Rex Nelson – Hot Springs Bucket List for the Racing Festival of the South


Rex Nelson Archive PageMy friend David Bazzel of KABZ-FM, 103.7 The Buzz, in Little Rock will spend three nights in Hot Springs this week as the Racing Festival of the South takes place at Oaklawn Park.

David asked me to come up with the ultimate Spa City bucket list of things he should do.

A day at Oaklawn, complete with corned beef and oysters on the half shell, is already a given. There’s not going to be time to do everything on this list, but here’s my best shot:

1. Get a bath and massage at the Buckstaff for a classic bathhouse experience, and then have a bath and massage a day later at the beautifully renovated Quapaw.

2. Hang out in the Arlington Hotel lobby on Friday or Saturday night, listen to the live music and watch the couples dance.

3. Have lunch at the Superior Bathhouse in a window seat, which allows you to watch the people walking along Bathhouse Row.

To read all of Rex’s Hot Springs bucket list for the Racing Festival of the South at Oaklawn, click here.

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Notes of Interest on the Racing Festival of the South as Contenders Prepare

Champion Untapable moved closer to an expected start in Friday’s $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at Oaklawn with a maintenance work Monday morning for trainer Steve Asmussen. Untapable went an easy half-mile in :48 approximately 30 minutes after the track opened for training. The surface, which would become shrouded in fog following Untapable’s work, was rated fast by clockers. It was the best of 18 recorded at the distance.

Asked approximately an hour after the work if Untapable was a go for the Apple Blossom, Asmussen said: “This morning’s breeze sure looked like it.”

Asmussen said he would confer with Ron Winchell and David Fiske, co-owner and Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC racing manager, respectively, for additional feedback. Untapable, last year’s Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old filly, ran second in her 2015 debut, the $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 14.

Monday’s work was Untapable’s third since the Azeri.

Clockers caught Untapable’s final quarter-mile in :23 and galloping out 5 furlongs in 1:01.40.

“I thought she went beautiful,” Asmussen said. “It looks like all systems go.”

Other locally based horses scheduled to run in the Apple Blossom are Azeri winner Gold Medal Dancer and Pearl Turn, a March 14 allowance winner. Sugar Shock will be entered, co-owner/trainer Doug Anderson said. She is also entered in Wednesday’s $100,000 Carousel Stakes. Post positions for the Apple Blossom will be drawn Tuesday morning.

Asmussen’s top older horse, multiple graded stakes winner Tapiture, breezed a half-mile in :50 Monday morning, but next-race plans are still pending for the 4-year-old old colt, the trainer said. Tapiture, in his 4-year-old debut, finished fifth in the $250,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) March 14. Tapiture is under consideration for Saturday’s $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2).

Asmussen said Bayerd is scheduled to run in Friday’s $100,000 Bachelor Stakes and Holiday Man is ticketed for Saturday’s $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes. Bayerd worked 3 furlongs in :37.60 Monday morning.

A ‘Bold’ Move

Bold Conquest completed major preparations for Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) by working a half-mile in :48.60 a little more than an hour after the track opened for training Monday morning.

Clockers had Bold Conquest galloping out five furlongs in 1:01.80 following a final quarter-mile of :24. The track was rated fast, despite rain Sunday.

“He’s doing extremely well,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “We lucked out with the race track today. I was very concerned with all the rain in the area, but it was a good track again this morning. His last two works have been the two best works of the year. It’s a good time to be doing so.”

Bold Conquest is coming off a third-place finish in the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14.

Other locally based horses scheduled to run in the Arkansas Derby are Far Right, The Truth Or Else, and Mr. Z.

Bridget’s Big Luvy, who arrived from Maryland last week, worked a bullet half-mile (:47.40) Sunday morning for trainer Jeremiah Englehart. The Tiz Wonderful colt arrived last week after winning the $100,000 Private Terms Stakes March 21 at Laurel.

Post positions for the 79th Arkansas Derby will be drawn Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. in the first floor of Oaklawn’s Grandstand.

From ‘Z’ to ‘A’

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Mr. Z is headed to Saturday’s $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) following a half-mile work in company Monday morning, the colt’s first breeze since finishing last in the $750,000 Louisiana Derby (G2) March 28 at Fair Grounds.

Lukas said Mr. Z, who is again equipped with blinkers, is scheduled to be ridden for the first time Saturday by Ramon Vazquez, Oaklawn’s second-leading jockey this year.

Although Zayat Stables also owns champion American Pharoah, who will be heavily favored in the Arkansas Derby, Lukas noted a high finish Saturday would insure Mr. Z a berth in the Kentucky Derby. The Arkansas Derby – as a Kentucky Derby qualifying race – offers 100 points to the winner, 40 to second, 20 to third and 10 to fourth. Points in designated races determine eligibility if more than the maximum 20 horses enter. Mr. Z currently ranks 30th with 14 points.

“I think he’s still on the radar for the Derby,” Lukas said, referring to the Kentucky Derby. “If he were to run in the first three, or something like that, he would earn a spot. That’s the other side of the coin.”

American Pharoah, the reigning 2-year-old male champion, was a runaway winner of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) March 14, the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. The colt, who is based in Southern California with trainer Bob Baffert, is scheduled to arrive Wednesday. He completed major preparations for the Arkansas Derby by working six furlongs in 1:11.60 Sunday morning at Santa Anita.

Mr. Z and Hillbilly Style, a 3-year-old male stablemate, breezed over a fast-rated surface about 10 minutes after the track opened for training Monday. Both horses were credited with :48.20.

Mr. Z came to Oaklawn as a leading Kentucky Derby candidate, but finished third in the track’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 19 and $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 22 before finishing last in the Louisiana Derby. Lukas said he had no explanation for Mr. Z’s poor performance in the Louisiana Derby, but added the blinkers off experiment didn’t work.

Mr. Z had worn blinkers in his last five starts, including narrow losses in the $1 million Delta Jackpot Stakes (G3) Nov. 22 at Delta Downs and in the $500,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) Dec. 20 at Los Alamitos.

“I thought he worked well,” Lukas said.

Lukas said Hillbilly Style, who is owned by Willis Horton of Marshall, Ark., is scheduled to run in Saturday’s $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes.

Lukas and Horton have also teamed with recent champions Will Take Charge and Take Charge Brandi.

Here is the remaining schedule of this week’s Racing Festival of the South at Oaklawn:

Wednesday, April 8 – First post 1:30 p.m.

$100,000 Carousel Stakes

Thursday, April 9 – First post 1:30 p.m.

$300,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap

Friday, April 10 – First post 1:30 p.m.

$600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap

$100,000 Bachelor Stakes

Saturday, April 11 – First post 12:30 p.m.

$1 million Arkansas Derby

$600,000 Oaklawn Handicap

$100,000 Instant Racing Stakes

$100,000 Northern Spur Stakes


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