Oaklawn Park: It Is Arkansas Derby Day


UPDATE: 2014 Arkansas Derby Draw Set

1. Danza 15-1

2. Knockem Flat 20-1

3. Tapiture 9-5

4. Ride On Curlin 12-1

5. Thundergram 30-1 (Blinders on)

6. Commissioner 8-1

7. Conquest Titan 10-1

8. Bayern 2-1

9. Strong Mandate (9-2)

Top Arkansas Derby contender Bayern Takes First Spin over Oaklawn’s Track

Arkansas Derby (G1) contender Bayern, the 2-1 second choice on the morning line, got his first feel for the Oaklawn Park racing strip on Thursday morning after arriving Wednesday with the contingent of California horses competing in Oaklawn’s Racing Festival of the South.

The Bob Baffert trainee galloped once around the oval right after the break and was scheduled to school in the paddock on Friday afternoon

“We’ve got plenty of action,” said Jim Barnes, Baffert’s top assistant who will also saddle two other horses in supporting stakes over the weekend.

Kaleem Shah’s Bayern has only had two starts, but he has created considerable buzz by winning them both with ease. In his seven-furlong maiden effort at Santa Anita he kicked clear by 3 ¼ lengths and then came back to make light work of a first level allowance at one mile with a 15 length score.

“You don’t really know how good he is until you run in this kind of race,” Barnes said. “He needs to con-tinue on. If he does carry on in his third race like he has in his first two, he’s pretty good. It’s time for him to step up now, but he had his two-turn race and he handled that. This is our next step.”

Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens was aboard for the first two races and he will be reunited with Bayern when they break from post #8. At first glance, the race doesn’t seem to have an abundance of early pace, but anything can happen when the gates open.

“I’m sure that Bob will talk to Gary and tell him what he wants him to do. We have a good post to work with and that will help a lot because they won’t have to overcome too much, hopefully. Gary knows this horse and he’ll know what to do as the race develops to be in the right spot.”

Baffert, who won the 2012 Arkansas Derby with Bodemeister, has a stunning record of success in Oaklawn’s graded stakes. Since 2010, he has sent out 20 horses, which have combined for 12 wins, four seconds and four those in those graded races.

Bayern, who has yet to rack up any qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby, now has the chance to prove he deserves to Run for the Roses. The Arkansas Derby is in the Championship Series of qualifying races and offers 170 points, with 100 for first, 40 for second, 20 for third and 10 for a fourth place finish.

Tapiture Installed as Morning Line Favorite for 78Th Running of the Arkansas Derby

Winchell Thoroughbred LLC’s Tapiture, winner of Oaklawn’s Southwest Stakes (G3) and second in the Rebel Stakes (G2) drew post position three and he was installed as the 9-5 morning line favorite for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), which brings the 2014 race meet to a climatic end. A field of nine horses entered the 1 1/8-mile race, which offers a total of 170 points towards eligibility in the May 3 Kentucky Derby (G1). Post time for the Arkansas Derby, the 11th of 12 races, is 6:07 p.m. Central. First post is 12 noon.

Tapiture, a homebred son of Tapit, who broke maiden last November when winning the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs by 4 ¼ lengths, began his 3-year-old season by winning the Southwest by the same dominating margin. In the Rebel, he encountered traffic and exchanged bumps with winner Hoppertunity. He will be seeking a cleaner trip in the Arkansas Derby under new rider Joel Rosario, who replaces Oaklawn’s leading rider Ricardo Santana Jr.

When asked what led him to the jockey switch earlier in the week, trainer Steve Asmussen said, “Joel’s Kentucky Derby victory last year.” Rosario rode Orb to victory in the Derby last year.

The Bob Baffert-trained Bayern, who arrived from California on Wednesday, is likely to vie with Tapiture for the post-time favorite role on Saturday. The Offlee Wild colt, who drew post two and is listed as the 2-1 second choice on the morning line, is undefeated in two starts and enters the Arkansas Derby off a 15-length romp at Santa Anita Feb. 13. He will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens.

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who won the race last year with Overanalyze, will have two chances at collecting his fourth overall Arkansas Derby victory with Sunland Derby third-place finisher Commissioner and the lightly raced Danza. WinStar Farm’s Commissioner drew post six, while Danza drew the rail.

“It wouldn’t have been my first choice to have Danza on the rail so, hopefully, he can save some ground and get a good trip from there,” said Pletcher. “We don’t think it’s terribly important where Commissioner drew in this race. Overall we’re happy with our posts.”

Trainer Mark Casse, who had a division at Oaklawn for the first time this meet, will also have two horses in the Arkansas Derby. He sends out stakes winner Conquest Titan, most recently fourth as the favorite in the Tampa Bay Derby, and Thundergram, who broke his maiden at Oaklawn in January and was most recently second by a head in an optional allowance race March 16.

“The post is irrelevant for Conquest Titan because Calvin (Borel) will take him back and make one big run at the end of it,” said Casse’s son and chief assistant Norman Casse. “Thundergram is a pretty solid little horse, but hopefully adding blinkers this time will do the trick.”

Daniel Dougherty’s Ride on Curlin began his season by winning a six furlong allowance race and has since been third in both the Southwest and Rebel Stakes. Since then he has been training forwardly and trainer Billy Gowan believes he’s sitting on a big effort Saturday. He will be ridden by Jon Court, who will be seeking his third Arkansas Derby in five years after back-to-back wins in 2010 with Line of David and 2011 with Archarcharch.

“I hope he won’t show too much speed too early,” said Gowan. “I want him to lay off the pace this time and let the speed go out there. Hopefully, we can stalk them a little bit and have a better trip than we did last time (in the Rebel). I’m not worried at all about the distance, with him being by Curlin. We’ve just got to have the right trip and right ride. If we do, my horse can match up with any of them.”

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who will send out Strong Mandate Saturday, will be looking for his third Arkansas Derby, but first since 1985 when he saddled Tank’s Prospect, that year’s Preakness Stakes winner. Last year, Lukas won his record 14th career Triple Crown race in the Preakness with Oxbow, who had finished fifth in the Arkansas Derby. Following in a long line of top Lukas 3-year-olds, Strong Mandate finished second in the Southwest and fourth in the Rebel so far this year. He drew post nine of nine.

Sam Britt and Michael House’s Knock Em Flat, an impressive maiden winner March 27, was cross entered for both the Derby and the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes earlier on the card.

The field for the $1 million Arkansas Derby from the rail out, with riders and odds,  is: Danza, Joe Bravo, 15-1; Knock Em Flat, Luis Quinonez, 20-1; Tapiture, Joel Rosario, 9-5; Ride on Curlin, Jon Court, 12-1; Thundergram, Norberto, Arroyo, Jr., 30-1; Commissioner, Mike Smith, 8-1; Conquest Titan, Calvin Borel, 10-1; Bayern, Gary Stevens, 2-1; Strong Mandate, Luis Saez, 9-2.

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 Will Take Charge the Favorite for the Oaklawn Handicap

Will Take Charge, the reigning 3-year-old Champion and one of the top handicap horses in training, will take on a formidable field of six other horses when he goes postward as the early favorite for the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.

The Oaklawn Handicap G2) is one of four stakes events on the 12-race card, which is highlighted by the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), on the closing day of the track’s prestigious Racing Festival of the South and of the meet.

Multiple graded stakes winner Will Take Charge, who is owned by Willis Horton of Marshall, Arkansas and Three Chimneys Farm and is trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, has been installed as the even-money choice for the 1 1/8 miles test over his home track.

Will Take Charge will be asked to shoulder highweight of 123 pounds, including regular rider Luis Saez, who picked up the mount on Strong Mandate for Lukas in the Arkansas Derby. Will Take Charge, a son of Unbridled’s Song, has amassed earnings of $3,305,148 from a record of six wins and five seconds in 17 tries, and he comes into the Oaklawn Handicap after two impressive seconds in a pair of Grade 1 races on opposite coasts this season.

He began his 4-year-old campaign with his trademark powerful closing kick to miss by 1 1/2 lengths behind Lea in Gulfstream Park’s Donn Handicap (G1), and then the margin was 1 ¾ back when Game on Dude won a record third consecutive Santa Anita Handicap (G1) on Mar. 8.

Will take Charge must concede from 10 to five pounds to his rivals and will break from post #2.

Todd Pletcher, who cut his teeth as one of Lukas’ former top assistants, will take aim at the prohibitive favorite with two solid shots in Revolutionary and Golden Lad.

“That is a formidable task,” said Pletcher, also sends out Commissioner and Danza in the Arkansas Derby that day. “I have a lot of respect for Will Take Charge and how good he is, especially on his home track. It’s a tall order, but we felt like it was the right spot for our two horses and we’ll hope for the best.”

The multiple graded stakes-winning Revolutionary, a WinStar Farm homebred by War Pass, was seventh when he faced Will Take Charge in the Donn last out. Golden Lad proved an affinity for Oaklawn’s racing strip when he whistled over it while winning the Razorback Handicap (G3), the local prep for the Oaklawn Handicap, by almost seven lengths Mar. 15. Mrs. Paul Robsham’s homebred Golden Lad seeks his fifth consecutive victory on Saturday.

“We’re very pleased with the way Golden Lad handled the track there and he seems to be improving all the time. This will be his toughest test to date, but based on the strength of his performance in the Razorback, this seems to be the logical next step for him,” said Pletcher.

Revolutionary, who won the Withers (G3) and the Louisiana Derby (G2) and was third in the Kentucky Derby (G1) last year, will break from the inside under new rider Mike Smith. Golden Lad, a son of Medaglio d’Oro who won the Razorback in his first try in stakes company, drew post #6 and will partner with Gary Stevens for the first time.

“I’m not overly concerned with Revolutionary being in the one-hole because he’s going to drop back a bit. He had an inside post in the (Kentucky) Derby and an inside trip and he seemed to have handled it pretty well that day, so I’m okay with that and with Golden Lad’s post,” Pletcher said. “We’re very pleased with the way Golden Lad handled the track there and he seems to be improving all the time. This will be his toughest test to date, but based on the strength of his performance in the Razorback, this seems to be the logical next step.”

Will Take Charge will also get a rematch with Moreno, who hopes to turn the tables for the first time, on Saturday. The two met in four consecutive graded stakes races last year- the Jim Dandy (G2), Travers (G1), Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1)- but Moreno could never best his rival.

Will Take Charge and Moreno ran 2-3 behind the Pletcher-trained Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy, then staged a memorable battle in the Travers when Will Take Charge closed through the lane to prevail over Moreno by a nose. The Pennsylvania Derby was won decisively by Will Take Charge when Moreno was beaten by 2 14/ lengths. Will Take Charge missed by just a nose in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic while Moreno was no factor.

Moreno, who trained by Eric Guillot, is the second highweight at 118 pounds and he gets a new rider in Joel Rosario for the grudge match.

Zayat Stables’ Prayer for Relief, recently transferred to the barn of Dale Romans, looks to get back on the winning track after a dull effort in the Mineshaft Handicap (G3) in his last start, and the locally based Carve and Right to Vote, the Essex Handicap winner here Feb. 14, complete the field.

The field for the Oaklawn Handicap, from the rail in post-position order with riders, weights and odds is: Revolutionary, Mike Smith, 117, 9-2; Will Take Charge, Luis Saez, 123, 1-1; Right to Vote, Ricardo Santana, Jr., 113; Carve, Jesus Castanon, 113, 12-1; Moreno, Joel Rosario, 118, 9-2; Golden Lad, Gary Stevens, 116, 4-1; Prayer for Relief, Norberto Arroyo, Jr., 116, 12-1.

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Ride On Curlin Has His Connections Feeling Confident Heading into Saturday’s Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn

Billy Gowan, the trainer of Arkansas Derby (G1) contender Ride on Curlin, knew the colt was something special the first time he caught his eye.

“I picked him out of the Keeneland (September 2012 Yearling) sale. As soon as I saw him, I called my owner and said, ‘You better get right over here because we’re buying this one.’ We didn’t have much time because he was already in the back ring. We didn’t even have time to vet him. I gave twenty-five thousand for him.”

Owner Daniel Doherty’s investment proved wise as the son of Curlin, the 2007 Arkansas Derby winner and two-time Horse of the Year, has finished out of the money only once in eight starts and has earned $214,687. He has the chance to increase his bankroll significantly when he steps into the starting gate Saturday in the $1 million Arkansas Derby.

Ride on Curlin, who was third in both the Southwest Stakes (G3) and the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn, breezed seven furlongs in 1:26.4 here on Apr. 6 under exercise rider Brian Beccia.

“He worked really good and he’s ready,” said Gowan, who worked for Hall of Fame trainers Jack Van Berg and Bill Mott before going out on his own 20 years ago. “I think he’s ready to move forward from his third place in the Rebel, and he should.”

Gowan currently has five horses in his care and Ride on Curlin is the stable star. He currently stands in 23rd place with 15 points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, but with 170 points (100-40-20-10 for finishing first through fourth) up for the taking, a strong Arkansas Derby effort will punch his ticket to the big show.

“He’s the best horse I’ve ever had, by far,” said Gowan, who trains on the Oaklawn-Churchill Downs circuit. “I’ve never had an Arkansas Derby horse before, let alone a Kentucky Derby horse, so this is pretty exciting.”

Jon Court picks up the mount on Ride on Curlin.

Post positions for the Arkansas Derby will be drawn Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. Central in the first floor of the Oaklawn Grandstand.

Other Arkansas Derby probables with riders are Bayern (Gary Stevens), Commissioner (Mike Smith), Conquest Titan (Calvin Borel), Danza (Joe Bravo), Strong Mandate (Luis Saez), Tapiture (Joel Rosario) and Thundergram (Norberto Arroyo Jr.). Chitu and Rebranded are possible.

Rivals Strong Mandate and Tapiture Ready for Fourth Meeting

oaklawn park fansStrong contenders Strong Mandate and Tapiture, who have been stabled on the grounds this meet, continue to please their connections with just days remaining before Saturday’s Arkansas Derby, which will be the fourth time the two colts have faced each other dating back to a maiden special weight at Saratoga, which Strong Mandate won.

“Strong Mandate’s doing fine. He’s ready,” said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who won the 1984 edition of the race with stakes record holder Althea (1:46.4), the only filly to win the race, and with Tank’s Prospect the following year.

In the first start of his 3-year-old campaign, Robert Baker and William Mack’s Strong Mandate was second to Tapiture in the Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 14 and then was fourth in a roughly-run Rebel Stakes (G2) last time out Mar. 15.

“I hope he’ll get better racing luck this time and I think he has a little better conditioning now, too. I think he’s had a good thirty days so I’m looking for a much better effort from him,” Lukas said.

The $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) is one of the supporting stakes on the Arkansas Derby Day card on the closing day of the prestigious Racing Festival of the South and of the meet. He will saddle Grade 1 winner and reigning 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge in the race.

“He is doing absolutely super,” said Lukas. “He couldn’t be doing any better. I’m real pleased with where they both are. We’ve got pretty much everything behind us so it’s just keeping him and Strong Mandate happy now.”

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tapiture, second in the Rebel, is also right on schedule for trainer Steve Asmussen. In his final work for the Arkansas Derby on Apr. 7, he breezed a half mile in :50.4 under Abel Flores and over a sloppy track.

“He came out his work very nicely,” said Darren Fleming, Steve Asmussen’s Oaklawn-based assistant.. He ate up last night and he’s happy and healthy. He’s run two good races here and he seems to like it here. Hopefully, he’ll get a little smoother trip this time.”

Joel Rosario, who rode Strong Mandate in his last three starts, will be aboard Tapiture in the Derby while Luis Saez, the regular rider for Will Take Charge, picks up the mount on Strong Mandate for Lukas.

Tapiture is currently in 13th place with 42 points on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard and Strong Mandate is on the outside looking in for one of the 20 berths with 11 points and in the 27th spot. The Arkansas Derby is part of the championship series of qualifying races with 170 points (100-40-20-10) up for the taking.

Close Hatches Leads Talent Packed Apple Blossom

oaklawn big week arkansas derby

Juddmonte Farms’ Azeri Stakes (G2) winner Close Hatches returned to Hot Springs Tuesday in advance of her next start in Friday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1). The 4-year-old First Defense filly drew the rail against four other fillies and mares entered Tuesday for the 1 1/16-mile race.

Close Hatches made her first start since a runner-up effort behind champion Beholder in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff last November in the Azeri Stakes, but proved more than ready with her front-running 1 ½ length victory. Last year, as a 3-year-old, she proved among the best of her generation with victories in the Grade 1 Mother Goose and Cotillion Stakes and appears poised for another solid campaign in 2014. She will carry top weight of 121 pounds, including jockey Joel Rosario, and will concede between four and nine pounds to her rivals.

“She passed the first test and she’s doing well, so we decided to send her back,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. “I have no complaints about the weights. I hope she travels well and settles in well, and if she does that, I’m sure she’ll run her race. We respect all of the fillies in there. On Fire Baby has had her race back now and the other fillies are also going to be competitive. We respect them all.”

Tommy Towns Thoroughbred’s Let Faith Arise will also be looking to make a name for herself with her second straight Grade 1 victory in the Apple Blossom. After running second in both the La Canada (G2) and Santa Maria (G2) Stakes, the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained filly enjoyed a break through win in the Santa Margarita Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita Park March 15, the same day as the Azeri.

Both Close Hatches and Let Faith Arise will need to be on the lookout for defending Apple Blossom winner On Fire Baby, who was fourth last out in the Azeri. The gray daughter of Smoke Glacken, trained by Gary “Reddog” Hartlage, has shown an affinity for Oaklawn. In 2012, she won the Honeybee Stakes (G3) and then returned from nearly a year off to win last year’s Apple Blossom in front running fashion.

Another Oaklawn-loving filly, making her first appearance of the race meet, is Rose to Gold, who arrived last week from her South Florida base and will be looking to add the Apple Blossom to her resume. Last year, she won both the Honeybee (G3) and Fantasy (G3) stakes over the local surface before going to the sidelines after a poor run in the Kentucky Oaks. Although, winless in three starts in her home state since last December, she did have an impressive victory in the $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic Jan. 25.

Stanwyck, who enters the Apple Blossom off of two third-place finishes behind Let Faith Arise, may not be all that familiar to the local Oaklawn fans, but her connections sure are. The 5-year-old Empire Maker mare is owned by Jerry and Ann Moss and trained by John Shirreffs, the same connections as 2008 and 2010 Apple Blossom winner Zenyatta, who earned year-end honors as Champion Older Mare in 2008 and Horse of the Year in 2010.

The complete field for the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap from the rail out with riders and weights: Close Hatches, Joel Rosario, 121; Rose to Gold, Calvin Borel, 115; Stanwyck, Gary Stevens, 115; On Fire Baby, Joe Johnson, 115, and Let Faith Arise, Corey Nakatani, 117.

Below are current meet standings at Oaklawn Park.

Oaklawn Park meet standings thru april_6

Oaklawn park meet standing page 2 thru april_6

Courtesy Oaklawn Park.