An unexpected entry, a rolling thunderstorm and a wet track
combined to give Heaven’s Runway a surprising third-place finish behind Super
Ninety Nine in Monday’s Grade 3 Southwest at Oaklawn Park, but those unique circumstances
are tempering any Derby Fever among his connections. The three-year-old son of
Run Away and Hide will
likely make an all-or-nothing play to get into the Kentucky Derby by racing
next in the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby at the Hot Springs, Arkansas,
track on April 13.
With a new points system in place to gain entry into an
oversubscribed Kentucky Derby, by holding on for the show spot at nearly 60-1 in
Monday’s race Heaven’s Runway managed to make only a small blip on the radar
screen. The two points he earned for owners Dr. K.K. Jayaraman and his wife,
Dr. Devi Jayaraman, and trainer Joe Martin won’t help much in May. But rather
than chase points in a race like the Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel on March 16 at
the team will rest up and aim for the season finale in April.
“The Doc seems to be really planning on going straight to
the Arkansas Derby,” Martin explained. “I know he would need
points, but right now he seems pretty convinced. We’d have to win the Arkansas
Derby, I know, but Doc seems pretty sure this is what he wants to do.”
Jayaraman is best known for campaigning Summer Bird to a
championship season in 2009 with wins in the Belmont Stakes, Grade 1 Travers and
Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Famously demanding of his trainers, he has hired
and fired dozens of conditioners in 25-plus years in racing — including
himself, he often adds with a chuckle.
Martin credited Jayaraman for entering
Heaven’s Runway in the Southwest at the last minute despite three previous disappointing races on
natural dirt. His last win came in the Fitz Dixon Jr. Memorial Juvenile on the synthetic
Tapeta at Presque Isle Downs last September.
“He’s doing good and we’re so happy with the way he ran
(Monday),” Martin said. “It’s always great to run like that and show up at big
odds. This colt, when he won the Presque Isle race, he was a big price (16-1)
and I won that race last year with another horse (Big Wednesday, 22-1) also at a
big price. So I know strange things can happen in races like that. And that mud
can change a lot of stuff.”
While Heaven’s Runway will be skipping the Rebel, trainer Danele Durham is
looking forward to that 8 1/2-furlong contest with Texas Bling, who finished
ninth in the Southwest.
“God Bless him, he
never even ran hard enough to get a work out of it. He’s doing great,” Durham
said. “We’ll send
him back to track and get ready for the Rebel.
“You hate to blame the
track because they all had to run over it, but our horse just didn’t handle it.
Kudos to the winner.”
Texas Bling entered the Southwest off a neck second in the Smarty Jones going
a mile on January 21. Prior to that, the Too Much Bling sophomore was a nice
winner of the Remington Springboard Mile in early December.
Finishing just head of Texas Bling in the Southwest was Brown Almighty, who
trainer Tim Ice said would be abandoning the dirt now.
“That was our last
race on dirt. He’s trained really well on the dirt, but he was just climbing
Monday,” Ice explained. “We could blame the track, but the owners and I don’t like excuses. He’s
already proven himself on the turf, so hopefully we’ll have a really nice turf
horse this year.
“His next race will actually be the (March 11) OBS Sales Stakes on the Polytrack, but then we’ll nominate to all the big turf stakes.”