OAKLAWN PARK NOTEBOOK
JANUARY 25, 2007
by Mark Weatherton
After dodging foul weather, more than 20,000 fans showed up for corned beef, sunshine and horse racing on Friday. The corned beef and sunshine were about the only favorites to be found this past weekend as 15 of the 27 races produced winners that paid double figures, with seven paying more than $30. The two stakes races were both won by longshots.
The 5 1/2-furlong Dixieland S. for three-year-olds was the opening-day feature and provided an opportunity for connections to get a look at promising colts who may possess that combination of unique traits -- speed, stamina and good fortune -- that when massaged and molded just right might produce that modern-day unicorn - the Derby Horse. The training triumvirate that has dominated the Spa for the last several years -- Cole Norman, Steve Asmussen and Bob Holthus -- had entries in the field of 11.
However, Chris Richard, a conditioner new to Hot Springs, brought in IRISH DREAMER (Sahm), who was sent off at 15-1 by the public even though he had never been out of the money in sprints. Eddie Razo Jr., also new to the Spa, settled the bay just off the lead and moved him to the front for the drive. Essentially unchallenged on the final straight, the pair got home in a solid 1:04 2/5. While the trainer and rider were new faces, the owners were very familiar -- former Spa City residents Drs. K. and V. Jayaraman.
Late-running First Regent (Native Regent) was also sent off at 15-1 and completed the $346.40 exacta, with Sir Five Star (Five Star Day) at 10-1 on the bottom of the $2,642.80 trifecta. Post-time favorite Officer Rocket (GB) (Officer), a Grade 3 winner from the Holthus barn, broke in a tangle and was never a factor, but did come running well from last to finish fourth at the end. Meanwhile, the other pre-race buzz generator, Norman's Go Poppa Fooze (Exciting Story), ran well early but faded badly in the stretch to finish sixth.
Older fillies and mares were highlighted in Saturday's American Beauty S., and the trend of longshots continued as the two highest prices on the board -- COUNTRY DIVA (Songandaprayer) at 36-1 and Fast Deal (Grand Slam) at 28-1 -- posted a $937.20 exacta. Country Diva was shipped in off a loss at Mountaineer Park by trainer Michael Trivigno, who is winning off losses at a 46 percent rate, and picked up her sixth career victory by joining the early leaders and never quitting. As is often the case, much of the early running is done by the longest shots who soon fade. However, the top two not only didn't quit but put away the favorite in the late running. Fast Deal moved to the lead turning for home and only grudgingly gave way to the winner, who was being urged on by Ricardo Feliciano, as they battled over the last yards to finish a half-length apart at the line. It was the first Oaklawn Park stakes win for both Trivigno and for Feliciano.
In rider news, Terry Thompson's second win of the meet was career victory 2,000, coming aboard PEACE PLEDGE (Our Emblem) in the 5TH race on Sunday. The early riding lead is shared by Calvin Borel and Justin Shepherd, with three victories apiece.
D. Wayne Lukas, who has three victories and saddled seven of his 13 starters to finish in the money, led all conditioners. Ron Moquett, Richard, Jinks Fires and Steve Hobby have two wins each.
Normally quick starters, Norman and Holthus each led over eight starters but were shut out of the winners circle. Asmussen had one winner from 15 entries.
An oddity occurred in the 1ST race on Sunday in that the order of finish of the seven fillies was identical to their post position and program numbers, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7.
A hard lesson about track bias. After the 4TH race on Friday, all evidence pointed to a strong bias for late runners. Three of the first four races had been won from well back and the other by a horse from midpack. However, just as we were looking for closers, early speed won the next four, including two wire-to-wire scores. The last race went to a horse who was eighth of 10 at first call but came strong down the lane.
HORSES TO WATCH
1ST - MY LITTLE CONNOR (Petionville) ran a big race off a two-month freshening and should hold form next out.
3RD - First-time starter GEM OF A DANCER (Forever Dancer) was the last of 10 turning for home and responded to urging by Luis Quinonez. Powering by the field, she appeared to have plenty left at the wire. The chestnut miss could be a price on the stretch-out against Arkansas breds.
7TH - BEAT THE BAND (Lord Avie) was only a length behind a "horse-for-the-course" in a good effort off a layoff. The dark bay miss has done most of her running on grass but seemed to like the Spa surface. She should improve second out.
1ST - Lightly raced four-year-old RED THUNDER (Broad Brush) handled a salty group of $25k claimers in his third start for Alan Milligan after transferring from Bill Mott. After pressing the leaders through a half-mile, the colt moved to the front and held to the finish for his second win. Out of a Storm Cat mare, he could be a late bloomer.
6TH - STARBASE (Tale of the Cat) tried graded races in his last two outings and dropped back to this level perhaps to regroup after weakening in his last. The Lukas-trained three-year-old colt wired a first-level allowance field, going 1 1/16 miles in 1:46, and may have righted the ship. I look for him to move up for his next go.
1ST - HIGH HEELS (E Dubai) looked very classy striding to an eight-length victory and moved up the first condition rung in what was apparently a tightener in preparation for a stakes try.
9TH - JOYFUL GAL (Etbauer) ran a nice race to finish second to a class dropper who got away better. This was her third money placing in a row and all at different distances. The bay miss is a hard knocker.
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