Fa­vorite the fastest in Cot­ton field of 8

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - PETE PERKINS

HOT SPRINGS — Heart­wood, the 2-1 fa­vorite by Tapit, edged ahead down the stretch and held off a late rush to win by a halflength over sec­ond-place Con­trol Stake to win the $100,000 6-fur­long King Cot­ton Stakes in 1:09.99 on Satur­day at Oak­lawn Park.

Gordy Florida, the leader un­til the fi­nal 1/16 of a mile on a track rated fast be­fore a crowd es­ti­mated at

12,500, fin­ished third, a neck be­hind Con­trol Stake and a half-length in front of fourth-place Bour­bon Cow­boy. Wilbo, the 2-1 sec­ond choice and last year’s King Cot­ton win­ner, fin­ished fifth, 5 lengths be­hind the win­ner.

Ex­pected starters Dan the Go to Man and Sight­for­soreeyes scratched.

“He ran very hard,” Heart­wood’s jockey David Co­hen said. “[Gordy Florida] re­ally dug in and made me re­ally have to work for it. It didn’t come easy. I re­ally thought I would get that type of setup, and my horse showed a lot of heart, kind of lived up to his name.”

Heart­wood made 13 starts in 2018, in­clud­ing a sec­ond-place fin­ish in the Grade III 6-fur­long Fall High­weight Hand­i­cap at Aqueduct in New York on Nov. 22 — un­der 131 pounds — and a third-place in his pre­vi­ous race, the Grade III 7-fur­long Mr. Prospec­tor Stakes at Gulf­stream Park in Hal­lan­dale, Fla., on Dec. 22. He started seven graded stakes races last sea­son.

Heart­wood breezed 6 fur­longs in 1:10 at The Thor­ough­bred Cen­ter near Lex­ing­ton, Ky., on Jan. 27. He car­ried 118 pounds in the King Cot­ton. He is trained by James Chap­man and co-owned by Chap­man and Stu­art Tsu­ji­moto, who

stood with Heart­wood in the Larry Sny­der Win­ner’s Cir­cle on his first trip to Oak­lawn.

“It’s been a real nice trip,” Tsu­ji­moto said. “Ev­ery­body told me how friendly ev­ery­body is here. I ap­pre­ci­ate it. I like com­ing here. We’ll have to come back.”

A trip for the Oak­lawn’s Grade III 6-fur­long Count Fleet Sprint Hand­i­cap on April 13 is a pos­si­bil­ity, Tsu­ji­moto said.

Gordy Florida, un­der Alex Birzer, took the lead shortly af­ter the start and led the field of eight through the first quar­ter-mile in 22.26, the half in 45.69 and 5/8ths in 57.71, all with Heart­wood in sec­ond, never fur­ther back than 11/2 lengths.

By Cac­tus Ridge and a ma­ter­nal grand­son of In­dian Char­lie, Gordy Florida, trained by Kenny Smith and owned by Dream Walkin Farms, drew at­ten­tion for his sec­ond-place fin­ish in Oak­lawn’s Smarty Jones Stakes in 2016, but he was in­jured in the South­west Stakes, in which he fin­ished a far-back 10th of 14 and was out for more than 11 months. He was lim­ited to a to­tal of six sprints through 2017 and 2018. The King Cot­ton was his first stakes start since the South­west.

“[Gordy Florida] ran re­ally well,” said Robertino Diodoro, trainer of Bour­bon Cow­boy.

Bour­bon Cow­boy, by Cow­boy Cal, fin­ished within a length and a neck of the win­ner at 13-1 un­der the di­rec­tion of jockey Or­lando Mo­jica.

“Our horse ran huge,” Diodoro said. “The win­ner’s a class horse, a very nice horse, and we’re def­i­nitely not dis­ap­pointed. Or­lando said he had tons of horse at the top of the lane, but he said the win­ner and the rest kept run­ning. They never quit. The horse ran too good to fin­ish fourth.”

Con­trol Stake, trained by Gre­gory Fo­ley and rid­den by Ri­cardo San­tana, Jr., off at 9-2, was last through the half but just 51/2 lengths off the lead. He was fifth at the head of the stretch and sprinted past Gordy Florida 20 yards from the wire with Heart­wood just out of reach.

“To tell you the truth, I am very happy to fin­ish sec­ond,” San­tana said. “I thought we had a chance to catch the win­ner, but he was too good. He’s a very good horse.”

In his pre­vi­ous start, Con­trol Stake, by Dis­creetly Mine, strug­gled for run­ning room in the 6-fur­long Dun­can F. Ken­ner Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Or­leans on Jan. 19, but he found it late un­der San­tana, a six-time Oak­lawn rid­ing cham­pion, and closed rapidly through the wire to fall short by a neck to the win­ner Wynn Time, who fin­ished third in last sea­son’s Count Fleet.

Wilbo’s trainer Chris Hart­man, Oak­lawn’s train­ing cham­pion in 2015, said he was con­fi­dent be­fore the start, and he was pleased as the field turned into the stretch when Wilbo was fourth, 31/2 lengths off the lead

“We thought we had him ready to roll, but then we got to the last eighth of a mile,” Hart­man said. “When the rub­ber meets the road, it just didn’t work out for him.”

Wilbo, by Candy Ride and owned by Chris Wilkins, re­turned from a seven-month lay­off but had per­formed con­sis­tently well at Oak­lawn. In 2018, Wilbo won two of four starts on the race­track, with a sec­ond-place fin­ish in the Count Fleet.

“We’ll ex­pect a much bet­ter per­for­mance the next time he runs,” Hart­man said.

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