HOT SPRINGS -- Presidents Day weekend traditionally marks the starting point for Oaklawn Park's most important races, but never more so than this year.
Three of the 11 Oaklawn races granted elite status by the American Graded Stakes Committee are scheduled to be run this weekend, with the Grade III Bayakoa for older fillies and mares set to run today and two other Grade IIIs, the Razorback Handicap for older males and the Southwest Stakes for 3-year-olds, scheduled for Monday's holiday card.
The $500,000 Razorback goes as seventh race (4:09 p.m. post time) on Monday, with the $500,000 Southwest, the second of four stops on Oaklawn's Road to the Kentucky Derby, to be run as the ninth of 10 races. Post time for the Southwest is scheduled for 5:09 p.m.
All three races are scheduled to be run at 1 mile and 1/16th.
Last season, the Razorback was run in mid-March, the same day as the Grade II Rebel and Grade II Azeri Stakes.
Oaklawn General Manager Eric Jackson explained the rationale for moving the Razorback up a month.
"We've been so pleased with the way the Southwest Stakes has come up in recent years, we decided to build on that in the older divisions," Jackson said. "Until you get there and do it, you don't really know how it's going to work out, but it certainly looks excellent on paper at this point."
Superstar jockeys, Hall of Famer trainers, and notable local connections, including trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel, will be mixing it up.
Von Hemel has entrants in two of the weekend's graded races, and his father, Don, has an entrant in the Razorback -- the one race Donnie does not.
Donnie Von Hemel said he is happy anytime one of his horses wins a race, but there is a difference when it comes to stakes.
"There's no doubt that stakes races mean a lot to you, to your clients, the barn, and everyone else," Von Hemel said. "You get a little more pumped up than for an everyday maiden race, but it's still no feeling like I've ever had to win any race. But do stakes for $150,000, $200,000, $500,000 ... do they get you more pumped up than other ones? Yes. Yes, they do."
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen has Gun Runner, the third-place finisher in the 2016 Kentucky Derby, is on the grounds for the Razorback. Gun Runner was a Grade I winner in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 25 and won the 2016 Louisiana Derby.
Uncontested, who set stakes record in the 10th running of the 1-mile Smarty Jones on Jan. 16, will race in the Southwest for trainer Wayne Catalano and co-owner Harry Rosenblum of Little Rock.
Smarty Jones runner-up Petrov, trained by Ron Moquett, Rowdy the Warrior, third in the Smarty Jones and trained by Donnie Von Hemel, and Smarty Jones fourth-place finisher Warrior's Club, trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, will compete for the 17 Road to the Derby points available in the Southwest.
The top four finishers in the field of 13 will collect points on a 10-4-2-1 basis, and that includesAsmussen trainee Lookin at Lee, who is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 5,.
Eight are entered in the Bayakoa, including 6-5 morning-line favorite Terra Promessa, another of the stars from Asmussen's stable.
Terra Promessa won Oaklawn's $125,000 Pippin Stakes on Jan. 14, 2¼ lengths ahead of Von Hemel trainee Ready to Confess. Streamline, trained by Brian Williamson, finished third, 3 lengths behind Ready to Confess.
Terra Promessa's victory was her fourth in four starts at Oaklawn.
"The winner is undefeated here," Williamson said. "That says it all, really. That says it all. She's going to be tough."
Williamson said a few missed training sessions might have compromised Streamline in the Pippin.
"Even the jock, Chis Landeros, said she got a little tired," Williamson said. "She was blowing a little more than she usually does after the race."
Streamline has worked four times since the Pippin, each of the breezes over 5 furlongs between 1:01.8 seconds and 1:02.2.
"We're going to run at them again," Williamson said. "I've tried to make sure she doesn't come up short this time. We haven't missed a beat."
Terra Promessa led for all but the first 110 yards of the Pippin, but sprint specialist Super Saks, trained by Lukas, will likely change that today.
"With that Super Saks in there, there should be a lot of pace," Williamson said.
Super Saks won the 6-furlong Carousel Stakes during Oaklawn's Racing Festival of the South last season.
"Super Saks is probably going to make a pretty demanding pace," Von Hemel said. "There a couple others. I think it will be a different race, but sometimes you get what you're hoping for and it doesn't really turn out to be what you needed."
Moquett, who calls Hot Springs home, said he believes Oaklawn has earned and deserves weekends like this.
"The purses here make for very competitive races," he said. "For the horsemen, it's not easy to win here, but for the fans, look who they get to see here every year. I mean, it's not an accident that Curlin and Rachel Alexandra and Afleet Alex and Summer Bird and Lawyer Ron and Zenyatta and American Pharoah and all these guys come here. They come here because we have the equivalent of Wrigley Field in our backyard. It's just a classic place to watch horse racing."
Sports on 02/18/2017
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