Oaklawn is back on the fast track.
The track was upgraded from good to fast for the final two races Friday, Oaklawn’s first fast-rated surface since the final race Feb. 9.
Oaklawn had run 117 consecutive races without a fast track, owing to the wettest February on record in rainfall measured at nearby Hot Springs Memorial Field Airport. According to the National Weather Service in Little Rock, Ark., Hot Springs Memorial Field Airport received 13.76 inches of rain in February, breaking the previous mark of 10.11 in 1989. Oaklawn’s own rain gauges had the total rainfall closer to 16 inches.
Despite monsoon-like conditions in February, Oaklawn didn’t miss a day of training or racing during the month.
“I think the surface this year has been better than any year that I’ve been coming down here, even with Wayne or own my own,” said trainer Will VanMeter, a former assistant to Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. “You can tell they’re putting a lot of hard work into it, a lot of thought, a lot of energy. I think it’s showing, for sure.”
VanMeter has been wintering at Oaklawn for approximately a decade. He went out on his own in 2013 and saddled his first career winner at the 2014 Oaklawn meeting.
Oaklawn’s surface has been rated fast for just 43.7 percent of the track’s 263 races since the meeting began Jan. 12. The track has been rated sloppy or muddy 38.4 percent of the time (101 races).
The surface was rated fast for workouts Saturday morning.
Edgar Morales, Oaklawn’s leading apprentice this year, rode his eighth winner at the meeting Friday, guiding Charming Deputy ($51.80) to a neck victory in the fifth race for owner/trainer John Haran.
Morales, in the 29th day of the now-scheduled 55-day season, matched the victory total of Katie Clawson, last year’s leading apprentice jockey at Oaklawn. Clawson finished second in voting for an Eclipse Award as the country’s top apprentice of 2017.
“Things are going great,” Morales’ agent, Julio Espinoza, said Saturday morning. “It’s tough over here because most trainers bring their own riders, but I know a talented apprentice can make it anywhere. He’s starting to show that now.”
A native of Puerto Rico, Morales recorded his first North American victory Oct. 15 at Keeneland for the late Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg and had eight winners overall in 2017, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.
Morales, 19, has nine victories in 2018, the first coming New Year’s Day at Fair Grounds. Oaklawn’s meeting began Jan. 12 and ends April 14.
“I’d like to win 20, really, by the end of the meet,” Espinoza said.
Espinoza said Morales is “pretty much” riding for the “same people,” notably trainers Gary Thomas and Kellyn Gorder. Morales also worked the Gorder-trained Red Ruby Monday morning in preparation for the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies March 10.
In addition to Haran, Thomas and Gorder, Morales has ridden two winners at the meet for trainer Doug O’Neill and one winner for Norman McKnight, Johnny Ortiz and Tom Van Berg.
Morales recorded his first career riding double Feb. 16, a day after he was transported by ambulance to CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs when he unseated shortly after the start of the fifth race. Espinoza said Morales only suffered bruising above his right hip and was cleared to ride the following day.
The agent said Morales plans to ride at Keeneland and Churchill Downs following the Oaklawn meeting.
Jon Court will ride multiple stakes winner and near-millionaire Ivan Fallunovalot in the $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes for older sprinters March 10, owner Lewis Mathews said Saturday morning. Mathews said Court was aboard for Ivan Fallunovalot’s 3-furlong bullet workout (:35.40) Tuesday morning. Ivan Fallunovalot has $986,403 in career earnings. Defending champion Whitmore tuned up for the Hot Springs with a half-mile bullet workout (:47.60) Saturday morning for co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs. Post positions for the 6-furlong Hot Springs will be drawn Wednesday. … Colonelsdarktemper, a career debut winner last year at Oaklawn, worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 Saturday morning for trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs, who is targeting a mid-March allowance race for the West Virginia Derby winner’s 4-year-old debut. … Farrell, winner of the $125,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares Jan. 13, also worked 5 furlongs in 1:00 Saturday morning for trainer Wayne Catalano. Colonelsdarktemper and Farrell shared the 5-furlong bullet. … Favored Uncle Goyle ($5.40) represented trainer Randy Morse’s 271st career Oaklawn victory in Friday’s third race. … Veteran outrider Chisum Ewing returned Friday after missing the first 28 race days with a shoulder injury. … Oaklawn co-stakes coordinator Lenny Rera is at Gulfstream Park this weekend recruiting horses for the Racing Festival of the South. … Millionaire Lookin At Lee, runner-up in last year’s Kentucky Derby, is entered in Thursday’s eighth race, an allowance/optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles. Lookin At Lee, who is trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, started three times at the 2017 Oaklawn meeting, finishing third in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3), sixth in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) and third in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). … Song of Mine, a 3-year-old half-sister to champion Songbird, is entered in Thursday’s sixth race, a maiden special weights event at 1 1/16 miles. Song of Mine, by 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, finished sixth in her Feb. 1 career debut.