By Jennifer Hoyt —-
Young Guns Make Big Splash Opening Weekend
Twenty-somethings have made a huge splash in the rider standings through the first week of racing at Oaklawn.
Newcomers C.J. McMahon and David Cabrera – both represented by agent Joe Santos – are among a five-way tie atop the standings with four victories through four days of racing.
Also tied for leading rider are Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, 54, and 2000 Oaklawn champion Jon Court, who is 57.
“It’s not easy being the young guys around – David being 25 and C.J and I being 23,” said Santos, the son of retired Hall of Fame jockey Jose Santos. “But we don’t focus on that. We just come in and do our best on a daily basis. Hopefully that continues to pay off as it has opening week.”
Only one winner for McMahon and Cabrera has paid less than $10 so far.
McMahon swept last Friday’s opening-day late daily double with Sonneteer ($61.60) for trainer Keith Desormeaux in the $125,000 Fifth Season Stakes for older horses and Spotitude ($60.80) for trainer Al Cates of Hot Springs.
McMahon won Saturday’s sixth race aboard Light Bound Bid ($29) for trainer F. Dewaine Loy and Monday’s third race aboard Indian Gem ($15.20) for trainer Paul Holthus of Hot Springs. His only previous Oaklawn experience was four mounts at the 2016 meeting, highlighted by Street Strategy’s victory in the Fifth Season.
Cabrera, riding at Oaklawn for the first time, had one victory each day. He won Friday’s fourth race aboard Johnny Whip ($10.40) for trainer Karl Broberg, Saturday’s seventh race aboard Higher Power ($11.80) for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel, Sunday’s eighth race aboard Wilbo ($30.40) for 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman and Monday’s first race aboard favored Starstruck Kitten ($6) for trainer Clinton Stuart.
“We couldn’t have started off any better,” Santos said “C.J. and David are riding exceptional. They both put down the ground work for a great start and are getting handsomely paid for it.”
McMahon ($180,113) and Cabrera ($142,950) rank second and sixth, respectively, at the meet in purse earnings.
Desormeaux said he plans to return the Southern California-based Sonneteer to Oaklawn for the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) Feb. 19.
Higher Power, Von Hemel said, is a candidate for the $500,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds Feb. 19, Oaklawn’s second major Kentucky Derby prep.
Wilbo toppled an allowance/optional claiming field that featured winners of the last five runnings of Oaklawn’s King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters, including two-time champion Ivan Fallunovalot.
Santos said he’s “trying to be” all over the place with his riders, adding both arriving early in preparation for the 2018 meeting fueled last week’s success. The agent said McMahon has worked more than 100 horses since Dec. 8. Cabrera arrived shortly after the Remington Park meeting ended Dec. 17, Santos said.
“C.J., he laid down a lot of the groundwork himself, just by working hard,” Santos said. “We were able to break into some barns that we hadn’t been in before. David, he’s got a good buzz about him. He’s got some of the main barns supporting him that always do good over here.”
Santos’ main client at the 2016 and 2017 Oaklawn meetings was Didiel Osorio.
Boosted by strong off-track business, Monday’s all-source handle of $3,700,042 was a record for Smarty Jones Day and a 13.6 percent increase over the corresponding day last year, according to figures released by Oaklawn.
The previous all-source record for Smarty Jones Day ($3,434,918) was set in 2015. Oaklawn handled a Smarty Jones Day record $3,167,763 off track Monday, the first time mutuel play has topped $3 million on the special holiday program. The previous off-track record of $2,698,382 was set last year, when all-source handle totaled $3,257,973.
Monday’s nine-race program was anchored by the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, Oaklawn’s first of four major two-turn preps for the Kentucky Derby.
Smarty Jones earned Oaklawn’s $5 million “Centennial Bonus” in 2004 after winning the track’s Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby en route to champion 3-year-old male honors.
Oaklawn has run the Smarty Jones Stakes on a special holiday Monday card (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) since 2008.
The Six Million Dollar Man
Bob Baffert surpassed $6 million in career purse earnings at Oaklawn with Mourinho’s 3 ¼-length victory in Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds, the Hall of Fame trainer’s 24th victory in Hot Springs and 23rd in stakes company.
The Southern California-based Baffert ($6,021,609) needed only 50 starts to reach the milestone, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.
Baffert’s first Oaklawn starter, Arches of Gold, ran 11th against males in the $150,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) in 1993. The trainer’s first Oaklawn victory came the following year when Miss Gibson County was elevated to first following the race-related disqualification of Dances With Quack in the $75,000 Prima Donna Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters.
Baffert has dominated Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep series in recent years, winning 13 races since his first with Conveyance in 2010, the $250,000 Southwest Stakes (G3). He joined Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas as the only trainers to sweep all four legs of Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby prep series with Mourinho’s victory.
In addition to the Smarty Jones, Baffert has won the Southwest Stakes four times (Conveyance in 2010, Castaway and Secret Circle in a split race in 2012 and Super Ninety Nine in 2013); Rebel a record six times (Lookin At Lucky in 2010, The Factor in 2011, Secret Circle in 2012, Hoppertunity in 2014, American Pharoah in 2015 and Cupid in 2016); and Arkansas Derby twice (Bodemeister in 2012 and American Pharoah in 2015). American Pharoah went on to sweep the Triple Crown.
Mourinho’s victory pushed Baffert’s gaudy Oaklawn record to 24-9-5 from 50 starts, a 48-percent strike rate. His only non-stakes victory to date came when Broken Tango broke his maiden at the 2010 meeting.
The Dixie Belle
Unbeaten Amy’s Challenge drew post 6 for her 2018 debut, Saturday’s $125,000 Dixie Belle Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 6 furlongs.
Amy’s Challenge, who is campaigned by Novogratz Racing Stables Inc (Joseph Novogratz) and trainer Mac Robertson, beat males in both career starts last year at Canterbury Park, including the $75,000 Shakopee Juvenile Stakes Sept. 16.
Regular rider Jareth Loveberry is scheduled to pilot the Kentucky-bred daughter of Artie Schiller in the Dixie Belle.
Also entered are Getupbabygetup, Secret Passion, Vision of Justice, Thoughtless Doll, Mia Mischief and Minit to Stardom. Amy’s Challenge is the 3-2 program favorite.
Probable post time for the Dixie Belle, the eighth of nine races, is 4:38 p.m. (Central). Gates open Saturday at 11 a.m., with first post 1:05 p.m.
Live racing is scheduled to resume at 1:30 p.m. (Central) Friday after Thursday’s nine-race card was scrapped because of freezing temperatures. … Mourinho earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 99, a career high, for his 3 ¼-length wire-to-wire victory in Monday’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds. … Albaugh Family Stables LLC’s Tap of War is scheduled to make her 4-year-old debut in Friday’s eighth race, a first-level allowance sprint for older fillies and mares. Trained by Kelly Von Hemel, Tap of War is trying to become the 10th starter from the $200,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) last March at Oaklawn to return and win. The Honeybee, the key race of the 2017 Oaklawn meeting, had 11 starters, including subsequent Grade 1 winners Elate and It Tiz Well and budding grass star Lovely Bernadette, a multiple graded stakes winner who could possibly run at the meet, trainer Jimmy DiVito said. Tap of War is the 5-2 program favorite. Also entered in Friday’s race is Never Hungover, who gave Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas his 300th career Oaklawn victory at the 2017 meeting. … Bronze Age, one of only four horses to finish ahead of probable 3-year-old champion male West Coast during his nine-race campaign last year, is scheduled to make his 4-year-old debut and first start for his new connections in Saturday’s fifth race, a first-level allowance at a mile, for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs and owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong of Conway, Ark. Previously with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, the Lieblongs privately purchased Bronze Age following a third-place finish in an April 29 allowance/optional claimer at Santa Anita. Bronze Age broke his maiden last February at Santa Anita (the Baffert-trained West Coast was second in his career debut.