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Jan 18, 2008

AMERICAN TURF CLUB LEAD

By: JOE GIRARDI


            Oaklawn Park opened its doors for the 2008 racing meeting on Friday, January 18th and runs through April 12th. This year’s meeting has even more excitement as the daily purses will be up again and many of the top outfits are pointing their stock to this meeting. Over the last few years Oaklawn has become the place to be when it comes to getting a three year old ready for the Triple Crown. SMARTY JONES, who wintered here in 2004 went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before finishing second in the Belmont Stakes. AFLEET ALEX followed suit next year, wintering at Oaklawn before winning the final two jewels of the Triple Crown. In 2006 LAWYER RON was the top three year old at Oaklawn; although he never did anything in the Triple Crown he showed last year as a four year old that he has a ton of talent. In 2007 the three year olds at Oaklawn didn’t disappoint as CURLIN who was very impressive in winning two of the three year old stakes last year went on to have a Horse of the Year campaign. It looks like he will come back this year which would be great for racing but as always you have to look at Oaklawn when evaluating the Road to the Triple Crown.

            The opening day stakes race is the Dixieland for three year olds at five and a half furlongs with a purse of $50,000 but don’t look for this race to have an impact on the Kentucky Derby. A month later the Southwest stakes for three year olds at one mile gets things under way on the Road to the Triple Crown and this race carries a purse of $250,000. On March 15th the Rebel Stakes is the next progression on the lead to the Derby at Oaklawn, a race for three year olds at 1 and 1/16th miles with a purse of $300,000. On closing day the highlight of the Oaklawn meeting will be the Arkansas Derby for three year olds at 1 and 1/8th miles with a purse of $1 million dollars. These three races will be very important on the Road to the Triple Crown and based on the last few years look for many trainers to consider coming to Oaklawn instead of some of the other winter spots.

            Even though the three year olds get the most attention Oaklawn hosts some races for older horses too. On the weekend of March 8th and 9th Oaklawn will host the Razorback Breeders’ Cup handicap for four year olds and upward with a purse of $150,000 to be run at 1 and 1/16th miles. This race is a prep for the Oaklawn Handicap on April 5th for four year olds and upward at 1 and 1/8th miles with a purse of $500,000. On March 9th the Azeri Breeders’ Cup will be run at 1 and 1/16th miles with a purse of $175,000 and this will serve as a prep for the Apple Blossom which will be run on April 5th at 1 and 1/16th miles with a purse of $500,000. These races usually attract the top horses in the country as evidenced by last year’s win by LAWYER RON in the Oaklawn Handicap before going on to have a very good year coming up short to CURLIN few times when it counted.

            Again the jockey colony will be strong. Last year’s leading jockey Luis Quinonez will be back along with the third place finisher Calvin “Bo-rail” Borel who had a breakout year winning the Kentucky Derby with STREET SENSE along with having a very good year at Saratoga when he stayed there for the meeting. The top five jockeys were only separated by 17 wins last year and with the colony strong again look for another competitive meeting among the jockeys.

            Last year’s leading trainer was Steve Asmussen who had 36 wins and was the trainer of CURLIN, his winning percentage was a solid 24% with an in the money percentage of 58%. Asmussen should be very tough again as he will come in with a loaded stable. Jorge Lara finished second with Chris Richard finishing third and both of them will be tough with a little luck. Chris Richard had a winning percentage of 32% with only 62 starters. On paper the jockeys and trainers races look very competitive which bodes well for the racing. With the instant racing and additional gaming helping the purses, Oaklawn has gotten it right; they are making their racing product strong. This is what the plan was for the slot machines; help with the purses and this way you can build up your racing product; kudos to Oaklawn. Good Luck to them and those who play the meeting.

            For more information on Oaklawn Park, pick up a copy of American Turf Monthly’s February issue containing its annual Oaklawn Preview on sale now or call 800-645-2240 to get a subscription.



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