Oaklawn Racetrack Roundup – Bob Baffert Strikes with ‘Hoppertunity’


Bob Baffert Strikes Hoppertunity

Bob Baffert Strikes with Hoppertunity in the Rebel Stakes. Photo Courtesy of Oaklawn Park.


HOT SPRINGS, AR (Saturday, March 15, 2014) – Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert once again showed why he should never be overlooked when shipping into Oaklawn when he sent out 6-1 fourth choice Hoppertunity to win the roughly run $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) Saturday before an on track crowd of 30,873. It was a record fourth Rebel victory for Baffert and the second for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, who also won the 2010 edition with eventual champion Lookin at Lucky.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Hoppertunity was always within striking distance as he tracked Grade 1 winner Strong Mandate from third place through early fractions of 24 and :47 4/5 for the first half mile. As the horses began to straighten for home, the winner brushed with Southwest Stakes winner Tapiture, the 2-1 favorite, and the two battled to the wire along with Strong Mandate and Ride On Curlin, who had been racing in second early. Hoppertunity prevailed by a half-length over Tapiture at the wire after completing the 1 1/16 mile race in 1:43 4/5 over a wet fast track. Ride On Curlin held on for third with Strong Mandate fourth. 

The stewards put up the inquiry sign and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. filed an objection, but there was no change made to the order of finish.

“We based our decision on the fact that Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. on Tapiture pushed his way out from behind the four horse (Strong Mandate) as the horses were straightening out into the stretch,” said Association Steward Larry Synder.  “Jockey Mike Smith was just holding his position.”

“There was some bumping going on, but I was just holding my ground,” said Smith. “He’d already pushed me out to get out, which is fine because he was looking for racing room and I totally understand that. But, I wasn’t just going to give him ground. I had to hold my ground at some point. And that’s all I did. I held my ground and we bumped. It caused me to lay in and that caused me to tip. If anything I’d say 60-40, 60 on the inside 40 on the out.”

Sheltowee’s Boy, Street Strategy, Kobe’s Back and Jet Cat completed the order of finish.

Hoppertunity, by Any Given Sunday, improved his career record to two wins from four starts and has now earned $410,720. His Rebel victory also earned him 50 points toward making the Kentucky Derby field based on Churchill Downs’ criteria for making the 20-horse field, while vaulting him into second place in the standings among all 3-year-olds pointing toward the “Run for the Roses.” 

He returned $14.20, $5.80 and $4.20.


HOT SPRINGS, AR (Saturday, March 15, 2014) – Millionaire Close Hatches demonstrated her talent and her class by coming back from a long layoff to defeat a stellar field in gate-to-wire fashion in the $200,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, and Golden Lad posted a mild upset while scoring a dominating victory in the $200,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) on the Rebel Stakes Day undercard.

Close Hatches, second to eventual 3-year-old Filly Champion Beholder last time out in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) on November 1, broke a step slowly out of the gate under Joel Rosario but recovered quickly to take the lead and hold off all challengers down the lane. She crossed under the wire on a sealed track rated wet-fast in 1:44.34 for the 1 1/16 miles, 1 ¼ lengths in front of Magic Union, who fought courageously for second. Don’t Tell Sophia, who came in to the race with two straight stakes wins on her home track and was the 3-1 second choice in the wagering, closed from far back and was another 2 ½ lengths behind.

Close Hatches, dispatched by the on-track crowd of 30,800 as the prohibitive 3-5 favorite in the field of seven fillies and mares aged 4 and up, returned $3.20, $3.00, $2.40

“We are very pleased with the way she came back from the long layoff and won a race of this caliber against a quality field,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. “She got away well enough, made the lead and then hung on when they tried to run her down and was good enough to win. It was a very good race for her first start of the year, and she was good enough to win after being off for a few months. I wasn’t concerned about the track being wet fast. She’s a pretty handy filly and I felt like she could handle just about anything.”

Magic Union, the longest shot in the field at 32-1, was making a homecoming of sorts as she was based at Oaklawn with trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel before moving to John Sadler’s Southern California stable last June.

“Her homecoming was a good one,” said Sadler. “When you run second to a horse like Close Hatches I’m very happy. She ran very well. She was inside the whole way and really ran hard.  She’s got a little bit of pedigree, so this does a lot for her value.”.

Close Hatches, a Kentucky-bred daughter of First Defence, is owned by Juddmonte Farms. With her win in the Azeri, she improved to 6-2-0 from nine starts and upped her earnings to 1,487,300.

Mott said that Close Hatche may return to Oaklawn for the Apple Blossom Handicap on April 11.
On Fire Baby, Dixie Strike, Flashy American and Sister Ginger completed the order of finish.

In the Razorback, the Todd Pletcher-trained Golden Lad easily handled his first step up all the way fromthe allowance ranks into graded stakes company by sitting right behind pacesetter Right to Vote, assuming command in the far turn, and then storming down the lane to win going away by 6 ¾ lengths.

Golden Lad traveled the 1 1/16 miles with Jose Lezcano aboard in 1:43.72 on a sealed track rated wet-fast while Majestic City was second, a head in front of Taptowne. Govenor Charlie, the Bob Baffert-trained 2-1 favorite in the field of seven horses 4 and older, was never a factor.

“I thought he ran super. We are very, very pleased,” said Pletcher. “I was a little concerned when the track came up wet, but he obviously handled it fine. He broke well and then got into a good stalking position. It was definitely a step up into a new level for him, but anytime you’ve won three straight races you certainly have talent. I felt like he deserved this opportunity and he proved he did. He ran a very powerful race.”

The win was the first stakes victory for Golden Lad, a Robsham Stables homebred by Medaglia d’Oro out of the Seeking the Gold mare Broadway Gold. He now has 5 wins and two seconds from eight starts and almost doubled his bankroll to $244,920.

Pletcher said that Golden Lad, who rewarded his backers with $12.00, $6.00, $4.20, may return for the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap on April 12.

Right to Vote, Govenor Charlie, Called to Serve and Street Spice rounded out the field.



Photo Courtesy Oaklawn Park

HOT SPRINGS, AR (Friday, March 14, 2014) – Trainer Lynn Chleborad reached her 1,000-career win milestone Friday when The Rocks Rolls won the last of 10 races under jockey Alex Birzer at odds of 4-1.

A childhood love of horses led Chleborad to where she is now – among the top trainers on the Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa racing circuit. Chleborad’s runners have earned over a million dollars in earnings each year since 2007.  She was leading trainer in 2009 and 2010 at Prairie Meadows and finished in the top 5 in the trainer standings there since 2011 and in top 10 the last two years at Remington Park.

“I never really even thought about winning 1,000 races until it started to get close,” said Chleborad. “I’ve had wonderful owners and wonderful people supporting me. I’ve had great horses and jockeys. There has been bad times, but a lot more good times. It’s just been a lot of fun.”

Chleborad, who grew up around show horses and competing in rodeos, was majoring in accounting at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri when she realized she “couldn’t sit still long enough to work in an office” and left to pursue a career with horses. She started with show horses before making the move to racehorses. Her break came when she started grooming and galloping for Herb Riecken, a veteran Nebraska trainer, who helped her get started. She took out her own trainer’s license in 1987.

One of the better horses in her stable, and her personal favorite, is American Sugar. The filly has won four stakes in her career, including the 2013 Dixie Belle Stakes at Oaklawn.

You can view race results from Oaklawn any time by clicking here.

Courtesy Oaklawn Park

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