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story.lead_photo.caption Norman McKnight

HOT SPRINGS -- Stakes races typically serve for horsemen as long-range targets for their best horses, but sometimes they are simply the best available option.

Norman McKnight, a Canadian trainer in his 20th season, but first at Oaklawn Park, said he hoped to find a race of a mile or longer for his 3-year-old colt Inge, but when he saw there weren't enough entrants of similar ilk to fill such a race today, he decided to give Inge a shot with stakes company.

Despite a field that includes Steve Asmussen-trainee Mitole -- the 1-2 morning-line favorite -- McKnight entered Inge in the $125,000 6-furlong Gazebo Stakes for 3-year-olds.

Post time for the Gazebo, in which Inge, Mitole, and four others are entered, is scheduled for 4:38 p.m.

"Basically, he's in there as a victim of circumstance," McKnight said. "I actually entered him in a starter-allowance the same day as the stake. That race got called off, so I just threw him into the stakes because it was light. By no means do I think he can win, but I thought if he runs well, we can get a piece of it."

Specific conditions for races are listed for each U.S. racetrack in guides known as condition books. Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope seeks for each racing day to find enough horsemen, with horses who meet the conditions, willing and able to enter eight or more qualified horses to fill the number of races scheduled. On most days, including today, there are nine races on Oaklawn's card.

Pope said stakes races are an exception to the required field of eight or more entries.

McKnight felt Inge, by Victor's Cry, was ready to compete but couldn't find a race to fill at a distance he considered optimal. He consequently settled on the Gazebo, but he said he was optimistic enough to at least hope for a measure of success.

Common to races early in 3-year-olds' season-opening campaigns, most in the Gazebo's field are lightly raced, including Mitole, a son of Eskendereya and maternal grandson of Indian Charlie owned by William and Corinne Heiligbrodt. A start in the Gazebo would come as the fourth of Mitole's career and his third at Oaklawn. Mitole earned his first career win in his last, a 10-length victory at 6 furlongs over nine others in 1:09.6 on Feb. 3.

"I don't expect to beat Asmussen's colt in this race, but [if Inge] can finish second, third, fourth, I'd be very satisfied," McKnight said.

Inge, owned by Canadian Bruno Schickedanz, ran five races between 5 and 7 furlongs on Woodbine Racetrack's synthetic surface in Toronto as a 2-year-old last summer and fall, with two wins and a third. In his first race at Oaklawn and on dirt, Inge finished third in an allowance race over 6 furlongs, 3 lengths behind the winner timed in 1:11.2 over a sloppy track.

"It wasn't a bad effort," McKnight said. "We weren't disappointed in it."

Following a week of heavy rainfall, an off track for the Gazebo would not come as a surprise.

"I would say it's a safe bet to say the track will be a little bit on the sloppy side," McKnight said Friday morning. "Although, even with all the torrential rain we had all day yesterday, remarkably, I thought the track was in amazing shape this morning. The track crew deserves a lot of kudos for the job they've done with this track for the amount of rain we've had."

McKnight, whose trainees have recorded 6 wins, 4 seconds, and 3 thirds in 31 starts at Oaklawn. said he hopes to return to the track in 2019.

"I have really enjoyed it here," he said. "I'm happy. We'd like to do a little better, but we're holding our own. Later on, if we get fortunate to get some fast tracks and hit the right spots with some of these, I'm sure we'll win a lot more before we leave."

Sports on 02/24/2018

Print Headline: Inge gets stake taste in Gazebo

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