Several projected starters for Racing Festival of the South events recorded their final workouts over a fast track Saturday morning at Oaklawn, including 2018 Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up and Grade 1 winner Whitmore for co-owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs.
Whitmore, under regular workout partner Greta Kuntzweiler, posted a half-mile bullet (:48) just after the track opened in advance of the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses April 13, a race the gelding has won the last two years.
Whitmore worked in company with stablemate Mississippi, who finished third in last year’s $1 million Florida Derby (G1) when under the care of trainer Mark Casse. Clockers caught Whitmore galloping out 5 furlongs in 1:00.80 and 6 furlongs in 1:15.80.
“Nice and smooth,” Moquett said, describing the work.
Moquett said Luis Saez is scheduled to ride Whitmore in the 6-furlong Count Fleet after Ricardo Santana Jr., who has ridden the gelding in his last nine starts, decided to stick with Mitole for the Count Fleet. Santana is the go-to rider at Oaklawn for Mitole’s trainer, Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen.
Santana guided Whitmore to victories in the 2017 and 2018 Count Fleet and the $150,000 Hot Springs Stakes March 9, which was the gelding’s 2019 debut.
Count Fleet nominee Captain Scotty worked a half-mile in :50 after the renovation break for trainer Peter Miller. Captain Scott was a March 24 allowance winner after previously being based this winter in Southern California.
Also working after the renovation break was Six Shooter, who is pointing for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 13. Six Shooter recorded a 5-furlong bullet (1:00.40) under David Cohen, who will ride the gelding for the first time in the Arkansas Derby. Six Shooter breezed from the half-mile pole to the seven-eighths pole for trainer Paul Holthus of Hot Springs.
Cohen also breezed 2018 Queen’s Plate winner Wonder Gadot just after the track opened for trainer Mark Casse. Wonder Gadot went an easy half-mile (:51.80) in advance of the $750,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares April 14.
Motion Emotion, the leading local candidate for Friday’s $500,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies, went a half-mile in :50 after the break for trainer Tom Van Berg. Motion Emotion is a two-time winner at the meet and finished second in the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 9, the final major local prep for the Fantasy.
Rated R Superstar, who is pointing for the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses April 13, worked 5 furlongs in 1:03.40 after the break for co-owner/trainer Cipriano Contreras. Rated R Superstar won the $350,000 Essex Handicap March 16. The Essex is the final major local prep for the Oaklawn Handicap.
Oaklawn Handicap candidate Remembering Rita worked 5 furlongs in 1:03.20 before the break for trainer Doug Anderson of Hot Springs.
Show Him the Money
Runaway leading owner M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk) won two more races Friday, the 41st day of the scheduled 57-day season, to set a single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings.
Needing $32,378 to eclipse the record $1,275,541 – set in 2015 by Zayat Stables, LLC – M and M set the mark when favored Where’s the Widget ($5.60) won the sixth race under David Cohen. Trained by Norman McKnight, Where’s the Widget earned $26,400, including a $2,400 Lasix-free Bonus, helping M and M finish Friday with $1,285,464 in purse earnings for the meet. M and M bankrolled $14,000 for Yes I See’s victory in the first race. Cohen rode Yes I See ($6) for trainer Robertino Diodoro.
Friday’s double increased M and M’s meet-leading total to 44. It won three races Sunday and two Thursday. Four-time Oaklawn leading owner Danny Caldwell entered Saturday with 17 victories to rank a distant second.
M and M won 21 races last year at Oaklawn to capture its first career owner’s title and ranked second in purse earnings ($671,919). In addition to McKnight and Diodoro, M and M has horses with trainer Karl Broberg this year at Oaklawn.
The Green Mile
A stakes-quality field will be chasing a hefty $93,000 purse in Sunday’s featured eighth race, a conditioned allowance for older horses at a mile.
The race could be a springboard to the inaugural $250,000 Oaklawn Mile May 3 for several entrants, including 3-1 program favorite Exclamation Point. Also entered are millionaire Shotgun Kowboy, stakes winners Malibu Max and Lone Rock, Phat Man, runner-up in the $200,000 Super Derby in 2017 at Louisiana Downs, and multiple stakes-placed Petrov.
“This is the Oaklawn Mile light,” said Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, who co-owns and trains Petrov, the 7-2 second choice in the program. “Everybody in there, it’s just a test run for the Oaklawn Mile. I think the top four finishers will be in it.”
Co-owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs said Exclamation Point was originally being pointed for the $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes April 14 before being re-routed to Sunday’s race. If all goes well, Exclamation Point would then make his stakes debut in the Oaklawn Mile.
“We’ll be able to run two races instead of just one,” Flurry said in a text message. “Maximize opportunities.”
A 4-year-old half-brother to champion and 2017 Arkansas Derby winner, Exclamation Point has won 4 of 5 career starts, including a maiden special weights sprint and first-level allowance in his two-turn debut last year at Oaklawn for trainer Brad Cox.
Exclamation Point also races for his breeders, Steve and Brandi Nicholson.
Petrov is a stakes veteran, going through Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby points series in 2017. He returns to a two-turn race for the first time since finishing fifth in the $250,000 Iowa Derby (G3) in July 2017 at Prairie Meadows.
Despite never winning a stakes race, Petrov has bankrolled $555,307 with five victories from 20 career starts. Moquett said the Oaklawn Mile is the major spring objective for Petrov, who hasn’t started since finishing sixth in the $200,000 Bold Ruler Handicap (G3) Nov. 2 at Aqueduct.
“We’re going to be very versatile,” Moquett said. “That’s what’s great about having a horse like him. He’s made a half-million dollars and never been committed to one thing. He’s just good enough to hit ’em where they ain’t.”
Probable post time for Sunday’s eighth race is 4:42 p.m. (Central).
Arkansas Derby Draw
The draw for the $1 million Arkansas Derby will be held at noon Wednesday on the first floor of the Grandstand. The draw will be open to the public.
Bye Bye J will return to Arkansas-bred company in the $100,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes for 3-year-old fillies April 20, trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said Saturday morning. … Unbeaten Tiger Bait (2 for 2 at the meet) worked 5 furlongs in 1:03 after the renovation break Saturday morning for trainer Karl Broberg. Tiger Bait is pointing for the 6-furlong Rainbow Miss, owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs said Saturday morning. … Cosmic Burst, winner of last year’s $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies, moved closer to her 4-year-old debut by working 5 furlongs in 1:01.40 after the break Saturday morning for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel. … I’m Just Fancy ($8.60) provided South Florida-based trainer David Fawkes with his first victory of the meet in Friday’s second race. Fawkes has a small string on the grounds. … Through Friday, the 41st day of the scheduled 57-day meeting, 414 claims had totaled $6,763,750. … Dazzling Feb. 18 debut winner and Triple Crown nominee Intrepid Heart cleared his first allowance condition Friday at Keeneland to remain unbeaten in two career starts for trainer Todd Pletcher and owners Robert and Lawana Low. Pletcher and the Lows campaigned 2018 Rebel and Arkansas Derby winner Magnum Moon.