Oaklawn News

Kelsey Danner to Have First Oaklawn Starter Sunday

There’s a Danner scheduled to start a horse in Sunday’s third race at Oaklawn, but it won’t be veteran trainer Mark Danner. Instead, it will be Danner’s daughter, Kelsey, 31, who went out on her own in June and recorded her first career victory Jan. 13 at Turfway Park.

Danner’s first scheduled Oaklawn starter, Nan’s Pierce Arrow, races for her breeder and namesake, Nancy Pierce of Hot Springs. She turns 89 March 4.

“I’ve known her almost my entire life,” Kelsey Danner said Saturday morning. “I think my Dad probably started training for her when I was probably around 7 or 8. She’s more family than a client.”

Danner said she has 10 horses in training – six at Oaklawn and four at Keeneland.

Before striking out on her own, Danner’s impressive equine work resume included stints under her father, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and trainers Rusty Arnold, Carl Nafzger/Ian Wilkes and Wayne Catalano.

Kelsey Danner said she has galloped horses and had been working with layups on her Georgetown, Ky., farm before deciding to train.

Danner’s first winner, Majestic Bold, is owned by Darrell and Evelyn Yates, who campaigned 1997 Arkansas Derby winner Crypto Star with Catalano.

“I had a couple of clients at the farm, Yates and another one, that wanted me to take their horses that were coming off layups to the track,” Danner said. “That’s kind of how I got started.”

Danner has a 1-1-1 record from 10 career starts and purse earnings of $12,156, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Her first starter, Nan’s Pierce Arrow, finished sixth Aug. 26 at Ellis Park.

Mark Danner has been training at Oaklawn since 1991.  Among this two victories in 2017 was Nan Pierce’s Arrow.

Kelsey Danner’s mother, Kelly, worked in Oaklawn’s media relations and horsemen’s relations departments during the 1980s and 1990s.
The Streak Lives

Trainer Don Von Hemel of Hot Springs needed only six starts at the meet to continue his sustained success at Oaklawn.

Von Hemel, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 1981, won Friday’s ninth race with Bango Box ($23.80), a determined front-running neck winner of the 1 1/16-mile event for $20,000 maiden claimers under Richard Eramia.

Von Hemel, 83, now has at least one victory at every Oaklawn meeting since 1975, which he said he believes was his first season in Hot Springs.

“Another year, buddy,” Von Hemel said Saturday morning. “Never was any (pressure).”

The streak began when Bold Trap, as the 3-2 favorite, captured an entry-level allowance sprint by a nose Feb. 15, 1975, under Danny Whited, still active today as a trainer. According to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, Von Hemel has 426 victories at Oaklawn since 1976, with purse earnings of $8,284,938.

Bango Box, who was making his 4-year-old debut, broke his maiden in his ninth lifetime start. The Ice Box gelding was coming off a runner-up finish, beaten a head, against $20,000 maiden claimers Nov. 29 at Remington Park.

“He’s doing good and he’s in the right spot,” Von Hemel said. “That gave him a chance to win. The boy rode a good race. Most of them do when they win.”

Von Hemel has approximately 10 horses under his care at Oaklawn, including recent arrival Smack Smack for country music star Toby Keith’s Dream Walkin Farms, Inc. Smack Smack, a multiple stakes winner of $982,159, is trying to become the first millionaire for Von Hemel, who has trained for more than 50 years. The horse hasn’t started since finishing fourth in a July 13 allowance race at Prairie Meadows. He was second in Oaklawn’s $125,000 Fifth Season Stakes to open his 2017 campaign.

“I’ll do that this year,” Von Hemel said of Smack Smack reaching seven figures. “He’s been off six months. I may not even get him started here. I’ll try.”

Von Hemel is preparing Sonny Smack, a 3-year-old half-brother to Smack Smack, for his career debut at the Oaklawn meeting.

Bango Box, Smack Smack and Sonny Smack are all Keith homebreds.
Wearing the Crown

Gun Runner became the seventh Oaklawn stakes winner in the last 15 years to be crowned Horse of the Year during the 47th annual Eclipse Awards ceremony Thursday night at Gulfstream Park.

Like his 5 ¾-length victory in the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) last February at Oaklawn, Gun Runner was an overwhelming choice by members of Daily Racing Form, National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Of 250 returned ballots for 2017 Horse of the Year, 248 first-place votes went to Gun Runner. The other two votes went to Arrogate.

Gun Runner also received 247 votes for champion older dirt male, with Arrogate receiving the other three.

Other Oaklawn stakes winners that received racing’s highest individual annual honor in the last 15 years are Azeri (2002), Curlin (2007-2008), Rachel Alexandra (2009), Zenyatta (2010), Havre de Grace (2011) and American Pharoah (2015).

An eighth horse, Saint Liam, ran at Oaklawn in 2003 and was named 2005 Horse of the Year.

Under the care of eight-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen, Gun Runner had a 5-1-0 record from six starts last year and earnings of $6,950,700. He concluded 2017 with a victory in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) Nov. 4 at Del Mar.

Gun Runner is scheduled to make his final career start in the $16 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) Saturday at Gulfstream Park.

In other Eclipse Award voting, Forever Unbridled, winner of Oaklawn’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) in 2016, was an overwhelming choice as champion older dirt female. Forever Unbridled received 237 votes. Songbird was second with eight and 2017 Apple Blossom champion Steller Wind was third with four.

Stellar Wind is also scheduled to run in Saturday’s Pegasus World Cup.

Another scheduled Pegasus starter, Collected, fourth in Oaklawn’s $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) in 2016, was a finalist for champion older dirt male.

Elate, third in Oaklawn’s $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) last March, was third in voting for champion 3-year-old filly.

Katie Clawson was runner-up in voting for outstanding apprentice jockey. Clawson was Oaklawn’s leading apprentice last year with eight victories.

Finish Lines

The track was rated sloppy for workouts Saturday morning. … Apprentice jockey Edgar Morales, 19, recorded his first career Oaklawn victory in Friday’s fifth race aboard favored Ready Aim ($6.20) for two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill, who has a string in Hot Springs for the first time this season. The Southern California-based O’Neill is tied with Ingrid Mason for leading trainer. Each has five victories. … Rainbow Stakes winners Weast Hill (2015) and Five O One (2017) are entered in Sunday’s sixth race, an allowance sprint for Arkansas-breds. The 6-furlong race is a prep for the $100,000 Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes March 3. … Trainer Robertino Diodoro said plans are pending for 2017 Oaklawn Handicap winner Inside Straight, who won the $75,000 Cotton Fitzsimmons Mile Handicap Jan. 13 at Turf Paradise in his comeback race. Diodoro had originally planned to send Inside Straight to Oaklawn – if he performed well in the Cotton Fitzsimmons – but said Thursday night that he’s “just weighing a couple of options.” Diodoro said he should have firm plans regarding Inside Straight in about a week. Diodoro said multiple stakes winner Chief Know It All is now based at Evangeline Training Center following his 11th in the $125,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 12, his 4-year-old debut. “Very disappointing” Diodoro said, adding, “I think we’ll look elsewhere for him, a little easier.”