Owner Willis Horton Hoping for Early Birthday Present with Long Range Toddy
It’s a win-win situation since, depending on perspective, a victory in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) Saturday at Oaklawn would be a late birthday gift for Long Range Toddy or an early birthday gift for his owner, Willis Horton.
“That’s what I’m hoping for,” Horton said Thursday afternoon.
Long Range Toddy – Horton’s prized homebred – actually turned 3 Friday, the day before he tackles 10 scheduled rivals in the major Kentucky Derby prep race. Horton, a retired homebuilder from Marshall, Ark., turns 79 April 17.
May 4 is an important date for horse and owner, too. That is when the Kentucky Derby is run at Churchill Downs. Horton has already captured the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies, winning the Kentucky Oaks in 2006 with Lemons Forever.
The Kentucky Derby, of course, is simply the biggest race. Horton finished eighth in the 2013 Run for the Roses with Will Take Charge and 18th last year with Combatant, a Scat Daddy colt he owns in partnership with Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC (Ron and Joan Winchell).
Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Long Range Toddy represents Horton’s best chance to date to win the Arkansas Derby. The Take Charge Indy colt won the first division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 16, the final major prep for the Arkansas Derby.
“The Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby are the two I’m living for,” Horton said.
In addition to Lemons Forever and 2013 Rebel winner Will Take Charge – the country’s champion 3-year-old male that year – Horton has campaigned Take Charge Brandi, the country’s champion 2-year-old filly of 2014, and Awe Emma, a $2 million purchase at the 2105 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale. A 4-year-old gray daughter of War Front, Awe Emma is a three-time winner this year at Oaklawn and scheduled to make her stakes debut in the $500,000 La Troienne (G1) May 3 at Churchill Downs, Horton said.
“When I saw her as a weanling, she was the best-looking filly that I’d ever looked at,” Horton said. “I guess I’m not very smart, but I loved her. I gave $2 million for her as a weanling. To me, a person that’ll do that, they need to see a psychiatrist.”
Horton said Awe Emma is named for a great-granddaughter. He said Long Range Toddy is named after his daughter-in-law’s nephew. Another homebred, Take Charge Glenda, is “fixing to hit the track here in the next two or three weeks,” Horton said. The 2-year-old Tapit filly is named for Horton’s wife.
“I try to name all the horses that I raise for family,” Horton said. “I’ve named a lot of them. I’m about to run out of names.”
Will Take Charge, who was trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, skipped the Arkansas Derby and was trained up to the Kentucky Derby.
In the House
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has never won the Kentucky Derby, but he may have one of the favorites this year in Wood Memorial winner Tacitus. Mott hasn’t won the Arkansas Derby, either, but he’ll have another chance in Saturday’s $1 million Grade 1 race with Country House.
While Tacitus tops the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 150 points, Country House will need a high finish Saturday to secure a spot in the field. The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters. If the race overfills, starting preference given to horses with the highest point totals in designated races like the Arkansas Derby.
According to Churchill Downs’ official Kentucky Derby points rankings, Country House is 25th on the list with 30 points. The Arkansas Derby offers 170 points to the top four finishers (100-40-20-10) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby.
Country House is being wheeled back in the Arkansas Derby after a fourth-place finish in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) March 23 at Fair Grounds.
“He’s doing well,” Mott said Thursday afternoon. “He came out of the Louisiana Derby good. He’s a big, tough horse, so we thought we’d try to go back in here and maybe accumulate a few more points and maybe earn our way into the Kentucky Derby. I mean, I suppose right now we’d probably be on the bubble. I don’t even know at the moment if he would have enough points to get in. If we get lucky, maybe we can accumulate enough to earn the trip.”
Country House, who will be ridden by Joel Rosario, is 12-1 on the morning line for the Arkansas Derby.
Mott saddled Favorite Trick to a third-place finish in the 1998 Arkansas Derby, which marked the first career loss for the 1997 Horse of the Year. Favorite Trick finished eighth in the Kentucky Derby.
Six + Three = Nine
If the speedy Gray Attempt wins Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), it won’t be by the modern training playbook.
Gray Attempt will be stretching out from 6 furlongs to 9 furlongs, owing to a hind-end problem that caused the Graydar colt to miss the split $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 16, a 1 1/16-mile race that is traditional the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.
Because he missed training time, trainer Jinks Fires went to Plan B and ran Gray Attempt in the $125,000 Gazebo Stakes March 23. Gray Attempt was a sharp 3 ¼-length gate-to-wire winner, zipping 6 furlongs in 1:09.72.
“It’s a big challenge,” Fires said of moving from three-quarters of a mile to 1 1/8 miles. “You feel like you’ve got to trust your horse, that he’ll rate good enough and we feel like he will. He’s a competitive horse. We feel like we’ve got a chance to go that far.”
Gray Attempt has won 4 of 6 career starts, including his two-turn debut in the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 25. The 1-mile Smarty Jones is Oaklawn’s first of four Kentucky Derby prep races. Gray Attempt, who has led at every point of call in his victories, emerged from an 11th-place finish in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 18 with a hind-end problem, Fires said, after a bumping incident entering the first turn.
The last horse to win the Arkansas Derby off a sprint race was Danza in 2014. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Danza finished third in a 7-furlong allowance race in his 3-year-old debut March 1 at Gulfstream Park, won the Arkansas Derby and finished third in the Kentucky Derby in his final career start.
Fires won the 2011 Arkansas Derby with Archarcharch.
Four + Three = Seven
After Southern California-based Omaha Beach won the second division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 16 at Oaklawn, Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella had a choice for the colt’s final scheduled prep for the Kentucky Derby May 4 at Churchill Downs.
Mandella could have remained home for last Saturday’s $1 million Santa Anita Derby (G1) or returned to Oaklawn for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1). Mandella chose the latter, adding recent well-publicized surface issues at Santa Anita factored into the decision.
“We went through a lot before we came here,” Mandella said. “He popped a quarter-crack that we had to patch about 10 days before the race, before he came here and he won. Then we had the problem with the track in California. We had to move over to a different racetrack, Los Alamitos, and train him and that’s upsetting for a horse. Got his work there and then we came here from there. Just too many things going on. I wanted the week now.”
Omaha Beach is the 2-1 second choice in the program for the Arkansas Derby.