell, winner of the $125,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares Jan. 13, worked a half-mile in :49 moments after the track opened Friday morning for trainer Wayne Catalano. Working after the renovation break for Catalano was multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Far Right, who covered a half-mile in :48.80. … Higher Power, a candidate for the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds Feb. 19, worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.40 after the renovation break Friday morning for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel. … Multiple graded turf stakes winner Lovely Bernadette returned to the work tab after the renovation break Friday morning, covering 3 furlongs in :36.80 for trainer Jimmy DiVito. … Multiple stakes-winning sprinter Prime Engine, a recent arrival for trainer Tom Van Berg, zipped a half-mile in :47.60 after the renovation break Friday morning. … Albaugh Family Stables LLC’s Tap of War is scheduled to make her 4-year-old debut in Saturday’s seventh race, a first-level allowance sprint for older fillies and mares. Trained by Kelly Von Hemel, Tap of War is trying to become the 10th starter from the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) last March at Oaklawn to return and win. The Honeybee, the key race of the 2017 Oaklawn meeting, had 11 starters, including subsequent Grade 1 winners Elate (a finalist for champion 3-year-old filly) and It Tiz Well and Lovely Bernadette. Tap of War is the 7-2 program favorite. Also entered in Saturday’s race is Never Hungover, who gave Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas his 300th career Oaklawn victory at the 2017 meeting. … Nominations to the $125,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters Feb. 3 close Friday.