Trainer Peter Eurton plans to enter two horses in the $750,000 Arkansas Derby (G1) May 2 at Oaklawn. One is a champion, Storm the Court. The other is Shooters Shoot, who will be making his stakes debut in the 1 1/8-mile major Kentucky Derby prep.
A son of Competitive Edge, Shooters Shoot has swished his last two starts for Eurton and an ownership group that includes NHL player Erik Johnson. Returning to two turns, Shooters Shoot broke his maiden by 3 ¼ lengths March 15 at Santa Anita and was a gritty winner of a first-level allowance race in his local debut April 11. Both races were a mile.
In his allowance victory, Shooters Shoot, on the inside, dueled with Blackberry Wine from the start, lost the lead on the second turn but battled back to prevail by a neck under Joe Talamo. The final time of 1:36.66 followed rapid splits of :23.10 for the opening quarter-mile, :45.87 for a half-mile, 1:09.94 for 6 furlongs, and 1:23.10 for 7 furlongs.
“Blackberry’s just a tough guy,” Eurton said Tuesday afternoon. “He’s a fighter. He kept the pressure on us all the way. So proud of Shooter. He just fought back and wasn’t about to give up, especially with those early fractions the way they were.”
Shooters Shoot needed five starts to break his maiden, but his past performance lines include a third-place finish behind Eight Rings sprinting in his Aug. 4 career debut at Del Mar and a second to another highly regarded Bob Baffert trainee, unbeaten Charlatan, in a maiden special weights sprint Feb. 16 at Santa Anita.
Eight Rings returned to win the $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes (G1) Sept. 27 at Del Mar and was among the favorites for the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita. Charlatan, in his career debut, beat Shooters Shoot 5 ¾ lengths and cleared his first allowance condition by 10 ¼ lengths in his two-turn debut March 14 at Santa Anita.
Charlatan (2 for 2) is also expected to be entered in the Arkansas Derby. Baffert is also pointing unbeaten Nadal (3 for 3) for the Arkansas Derby. Nadal won the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14, Oaklawn’s traditional final major Arkansas Derby prep.
“He’s just got to keep getting better, obviously,” Eurton said of Shooters Shoot. “Every race he’s run has been better than the last. Coming back long with him was such a nice pleasure, a pleasant thing to see after his dismal race at Del Mar going long. He just wasn’t as good as he is now. He’s healthy. He had a little bit of a nagging shin, as you know 2-year-olds will get, and he’s healthy. We’ll just have to see if he can continue to improve.”
Shooters Shoot has a 2-1-1 record from six lifetime starts and earnings of $94,880. He was purchased for $300,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ April Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training.
Storm the Court, at odds of 45-1, secured an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 2-year-old male with a front-running victory in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita (Eight Rings was sixth).
Storm the Court, in his 3-year-old debut, finished fourth behind Nadal in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) Feb. 9 at Santa Anita and third behind another unbeaten Baffert trainee, Authentic, in the $400,000 San Felipe Stakes (G2) March 7 at Santa Anita in his last start
The Arkansas Derby is scheduled to offer 170 points (100-40-20-10) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. The Kentucky Derby was moved from May 2 to Sept. 5 (COVID-19). Oaklawn responded by shifting the Arkansas Derby from April 11 to May 2.
Shooters Shoot is part of a small division of horses Eurton has this year at Oaklawn. Storm the Court is scheduled to be flown Tuesday to Arkansas. Post positions for the Arkansas Derby will be drawn Sunday.
Just a Fantasy
The Oaklawn racing department listed an overflowing field of probables Friday morning for the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies May 1. Post positions for the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy will be drawn Saturday. The race is limited to 14 starters, with starting preference given to horses with the highest earnings.
Expected entrants, in alphabetical order, are: Alta’s Award for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, Antoinette (Bill Mott), British Idiom (Brad Cox), Gingham (Bob Baffert), Harvey’s Lil Goil (Mott), Ice Princess (Danny Gargan), Kansas Kis (Ray Handal), Lake Avenue (Mott), Lazy Daisy (Doug O’Neill), Naughty Thoughts (Jonathan Maldonado), Ring Leader (Mac Robertson), Shedaresthedevil (Cox), Swiss Skydiver (Kenny McPeek), Tempers Rising (Dallas Stewart) and Venetian Harbor (Richard Baltas).
British Idiom was the country’s champion 2-year-old filly after winning all three starts, including the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita. Stablemate Shedaresthedevil won the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 7 in her last start. The Honeybee is the final major local prep for the Fantasy.
Tempers Rising and Antoinette finished second and third, respectively, in the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) March 21 at Fair Grounds. Venetian Harbor (2 for 3 overall) will be making her first start since a front-running 9 ¼-length victory in the $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (G2) Feb. 8 at Santa Anita. Venetian Harbor worked a half-mile in :48 over a fast track Friday morning. Lake Avenue and Lazy Daisy are both Grade 2 winners.
The Fantasy will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks, which has been moved from May 1 to Sept. 4 (COVID-19). Oaklawn responded by moving the Fantasy from April 10 to May 1.
Because of an expected rush at the entry box for the Fantasy, Oaklawn added an overnight stake, the $80,000 Gardenia, for 3-year-old fillies May 1. The Gardenia, also 1 1/16 miles, drew 53 nominees, including unbeaten Ain’t No Elmers for trainer Bret Calhoun.
Hitting the Big 5-0
Robertino Diodoro became the fourth trainer in Oaklawn history with 50 meet victories when Freedom Hill ($7.40) won Thursday’s second race under defending riding champion David Cohen.
Freedom Hill represented the meet-best 50th victory for Diodoro, who is averaging nearly a win per day during the 57-day season that is scheduled to end May 2. Friday was Day 51.
“It’s a great achievement,” Diodoro said during training hours Friday morning. “But, again, I’m one person and you’ve got to have a great team behind you – owners, help in the barn. It’s been a good run. We’ve just got to, hopefully, finish up strong the next six days.”
David Vance became the first trainer in Oaklawn history to reach 50 victories when he won 50 races during the 50-day meeting in 1974. The late Cole Norman set a single-season Oaklawn record with 71 victories during the 49-day season in 2003. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen won 64 races during last year’s 57-day season.
The Canadian-born Diodoro has eclipsed his victory total every year since he began wintering in Hot Springs in 2015. He won nine races in 2015, 22 races in 2016, 31 races in 2017, 32 races in 2018 and 48 races last year. Diodoro was Oaklawn’s second-leading trainer in the last three years, but he entered Friday with a sizable lead over Asmussen (50-41), who is seeking his fifth consecutive local training title and record-tying 11th overall (all since 2007).
Entering Friday, Diodoro had also set single-season personal Oaklawn bests for stakes victories (three) and purse earnings ($1,941,297). His purse earnings have also climbed each year in Hot Springs.
Freedom Hill is owned by Diodoro’s main client, M and M Racing (Mike and Mickala Sisk), which won a single-season Oaklawn record 61 races last year. M and M topped the owner’s standings through Thursday with 27 victories and $949,177 in purse earnings.
The Godfather Part II
Don Vito Corleone is scheduled to make his second career start in a May 2 entry-level allowance race around two turns, the gelding’s trainer, Rick Hiles, said.
Don Vito Corleone, a son of champion Midshipman, was a 1 ¼-length winner of his April 4 career debut at 1 1/16 miles under Martin Garcia. Bred by the University of Kentucky, the gelding shares the same name as the fictional character played by screen legend Marlon Brando in the 1972 classic crime film, “The Godfather.”
Don Vito Corleone – the horse – ruled in his debut, at odds of 25-1.
“I was expecting him to be 5-1, 6-1,” said Hiles, who trains Don Vito Corleone for E. McCarroll Holdings and Sylvia J. Norris. “There was a lot of people around here that knew about him. He came back good, he’s doing good. I’m sure because of his name, people will start catching on to him. I’ve had a couple of people ask me about it, about The Godfather. I had a filly a few years ago called Sugar Cube that I won 10 or 11 races with. She got to be a household name in Kentucky. Everybody kept asking, ‘How’s Sugar Cube? How’s Sugar Cube? If he keeps going like he is, he may become one, too.”
Hiles said he received Don Vito Corleone last June and planned to debut the gelding at Ellis Park before he was found to a “little off” in a rear leg. A nuclear scan, Hiles said, revealed a small stress fracture in the tibia and Don Vito Corleone was turned out for four months.
“He was a colt last summer and they gelded him while he was off those four months,” Hiles said. “He wasn’t bad. You’ve got to be a really good horse to go to stud anymore. He’s a gelding now and he can enjoy himself the rest of his life and be out with horses and do whatever.”
But there’s still plenty of work ahead on the track, Hiles said. Don Vito Corleone worked a half-mile in :47.40 April 18 in advance of his second career race.
“I always thought the way he covers the ground, as long legged as he is, that he really needed the distance,” Hiles said. “I think he could have won going three-quarters, but sometimes a horse going long, it’s easier on them. He was so fit and ready to go. It didn’t bother him.”
Hiles is the longtime president of the Kentucky division of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. His son, Jeff, recorded his first career training victory last year at Oaklawn.
King Guillermo (Arkansas Derby) and Trophy Chaser (Oaklawn Handicap) are on the grounds for Florida-based trainer Juan Carlos Avila. … Farmington Road, in company, worked a half-mile in :51.20 over a fast track Friday morning for trainer Todd Pletcher in advance of the $750,000 Arkansas Derby (G1) May 2. Farmington Road earned an automatic spot in the Arkansas Derby with a runner-up finish in the $200,000 Oaklawn Stakes April 11. … Stewart Elliott recorded his 4,950th career North American riding victory aboard Full of Run ($17) for trainer Paul Holthus of Hot Springs in Friday’s fourth race, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. … Pioneer Spirit, winner of the second division of the $100,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses Jan. 25, is being freshened and will not run again at the meeting, trainer Robertino Diodoro said.