OPINION — Like It Is

OPINION | WALLY HALL: As racing world watched, Oaklawn delivered

HOT SPRINGS -- A picturesque day of racing at Oaklawn Racing Casino and Resort.

Blue skies, slight breeze, sunshine and spring temperatures with enough story lines to fill up every section of your daily newspaper.

With 13 races -- four of them stakes races including the Grade I Arkansas Derby and with more than $3.3 million in purses -- this Arkansas jewel was the focus of racing in America on Saturday.

The Derby itself had incredible tales to tell.

A one-eyed horse named Un Ojo, who won the Rebel Stakes at 75-1 odds and has won more than three-quarters of a million bucks after being purchased as a 2-year-old for $25K, was a story line.

Then there was Secret Oath, who already qualified for the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, so wily veteran trainer D. Wayne Lukas decided to run her against the boys and see if she could qualify for the Kentucky Derby, too.

Lukas has past luck running fillies against colts. He is unafraid of a challenge.

Doppleganger brought his own saga to Oaklawn from Santa Anita, where he is trained by Bob Baffert, who has failed four times to get a stay against the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's suspension. So the official trainer for Doppleganger was Tim Yakteen.

Baffert-trained Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby last May, but was found to have too much of a medication that is not allowed on racing day. He later died.

Then there was Cyberknife, a bit of a mystery horse as he shipped in from Fair Grounds in New Orleans, where he broke his maiden and won an optional claiming race. He cost $400,000 and is considered talented but green.

His connections flew in for the race, and it was worth every penny of what it cost.

Cyberknife broke alertly and raced in fourth place until jockey Florent Geroux felt the pace slowing down and knew that wasn't to his mount's liking. On the backstretch he rushed him up between horses, picking them off with ease. But Secret Oath had just started rolling.

At the head of the stretch, Geroux had Cyberknife in complete control, 4 lengths off the rail. When Secret Oath made her move, she didn't have enough to catch the winner.

It was the final of the three big stakes races won by Geroux.

If Cyberknife comes back healthy -- and there's no reason to think he won't -- he and Geroux punched their tickets to the Kentucky Derby.

The Carousel Stakes turned into a stretch duel, but favored Frank's Rockette got shuffled back to fourth to start the race and came up a neck short to Acting Out, who went wire-to-wire. Frank's Rockette is owned by Frank Fletcher, who like Steve Landers, is a local guy who is just good for thoroughbred racing.

Baffert did have the favorite in the Oaklawn Mile, Cezzane, but the best horse was Fulsome, who broke badly out of the gate and was dead last going into the first turn. But midway down the back stretch, he started making up ground with every stride.

Cezzane had the lead by the head of the stretch but not for long as Geroux loosened the reins. Fulsome took the lead and won, paying $18.80 to win.

The Fantasy had strong local flavor with Landers' Mariah's Fortune and favorite Bubble Rock, who is owned by John Ed Anthony, one of the most successful owners in Arkansas history having won races in six decades.

Bubble Rock had never run on real dirt, racking up two wins on the turf and one on synthetic dirt.

Yuugiri, though, took the early lead and then held off Beguine at the finish line for her second win in five starts.

As the world watched, Oaklawn delivered.

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