Tuesday, April 18, 2017

 

Oaklawn Could Have Large Contingent of Kentucky Derby Runners

 

At least eight Oaklawn-raced horses were under consideration Tuesday morning for the $2 million Kentucky Derby (G1) May 6 at Churchill Downs. Topping the list is John Oxley’s Classic Empire, who secured a spot with a half-length victory over Conquest Mo Money in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) Saturday at Oaklawn.

 

Classic Empire, the country’s champion 2-year-old male, earned 100 points for the victory and has 132 overall to rank second on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.  He received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 94 for his Arkansas Derby victory and was flown Monday to Kentucky to begin preparations for the 1 ¼-mile Run for the Roses.

 

“I’d like to have four (weeks),” trainer Mark Casse said, referring to time between starts. “But I would have liked a lot of things this year that I haven’t gotten, so we’re going to take it. This is a very talented horse.”

 

Classic Empire was making just his second start this year because of a myriad of problems, including a right front foot abscess discovered shortly after a third-place finish in the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (G2) Feb. 4 at Gulfstream Park. Ridden by Julien Leparoux, he paid $5.80 as the 9-5 Arkansas Derby favorite.

 

Conquest Mo Money has the necessary 60 points to run in the Kentucky Derby, but owners Tom and Sandra McKenna would have to pay a $200,000 late supplemental nomination fee after missing the March 20 deadline for late Triple Crown nominations ($6,000 fee).

 

A decision on whether the McKennas pay $200,000 to supplement the Uncle Mo colt could be announced Tuesday. Conquest Mo Money, who earned $200,000 for his runner-up finish in the Arkansas Derby, would rank 12th in the standings.

 

The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters, with points awarded in 35 designated races determining starting preference if the race oversubscribes. Safely inside the top 20 – if they choose to run – are Malagacy, fifth in the Arkansas Derby after being previously unbeaten in three career starts, and Oaklawn maiden graduate Hence.

 

Trained by Todd Pletcher, Malagacy (13th) earned all 50 points for his victory in the $900,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 18, the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.

 

Calumet Farm’s Hence (14th) also has 50 points after winning the $800,000 Sunland Derby (G3) March 26 at Sunland Park. Hence broke his maiden Jan. 16 at Oaklawn to give Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his 500th career victory in Hot Springs. Asmussen has collected eight Oaklawn training titles since 2007.

 

If more than two horses have the same number of points, the tiebreaker is earnings in non-restricted stakes races. Malagacy has $570,000 in non-restricted stakes earnings, Hence $401,429.

 

Hence recorded a 5-furlong bullet workout (1:00.40) Monday morning at Churchill Downs in preparation for the Kentucky Derby.

 

Other Oaklawn-raced horses on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard include No. 21 Untrapped (34 points), No. 22 Lookin At Lee (32), No. 23 Sonneteer (30) and No. 24 Royal Mo (30).

 

Untrapped, also trained by Asmussen, finished third in the Rebel and sixth in the Arkansas Derby.

 

Another Asmussen trainee, Lookin At Lee, made three starts at Oaklawn, finishing third in the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 20, sixth in the Rebel and third in the Arkansas Derby.

 

Sonneteer, a maiden, ran second in the Rebel and fourth in the Arkansas Derby for Calumet and trainer Keith Desormeaux.

 

Royal Mo ran ninth in the Rebel for trainer John Shirreffs.

 

According to Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Derby field has been limited to 20 starters since 1975 and least 20 horses have entered the race every year since 2004.

 

Led by the Asmussen-trained Ever So Clever, Oaklawn figures to be well represented in the $1 million Kentucky Oaks (G1) for 3-year-old fillies May 5 at Churchill Downs. The 1 1/8-mile Kentucky Oaks is limited to 14 starters, with points awarded in 30 designated races determining starting preference if the race oversubscribes.  Ever So Clever has 106 points to rank third. She received 100 points for her 1 ¾-length victory in Friday’s $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) at Oaklawn under Luis Contreras.

 

It Tiz Well, winner of Oaklawn’s $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) March 11, has 74 points to rank seventh for Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.

 

Fantasy runner-up Chanel’s Legacy is 10th with 51 points and under consideration for the Kentucky Oaks, trainer Lynn Chleboard said.

 

Fantasy third Vexatious is 16th with 40 points for Calumet and Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale.

 

Oaklawn carded three other major stakes races last week.

 

Champion and heavily favored Stellar Wind ($2.80) was a 1 ¼-length winner of Friday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares in her 5-year-old debut under regular rider Victor Espinoza.

 

Trainer John Sadler said the daughter of Curlin will be pointed for the $400,000 Beholder Mile Stakes (G1) June 3 at Santa Anita.

 

The Southern California-based Stellar Wind, owned by Hronis Racing LLC, was the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2015.

 

Randy Howg’s Inside Straight ($41.40) was an upset winner of Saturday’s $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses.

 

A 4-year-old Super Saver gelding, Inside Straight was coming off a five-length allowance/optional claiming victory March 10 for Robertino Diodoro, Oaklawn’s second-leading trainer this year.

 

“I kept saying to Rob (Atras), my assistant, ‘Let’s not worry about calling around, seeing who’s coming and all that. Let’s worry about our horse,’ ” Diodoro said of the Oaklawn Handicap. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a four-horse field. If our horse isn’t doing good, we’re not going.”

 

Inside Straight finished two lengths ahead of Domain’s Rap, with Grade 1 winner and 1-2 favorite Midnight Storm a neck farther back in third.

 

Inside Straight, 2 for 2 since removing blinkers, provided Diodoro and jockey Geovanni Franco with their biggest career victories. Franco was Oaklawn’s co-third-leading rider this year.

 

Diodoro said next-race plans are pending for Inside Straight, who began his racing career in New York with Pletcher. The trainer said he will have a string this spring and summer at Belmont Park.

 

Whitmore remained perfect in six career sprint starts with a 3 ¾-length victory in Saturday’s $400,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses. Under five-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr., he ran 6 furlongs over a fast track in a meet-best 1:08.35 and paid $3 as the 1-2 favorite.

 

Whitmore was 3 for 3 at the meeting, taking a Jan. 15 allowance/optional claimer in 1:08.81 (the gelding’s 4-year-old debut) and the $125,000 Hot Springs March 11 in 1:08.72 (his first career sprint stake). He received a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for his 4-year-old debut – the fastest 6 furlongs ever run at Oaklawn in January – a career-high 104 for the Hot Springs and a preliminary 100 for the Count Fleet.

 

Whitmore is nominated to the $500,000 Churchill Downs (G2) May 6 at Churchill Downs. Moquett said the year-end objective for Whitmore is the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 4 at Del Mar.

 

Whitmore races for Moquett, Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners LLC (Sol Kumin).

 

 

 

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