Oak­lawn open­ing day

Two horses in last year’s Ken­tucky Derby ready for sea­son.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - PETE PERKINS

HOT SPRINGS — Oak­lawn Park’s live rac­ing sea­son, sched­uled for 57 days, is set to break from the gates at 12:35 p.m. to­day when a field of 12 3-year-old fil­lies match up at 6 fur­longs.

On a day when more than $420,000 in purse money will be dis­trib­uted over nine races, the win­ning con­nec­tions of the first race — a maiden claimer — reap $15,600 from the $26,000 over­all purse.

That’s im­por­tant money to those in­volved in the daily grind of thor­ough­bred rac­ing, but not the ul­ti­mate goal for those who la­bor day af­ter day on the back­stretch, and not the rea­son some of the top 3-year-olds in the na­tion have taken up res­i­dence at Oak­lawn.

As­pi­ra­tions among horse­men vary along a nearly in­fi­nite spec­trum, but many at Oak­lawn have a com­mon dream, one that in­volves a run of suc­cess over the next three months that leads to the pin­na­cle of rac­ing — the Ken­tucky Derby on the first Satur­day of May.

The first steps are un­der­way.

Two horses cur­rently sta­bled at Oak­lawn ran in last sea­son’s Ken­tucky Derby, a tar­get met through their per­for­mances in Oak­lawn’s Derby prep se­ries last win­ter and spring.

Whit­more, trained by Ron Mo­quett, is en­tered for Sun­day, though a weather-based de­ci­sion on his par­tic­i­pa­tion won’t come un­til as lit­tle as min­utes be­fore the start.

The other 2016 Derby starter on the grounds, Sud­den break­ing news, trained by Don­nie K. Von Hemel, won’t race be­fore next week.

Snow­fall and frigid weather elim­i­nated four days of train­ing last week and kept Sud­den break­ing news off the track long enough for Von Hemel to ex­er­cise cau­tion with his star, who has not raced since a 5th-place fin­ish in the West Vir­ginia Derby on Aug. 6.

“We ended up miss­ing too much time for a horse that hadn’t run in sev­eral months to be at his best,” Von Hemel

said. “There are some pos­si­bil­i­ties in the com­ing week. A lot of it will have to do with

whether races fill or not. We’ll have to wait and see how it all shakes out.”

Be­fore weather in­ter­vened, Von Hemel said he hoped to run Sud­den break­ing news in to­day’s $125,000 Fifth Sea­son Stakes, a 11/ 16- mile race for horses 4-years-old and up.

Sud­den break­ing news fin­ished fifth in last sea­son’ s Ken­tucky Derby, 7 lengths be­hind win­ner Nyquist, but less than a neck out of third.

“The main thing as a trainer go­ing into the Derby is, you know there’s 20 horses, so you just want your horse to show up and run as much as he could run,” Von Hemel said. “He showed up and ran his race, and, for me, I was very sat­is­fied with what he did in the Derby.”

Von Hemel said horses like Sud­den break­ing news help keep him in the game.

“That’s what we’re all out here bang­ing our heads for,” Von Hemel said. “It’s al­ways

an exciting spe­cial time. If you’ve been in the busi­ness for a long time, you un­der­stand how spe­cial hav­ing a horse run in the Derby is.”

Whit­more is en­tered in a 6-fur­long al­lowance-op­tional claim­ing race Sun­day, but Mo­quett said he will as­sess the track con­di­tions be­fore Whit­more starts.

“It’ll have to be safe for him,” Mo­quett said. “If I’m con­fi­dent it is, we feel good about our chances.”

Mo­quett will be rep­re­sented in The Fifth Sea­son by 7-year-old horse For Greater Glory, who has earned $331,245 in 31 ca­reer starts, with more than a third of that com­ing at Oak­lawn.

“If the oth­ers go out too fast, I re­ally like our chances,” Mo­quett said.

Dis­creet­ness, win­ner of last year’s Smarty Jones and a par­tic­i­pant in all four of Oak­lawn’s Derby preps, fell just short of the mak­ing the

Derby Field. Nev­er­the­less, his per­for­mances and abil­ity were enough to in­spire trainer Jinks Fires.

“Those kind of horses that show a lot of prom­ise, they make you get up ev­ery morn­ing,” Fires said. “They make you show up at the barn ev­ery morn­ing feel­ing great.”

Dis­creet­ness, who drew the rail for to­day’s Fifth Sea­son, will be mak­ing his first start since two un­suc­cess­ful turf races, the last com­ing Nov. 12 at Churchill Downs.

“I’m pretty op­ti­mistic that we have a shot to come run­ning if ev­ery­thing goes well,” Fires said.

Oak­lawn rac­ing sec­re­tary Pat Pope said the tim­ing of last week­end’s cold and snow, while far from ideal, could have been much worse.

“Weather would not have been good to us last week,” Pope said. “But here we are, and there’s no doubt we’re open­ing to­mor­row. For this

time of year, the weather’s per­fect.”

The Na­tional Weather Ser­vice pre­dicts a high of 52 with a 40 per­cent chance of rain this af­ter­noon in Hot Springs.

“Ev­ery­body I talked to over at the track is happy we don’t have ice or snow,” Dis­creet­ness owner Dwight Pruett said. “I think we’re kind of look­ing for­ward to the rain in­stead of that.”

Train­ing was sus­pended for four days be­cause of the freez­ing tem­per­a­tures.

Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas has Mr. Z, a 2015 Ken­tucky Derby en­trant, in the the Fifth Sea­son. He said he is al­ways ea­ger for the Oak­lawn sea­son be­gin.

“There’s a great at­mos­phere around this track, and the whole com­mu­nity en­dorses it,” Lukas said. “I don’t think there’s any area in the United States that ap­pre­ci­ates rac­ing more than they do here.”

The Sen­tinel-Record/RICHARD RAS­MUSSEN

Ex­er­cise rid­ers leave the sta­ble area and head to the rac­ing track at Oak­lawn Park in Hot Springs on Thurs­day. Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice, a chance of rain is ex­pected in the area to­day when the rac­ing sea­son of­fi­cially be­gins. Nine races are Stakes slated to take place, in­clud­ing the $125,000 Fifth Sea­son.

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