HOT SPRINGS -- Oaklawn Park's Grade III, 6-furlong, $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for horses 4 years old looke like a match race today.
Two of racing's fastest sprinters head a five-horse field in the Count Fleet, the first of three graded stakes races at Oaklawn's second day of the three-day Racing Festival of the South. As the fourth race on a 12-race card, the Count Fleet has a post-time scheduled for 2:18 p.m.
William and Corinne Heiligbrodt's Mitole, a son of Eskendereya and maternal grandson of Indian Charlie, has won his past four races and is the 4-5 morning-line favorite. Robert LaPenta's Whitmore, a son of Pleasantly Perfect trained by Ron Moquett, has won six consecutive sprints at Oaklawn, including the past two Count Fleets. He is the even-money second choice.
Mitole, trained by Steve Asmussen, returned from a 10-month layoff to win over a stakes-caliber field in an optional-claiming 6-furlong race at Oaklawn on March 2. Bourbon Cowboy, the 15-1 morning-line fourth choice in the Count Fleet, finished 4¼ lengths behind Mitole's winning time of 1:08.99.
"They've done things to warrant people wanting to stay to watch them run," Moquett said. "In my mind, these are two of the top stakes sprinters in the country."
Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. has ridden Mitole in his past six starts and Whitmore in his last nine, but Santana chose Mitole for the Count Fleet.
Moquett said he understands Santana's decision.
"His main client is Asmussen, and he has five times the horses I do," Moquett said. "It puts us at a disadvantage because we were left with someone who's never been on our horse."
Moquett will use Luis Saez, who is at Oaklawn for the Racing Festival of the South from Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., as Whitmore's rider.
"We definitely have a talented rider," Moquett said. "That's for sure, but still, familiarity is a big deal. The first time he will sit on him will be for the Count Flee. We've had good luck with him in New York and Kentucky."
Saez said he has watched several replays of Whitmore's speed.
"I know he's a very fast horse," Saez said. "I look forward to riding him. We'll see how it goes, but he has a good chance."
Whitmore has starred at Oaklawn throughout a career he began as a Kentucky Derby hopeful. In Oaklawn's 2016 season, Whitmore finished second in the Southwest Stakes and Rebel Stakes, and third in the Arkansas Derby. He finished 19th of 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, took seven months off, and has since raced in 18 consecutive sprints, with results that include a second-place finish in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Sprint on Nov. 3 at Churchill.
Whitmore returned to Oaklawn this season for his third consecutive win in the $150,000, 6-furlong Hot Springs Stakes on March 9.
The National Weather Service predicts an 85 percent to 100 percent chance of rain this afternoon in Hot Springs, with an accumulation of 2 or more inches.
Whitmore won over a wet track at Oaklawn in the Hot Springs Stakes. Mitole finished second in last season's $125,000 6-furlong Gazebo Stakes over a sloppy track at Oaklawn.
"Whitmore's training great and doing everything the right way," Moquett said. "Now we're going to get to find out about sloppy weather."
Sports on 04/13/2019
Print Headline: Top sprinters prepare for showdown