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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Fletcher’s horses making plenty of noise

by Wally Hall | February 8, 2023 at 3:07 a.m.

Every time the University of Arkansas plays Kentucky in basketball, there's a flood of memories.

Such as the first time Nolan Richardson took a team into Rupp Arena and won. Then there was his last game there, which wasn't so joyous.

Of course, Wildcat basketball is wildly popular in the Bluegrass State, but what makes the needle pop is thoroughbred racing. It is the sport of kings and a huge industry in Kentucky.

Much of horse racing runs through Lexington and Louisville, but in recent years to get to the Kentucky Derby you had to go through Arkansas, and this might be an exceptional year.

While it is still a long road to May 6 and the Run for the Roses, a major player may be Frank Fletcher, a multi-dimensional businessman, who is in the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame, and the owner of Frank Fletcher Racing.

Last Saturday, there was an unusual amount of interest in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita because trainer Bob Baffert had all four of the entries.

However, the big crowd and excitement was 2,718 miles across the country at Gulfstream Park that drew an enthusiastic 40,000 fans for the Holy Bull Stakes.

The second favorite in the wagering stalked the field, and when jockey Junior Alvarado asked him to run, he did like his hair was on fire. The big gray won by more than a length.

The horse is Rocket Can, owned by Fletcher. BloodHorse magazine's headline was: Rocket Can Blasts Into Derby Picture With Holy Bull win.

Sunday, Thoroughbred Daily News updated its top five horses for the Kentucky Derby and Rocket Can was No. 4.

The No. 1 choice was Arabian Knight, trained by Baffert, who is fresh off winning the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn, but rumor is he is not the horse Baffert will send to the Arkansas Derby.

Fletcher has been in racing for more than 20 years, and he's had success, but this year may be his best.

He's had five starts this season and won four times, including Frank's Rocket, Candy Man Rocket and Victory Formation, who he co-owns with legendary Spendthrift Farms, winner of the Smarty Jones.

Victory Formation is trained by Brad Cox. Rocket Can is trained by Bill Mott, and the plan is to not run them against each other in the Arkansas Derby.

Rocket Can is probably looking at the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, and if he does well there, the Florida Derby would be next.

All indications are Victory Formation is aiming for the Arkansas Derby.

Again, it is a long way to the Kentucky Derby but Fletcher may be the only owner in the country with two legitimate threats to run on the first Saturday in May.

All the horses Fletcher owns by himself have the name Rocket in them in honor 0f his favorite dog.

Rocket Can is regally bred and has the great sire Tapit in his bloodline, but he was not the result of a sale.

At his first sale the highest bid was below the minimum so the breeders, Woodford Thoroughbreds, kept him only to change their mind and decide to let him go for what the bid had been at the sale.

Mott found out, contacted Fletcher and the horse has now won $249,738, which is more than he sold for.

In his past three races, all two turns (1 1/16 mile), he has won twice and was second once. He didn't have a great speed figure in the Holy Bull, but the pace didn't favor stalkers and he was wide on both turns, but he was impressive enough to jump into the rankings.

Fletcher's toughest decision may be will he be at Gulfstream with Rocket Can or Oaklawn with Victory Formation on April 1 when the Florida and Arkansas derbies are run.

Print Headline: Fletcher’s horses making plenty of noise


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