Arkansas Derby Field Taking Shape
The Oaklawn racing department is expecting between 10 and 12 runners for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), including winners of the split final major local prep, the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 16.
Post positions for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) will be drawn at noon Wednesday in a public event to be held on the first floor of the Grandstand, with the race offering 170 points to the top four finishers (100-40-20-10) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. The draw is open to the public.
Expected to run in the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby are Galilean (Flavien Prat to ride), Gray Attempt (Stewart Elliott), Improbable (Jose Ortiz), Long Range Toddy (Jon Court), Omaha Beach (Mike Smith), One Flew South (Calvin Borel) and Six Shooter (David Cohen). Other possible starters include Country House and Roiland, the fourth and sixth-place finishers, respectively, from the Louisiana Derby.
Long Range Toddy won the first division of the Rebel, beating heavy favorite and previously unbeaten Improbable by a neck. Omaha Beach won the second division of the 1 1/16-mile race by a nose over juvenile champion and previously unbeaten Game Winner.
In addition to Long Range Toddy, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen could start Jersey Agenda, Laughing Fox and Tikhvin Flew.
A flight carrying Southern California-based horses for the Arkansas Derby, including Omaha Beach and Improbable, is scheduled to arrive Tuesday. Florida-based horses running in the Arkansas Derby and other Racing Festival of the South events are to be flown to Arkansas Wednesday.
The Arkansas Derby card also features the $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles and the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for older horses at 6 furlongs.
Expected starters for the Oaklawn Handicap include Quip and Rated R Superstar.
Quip won the $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and ran second in the Arkansas Derby last year for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. Rated R Superstar won the $350,000 Essex Handicap March 16, the final major local prep for the Oaklawn Handicap.
Whitmore, who was assigned top weight of 123 lbs., will be shooting for his third consecutive Count Fleet victory. The 2018 Breeders’ Cup Sprint runner-up is scheduled to face multiple stakes winner Mitole, who was assigned 121 lbs., for the first time.
First post Saturday is 12:35 p.m. (Central).
Two more Festival races will be run April 14 – the $750,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles and the $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses at 1 1/16 miles. These races will be drawn Thursday, April 11.
Early probables for the Apple Blossom include Chocolate Martini, assigned 116 lbs., Escape Clause, assigned 117 lbs., Midnight Bisou, the 122 lb. highweight and Wonder Gadot, assigned 118 lbs.
Midnight Bisou won the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 16, the final major local prep for the Apple Blossom. Wonder Gadot beat males in the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown last year, including the $1 million Queen’s Plate.
The Festival begins Friday with the $500,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles. Post positions were drawn Saturday morning. The projected 12-horse field from the rail out: Cosmic Code, Jon Court to ride, 117 pounds; Filly Joel, David Cohen, 117; Irish Mischief, Stewart Elliott, 117; Lady Apple, Ricardo Santana Jr., 117; Destiny Over Fate, Walter De La Cruz, 117; Super Tap, Orlando Mojica, 117; Kiffle, Alex Canchari, 117; Motion Emotion, Mike Smith, 117; Brill, Florent Geroux, 117; Orra Moor, Luis Saez, 117; K P Slickem, Tyler Baze, 117; and Oxy Lady, Declan Cannon, 121.
Destiny Over Fate completed major preparations for the Fantasy by working a half-mile in :52.60 after the first renovation break Sunday morning for trainer Jesse Cruz and owner Ron Paolucci. The track was rated sloppy. Cruz, 25, has never had a starter in an unrestricted stakes race since saddling his first horse in 2017. Cruz and Paolucci will also be represented by Kiffle.
Beginning Monday morning, the track will be open to only Racing Festival of the South horses for the first 15 minutes after the first break to renovate the racing surface.
Keeping Up With the Joneses
Trainer Larry Jones’ stellar meet continued Saturday when Louisiana-bred star Ours to Run ($8.80) upset 1-2 favorite Mia Mischief in the $150,000 Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters.
Tackling open company for the first time in almost a year, Ours to Run finished 3 ¾ lengths ahead of Grade 2 winner Mia Mischief in the 6-furlong race run over a sloppy track. Ridden by Terry Thompson, Ours to Run stretched her winning streak to five. The previous four victories – all stakes – had come against Louisiana-breds.
“I knew Mia Mischief, she’s for real,” Jones said Sunday morning. “But every now and then, she won’t throw her ‘A’ game and I was just hoping it wasn’t going to be her ‘A’ game. Plus, I think when we got that big rain that helped us. I don’t know if it helped Mia Mischief, but it definitely helped my horse.”
A 5-year-old daughter of Half Ours, Ours to Run won for the 11th time in 19 starts to raise her career earnings to $427,988. Jones said Ours to Run will be pointed for Louisiana Legends Night – eight stakes races for Louisiana-breds worth $550,000 – May 25 at Evangeline Downs. Ours to Run was recently named 2018 champion older female by the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association’s board of directors and fell three votes shy, Jones said, of winning 2018 Louisiana-bred Horse of the Year.
“The owner would like to have her overall champion next year,” said Jones, who trains Ours to Run for lifelong friend Kevin Atwood (Colonel Thoroughbreds LLC). “He’s wanting to get that.”
The Carousel was Jones’ seventh victory from just 31 starters at the meet. He won the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds Feb. 18 with Super Steed.
“We’ve just been blessed,” Jones said. “It’s been a good meet for us. Hopefully, we brought in the right horses that would kind of fit and belong, and we were able to do it.”
The Carousel was the 20th career Oaklawn stakes victory for Jones, who has a string of horses in Hot Springs for the first time since 2011. He won 18 of 80 starts that year, including the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares with eventual Horse of the Year Havre de Grace. Jones has had approximately 15 horses on the grounds this year.
“What is really good right now with us is not all of them are stars, but we’ve got some pretty darn good horses here,” Jones said. “To have this many good horses, and such a small number of horses, what a joy that is. I don’t have to fool with 200 horses to come up with four or five good ones. We’re pretty happy right now.”
Overall, Jones has 138 victories and $5,638,147 in purse earnings in his Oaklawn career, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. He won his first race at Oaklawn in 1989.
Three of a Kind
Torri’s On My Mind, Awe Emma and Headland became the fourth, fifth and sixth three-time winners at the meet Saturday, the 42nd day of the scheduled 57-day season.
Favored Awe Emma, a 4-year-old daughter of War Front, recorded her third consecutive victory at the meet, wiring a field of older fillies and mares by 3 ¾ lengths in the sixth race at 1 1/16 miles under Richard Eramia. Awe Emma ($4.20) is campaigned by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark., who purchased the gray filly for $2 million at the 2015 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. They also campaign Long Range Toddy, winner of the first division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds March 16.
Headland, a 3-year-old daughter of Paynter, broke her maiden for a $30,000 claiming price Nov. 23 at Churchill Downs. She won for a $40,000 claiming price Feb. 8 in her 2019 debut, then won a starter sprint March 7 and cleared her first allowance condition by 5 ¾ lengths in Saturday’s seventh race under Tyler Baze. Favored Headland ($5.20) races for trainer Steve Hobby of Hot Springs and owners Bill Walmsley and Mark Lamberth, both of Batesville, Ark. Walmsley is president of the Arkansas Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. Lamberth is vice chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission.
Torri’s On My Mind ($7.60) won the first race, a sprint for $16,000 female claimers, for trainer John L. Hall.
Super Steed, unraced since winning the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds Feb. 18, is scheduled to resume training in late May, trainer Larry Jones said Sunday morning. Super Steed had been scheduled to run in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 16 – the final major local prep for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) – before being sent to Kentucky because of bone bruising in a front leg. Jones said Super Steed could resurface in August, adding the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby (G1) Sept. 21 at Parx is a major target. “Definitely want to be ready for that,” Jones said. … Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen entered Sunday $233,796 away from his breaking his single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings ($3,448,729), set in 2016. Asmussen entered Sunday with a meet-high 40 victories, eight more than runner-up Diodoro. Asmussen is seeking his fourth consecutive local training title and 10th since 2007. … Tyler Baze, who recently relocated from Southern California, recorded his first career Oaklawn riding double Saturday. … March 16 allowance winner Life’s a Parlay won the $150,000 Excelsior Stakes (G3) for older horses Saturday at Aqueduct for trainer Todd Pletcher.