Oaklawn News

Veteran jockey agent Scott Hare said Thursday morning that for a while he thought he was representing riders at Emerald Downs, a joking reference to the track located near Seattle, noted for being one of the country’s rainiest cities.

Hot Springs couldn’t be far behind in 2018.

According to the National Weather Service in Little Rock, Ark., Hot Springs Memorial Field Airport received 13.76 inches of rain in February – the most on record for the month – breaking the previous mark of 10.11 in 1989.

The effects, of course, were felt a few miles away at Oaklawn, which hasn’t run a race on a fast track since Feb. 9. The streak is 101 and counting since the surface was rated muddy for workouts Thursday morning following additional overnight rainfall, at times heavy, and a shower near the end of training.

Despite a monsoon-like February, Oaklawn never missed a day of racing during the month, a credit to the work of track superintendent Kevin Seymore, several trainers and jockeys said.

“Amazing,” said trainer Steve Hobby of Hot Springs, who saddled his first Oaklawn winner in 1985. “Hat’s off to the crew. They did a tremendous job.”

Jockey Alex Birzer echoed Hobby’s comments about Seymore and other track maintenance officials.

“I think all the track crew, they’ve done an excellent job,” Birzer said. “How much water have we actually had? I mean, it’s insane how much. Wettest February I remember. I’ve been coming here for almost 20 years. I haven’t ever seen anything like that. I can’t say enough on how good a job they’ve done.”

Trainer Will VanMeter has been a regular at Oaklawn for almost a decade, first as an assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas before going out on his own in 2013. VanMeter, who saddled his first career winner at the 2014 Oaklawn meeting, said the surface held up “fantastic” following a line of severe thunderstorms that delayed Saturday’s sixth race approximately 15 minutes.

“The fact that they had it harrowed for the first race the following day, I think, shows how good the surface is this year,” VanMeter said.

Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel started his first horse in Hot Springs in 1985 and said he was impressed with how well the surface has handled the relentless rainfall.

“I think all things considered, a record-breaking rainfall in February, there was sure the potential for the track to fall apart, and it hasn’t,” Von Hemel said. “I think the track has held up well under the circumstances.”

Oaklawn has run 245 races this year, with the track rated fast only 46.1 percent of the time (113 races). It has been rated muddy or sloppy 37.6 percent of the time (92 races).
Pulling Rank

Major stakes winner Colonelsdarktemper is targeting a mid-March allowance race for his 4-year-old debut, trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs said Tuesday morning.

Colonelsdarktemper, who is owned by auto racing legend A.J. Foyt, hasn’t started since running fourth in the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby (G3) Sept. 24 at Remington Park after emerging from the race with a stress fracture in a front leg, Fires said, necessitating a minor surgical procedure to promote bone growth.

The well-traveled Colonelsdarktemper made 10 starts last year, winning his career debut at Oaklawn, an allowance race at Churchill Downs and the $750,000 West Virginia Derby (G3) Aug. 5 at Mountaineer.

“He’s doing good,” Fires said a day after the Colonel John colt worked a half-mile in :48.40 under regular rider Jon Court, the trainer’s son-in-law. “Hopefully if he runs well, we’ll start looking at some stakes down the road.”

Monday’s work was the second recorded breeze this season for Colonelsdarktemper, who has been based at Oaklawn for approximately two months.

Fires said Colonelsdarktemper didn’t come around as quickly as hoped following the injury, adding the colt also lost training time because of weather.

“I wouldn’t be afraid to try anybody at the end of the meet if he’s OK,” Fires said. “We may wind up in the Oaklawn Handicap, you never know.”

The $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) is part of the April 14 closing-day card.

Fires said he believes Colonelsdarktemper was injured early in the Oklahoma Derby when he was struck by another horse’s back foot on the first turn, leaving a “little nick” in a shin. Colonelsdarktemper was bumped heading into the first turn, according to footnotes from the official race chart.

Colonelsdarktemper has a 3-2-2 record from 10 starts and career earnings of $710,035. He also ran fourth in the $150,000 Northern Spur Stakes at Oaklawn, second in the $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, second in the $500,000 Indiana Derby (G2) at Indiana Grand and third in the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes (G3) at Parx last year.
Saturday’s Stakes

Oaklawn’s nine-race card Saturday includes the $125,000 Spring Fever for older filly and mare sprinters and the $100,000 Nodouble Breeders’ for Arkansas-bred male sprinters.

Probable post time for the 5 ½-furlong Spring Fever, which goes as race 8, is 4:38 p.m. (Central).

The projected Spring Fever field from the rail out: Barbary Hall, Channing Hill to ride, 115 pounds; Okie Diva, Luis Quinonez, 119; Golden Mischief, Fernando De La Cruz, 115; Defy, David Cohen, 115; Thoughtless, Alex Canchari, 115; Natural Wonder, Ty Kennedy, 115; Marquee Miss, C.J. McMahon, 115; Chanteline, Ricardo Santana Jr., 115; Swing and Sway, David Cabrera, 122; Scotty’s Model, Luis Contreras, 119; and My Miss Chiff, Ramon Vazquez, 122.

Probable post time for the 6-furlong Nodouble, which goes as race 7, is 4:09 p.m. (Central).

The projected Nodouble field from the rail out: I Am, McMahon, 114; J.E.’s Handmedown, Vazquez, 117; K J’s Nobility, Cohen, 123; Racer, Jon Court, 117; Glacken’s Ghost, Canchari, 123; Weast Hill, Cabrera, 117; Five O One, Santana, 123; and Guska Mon Shoes, Gary Stevens, 114.
Weast Hill and Racer won the Nodouble in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Five O One won the $100,000 Rainbow Stakes for 3-year-old Arkansas-bred colts and geldings last year at Oaklawn.

Doors open Saturday at 11 a.m., with first post 1:05 p.m.
Finish Lines  

Sassy Sienna is pointing for the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies March 10, trainer Brad Cox said Wednesday afternoon. Sassy Sienna finished second in the $125,000 Martha Washington Stakes Feb. 10 in her last start. The Honeybee is the final major local prep for the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) April 13. Also pointing for the Honeybee are Red Ruby and Cosmic Burst, first and third, respectively, in the Honeybee, unbeaten Amy’s Challenge and Stronger Than Ever. Amy’s Challenge, who will be making her two-turn debut in the Honeybee, won the $125,000 Dixie Belle Stakes Jan. 20 in her last start. Stronger Than Ever won the $125,000 Silverbulletday Stakes Jan. 13 at Fair Grounds.