Sunday, April 09, 2017
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Asmussen’s Arkansas Derby Pair Put in Final Works
Untrapped and Lookin At Lee worked easy half-miles in :51 Sunday morning at Oaklawn for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen in preparation for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), which headlines the closing-day program.
Untrapped and Lookin At Lee, who breezed over a fast track approximately an hour apart, are among 10 probables for the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby, the country’s final major Kentucky Derby prep.
Also scheduled to run in the Arkansas Derby are Classic Empire, Conquest Mo Money, Malagacy, One Liner, Petrov, Rockin Rudy, Silver Dust and Sonneteer.
Owned by John Oxley and trained by Mark Casse, Classic Empire will be the sixth Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male to race at Oaklawn. The son of Pioneerof the Nile won 4 of 5 starts last year, highlighted by the $500,000 Breeders’ Futurity (G1) Oct. 8 at Keeneland and the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) Nov. 5 at Santa Anita.
In his only start this year, the Florida-based Classic Empire finished third in the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park. Oxley, who campaigned 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos, purchased the colt for $475,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Since the Eclipse Awards debuted in 1971, the 2-year-old male champions to run at Oaklawn are Fly So Free in 1992, Favorite Trick in 1998, Answer Lively in 1999, Lookin At Lucky in 2010 and American Pharoah in 2015. Favorite Trick (third), Answer Lively (elevated to fourth following Valhol’s disqualification) and American Pharoah (first) ran in the Arkansas Derby. Fly So Free ran in both the Razorback and Oaklawn Handicaps two years after his championship season, while Lookin at Lucky won the Rebel Stakes en route to also being named champion 3-year-old.
One Liner captured the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 20. Malagacy won the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 18, the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. One Liner and Malagacy, both trained by Todd Pletcher, have also been based this winter and spring in Florida. They are scheduled to arrive Wednesday on a plane from South Florida along with Classic Empire.
The Arkansas Derby will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10) toward starting eligibility for the May 6 Kentucky Derby. It is one of five major stakes races during the final two days of the Oaklawn meeting.
Southern California-based Stellar Wind, the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2015, will head Friday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.
Stellar Wind, unraced since a troubled fourth in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) Nov. 4 at Santa Anita, was assigned co-top weight of 122 pounds for the Apple Blossom. She is scheduled to arrive Tuesday on a flight along with a large contingent of California-based Racing Festival runners.
Also expected for the Apple Blossom are Terra Promessa (118), Streamline (117), Divine Elegance (113), Tiger Moth (113) and Lady Tapit (112).
Streamline, Tiger Moth and Terra Promessa finished first, third and fifth, respectively, in the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 18, the final major local prep for the Apple Blossom. Terra Promessa worked a half-mile in :50.20 Sunday morning for Asmussen.
Probables for Friday’s $400,000 Fantasy Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles are Benner Island, Chanel’s Legacy, Conquest Bandido, Conquest Slayer, Ever So Clever, Kell Paso, My Sweet Stella, Spooky Woods, Torrent and Vexatious.
Chanel’s Legacy is a two-time stakes winner at the meeting, taking the $125,000 Dixie Belle Jan. 21 and $125,000 Martha Washington Feb. 11. Benner Island finished second in the final major local prep for the Fantasy, the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 11.
Multiple graded stakes winner Midnight Storm is expected to headline Saturday’s $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses. He was assigned top weight of 122 pounds.
Midnight Storm finished second, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) March 11 at Santa Anita in his last start.
Also expected for the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap are Accelerate (119), Domain’s Rap (115) and Texas Chrome (115). Domain’s Rap won the $125,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 13.
Scheduled starter Whitmore was assigned top weight of 122 pounds for Saturday’s $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses at 6 furlongs. He is unbeaten in five career sprint starts, including the $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes March 11.
Other Count Fleet probables are Holy Boss (118 pounds), Moe Candy (116), Apprehender (114), Chief Cicatriz (114), Sharp Art (113) and Wabel (113). Sharp Art was a supplemental nominee.
A flight carrying Southern California-based horses is scheduled to arrive in Arkansas on Tuesday. Florida-based horses will be flown to Arkansas on Wednesday.
Post positions for the Apple Blossom and Fantasy will be drawn Tuesday.
Post positions for the Arkansas Derby, Oaklawn Handicap and Count Fleet will be drawn Wednesday.
The Great Race
Four-time defending champion Ricardo Santana Jr. had two winners Saturday to extend his lead over Ramon Vazquez to 46-43 with five days remaining in the meeting.
Santana won the sixth race aboard All Laced Up ($10.60) for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs and the 10th race aboard favored Beachtown Benny ($6) for trainer Brad Cox.
Santana regained the lead from Vazquez, 44-43, with a triple Friday. Vazquez was Oaklawn’s second-leading rider in 2015 and 2016.
Alex Canchari and Geovanni Franco enter Sunday tied for third with 41 victories.
Santana was Oaklawn’s runaway riding leader last year with 80 victories, but has had a roller-coaster 2017 meeting. The 24-year-old rider missed the first five racing days because of suspensions stemming from the 2016 meeting, four days with a separated shoulder resulting from a March 2 spill and two days riding at Fair Grounds (Jan. 21 and Feb. 25). The jockey has also lost his biggest client in Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who essentially severed his business relationship with Santana in late February.
Santana has won races for 11 trainers at the meeting, including 10 for Moquett and nine each for Asmussen and Cox.
“We have no ties with Asmussen … but it opened us up to so much more and I welcome that challenge,” said Santana’s agent, Ruben Munoz. “It’s just made us work harder. I’m very happy to be so close.”
Santana is trying to become the first rider to win five consecutive Oaklawn riding titles since Hall of Famer Pat Day won 12 straight (1983-1994).
Santana will have mounts Oaklawn’s biggest races next week. He is scheduled to ride Rockshaw in Thursday’s $150,000 Bachelor Stakes, Benner Island in Friday’s $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3), Tiger Moth in Friday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1), Whitmore in Saturday’s $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3), Texas Chrome in Saturday’s $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) and Petrov in Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1).
Santana recorded his first career Grade 1 victory in last year’s Arkansas Derby aboard the Asmussen-trained Creator.
Asmussen has all but clinched his eighth training title since 2007 with 34 victories. Runner-up Robertino Diodoro has 27.
Three-time defending champion Danny Caldwell is the runaway leader in the owner’s standings with 21 victories. Mike Waters is second with 10.
Trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs recorded his 600th career victory when All Laced Up ($10.60) won Saturday’s sixth race, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.
Moquett, 45, started his first horse in 1997 and won his first race the following year. His 500th career victory came at Oaklawn (Feb. 6, 2015) with Heykittykittykitty. He has 197 career victories at Oaklawn, where he ranks fifth in the standings this year with 19 victories.
All Laced Up was making her career debut for Alex and JoAnn Lieblong of Conway, Ark., who purchased the 3-year-old Bernardini filly for $450,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale. The filly is a half-sister to Overdriven, winner of the $150,000 Sanford Stakes (G2) for 2-year-olds in 2011 at Saratoga for trainer Todd Pletcher, and Smooth Air, a multiple Grade 2 winner for trainer Chad Brown.
The Lieblongs and Moquett will have the favorite for Thursday’s $150,000 Bachelor Stakes with Rockshaw, a powerful winner of the $125,000 Gazebo Stakes March 4.
Jon Court, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 2000, moved closer to a career milestone with a victory aboard Racer in Saturday’s $100,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Stakes. Court has $99,723,603 in North American purse earnings, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Only 50 jockeys have reached $100 million in North America.
Court has 4,025 career victories, including 640 at Oaklawn, where he began riding in 1981. Court, 56, recorded his first career victory in 1980.
Unbeaten Five O One, winner of the $100,000 Rainbow Stakes for 3-year-old Arkansas-bred colts and geldings March 31, is entered in Wednesday’s seventh race, a second-level allowance/optional claiming sprint for trainer Brad Cox and owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs. … Cox ($1,117,036) became the third trainer at the meet to reach $1 million in purse earnings Friday. … The Cox-trained Illussion Artist ($21.40) won Saturday’s $150,000 Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters to give prominent Arkansas automobile dealer Steve Landers his biggest Oaklawn victory. Landers, among Oaklawn’s leading owners this year, is a member of the Arkansas Racing Commission. … Perfect Wife is being freshened for a month following what trainer Kenny McPeek called “two big disappointments” at the meeting. Perfect Wife finished last of eight as the favorite in her 3-year-old debut, the $100,000 Martha Washington Stakes Feb. 11, and 10th in the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 11. Perfect Wife broke through the gate prior to the start of the Martha Washington, cutting her mouth, McPeek said. “The gate issue really shook her up,” McPeek said. “Give her a month off and regroup and point her towards some stuff this late spring and summer.” … Through Saturday, the 52nd day of the 57-day meeting, 418 claims totaled $5,588,000.