HOT SPRINGS -- An outright dismissal of Arkansas-bred horses and their races has become a tradition among gamblers and armchair handicappers at Oaklawn.
The thing is, those state breds are beginning to hold their own.
Take for instance, Alex and JoAnn Lieblong's 4-year-old filly Bye Bye J, Saturday's winner of the $125,000 6-furlong Downthedustyroad Stakes for Arkansas-bred fillies and mares 3-years-old and up.
Bye Bye J, the 3-5 favorite ridden by Ricardo Santana, Jr., from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, returned from a nine-month layoff to win in 1:10.50 by 11/4 lengths over second-place Matapan, trained by Isai Gonzalez and ridden by Terry Thompson at 22-1. JRita Young Thoroughbred's Georgia's Reward, ridden by Ramon Vazquez and trained by Ron Moquett, finished third in the eight-horse field, 43/4 lengths behind the winner and 31/2 lengths in front of fourth-place Proud Victoria, with the same owner and trainer as Georgia's Reward.
Superstar Bea, Tiger Bait, and front-running Sekani scratched in the race held at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort and before an estimated crowd of 15,000.
In Bye Bye J's last start, she finished sixth of nine in the Grade III 6-furlong Adena Springs Miss Preakness Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Pimlico in Baltimore. She finished second in the Grade III 7-furlong Forward Gal Stakes at Gulfstream in Hallandale, Fla., to start last season, immediately after which she was purchased by the Lieblongs.
"She's a good, good filly," Alex Lieblong said.
Bye Bye J was first out of the gate but was quickly overcome at the rail by Adriel Gonzalez's Matapan, who led the eventual winner by a length through an opening quarter-mile in 22.78. Georgia's Reward was third, 11/2 lengths off the lead.
By the half-mile passed in 46.60, no more than a head separated the same trio of leaders, with Metapan still in front.
"After [Sekani] scratched, Gonzalez said she likes to run free and she's in the one hole, and the inside's been good, so we just went on with it," Thompson said.
Bye Bye J took the lead as the leaders approached the stretch. As they straightened for the wire, Metapan trailed by half a length, and Georgia's Reward fanned out toward the middle of the track, three lengths back but in position to pass horses if she were able.
"She tried hard," Moquett said. "I was very proud of her. She was in a good spot. If she was going to get [Bye Bye J], she was in a good spot to do it."
The winner was too much, as was long shot Matapan.
"I was just waiting to make my move, you know," Vazquez said. "It is a nice filly. My filly really, really worked hard, but the one in front, she was good."
Lieblong is an Arkansas native and said he takes particular delight in the success of his Arkansas-bred horses.
"I go to New York all the time, and as soon as they hear you talk, they say, 'Where are you from?' You say Arkansas and they kind of go. Well, you know," he said. "You know the old song, if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, but I think it's twice as hard in Arkansas."
Moquett is a native of eastern Oklahoma but says he grew up a fan of everything Arkansas. He now makes his home in Hot Springs.
"Arkansas-bred racing is getting a lot, lot better," he said. "I love to do well here, and I would love to get it to where these Arkansas-bred horses can go anywhere and compete anywhere in the country."
Thompson said, despite the antagonists, the Downthedustyroad was a solid race.
"You know what, those horses were running down the lane," Thompson said. "They were running. They go 1:10 and change. They both ran great races."
Sports on 02/23/2020
Print Headline: Bye Bye J gives owners something to cheer about