(Mr. Big News, right, rallied to win the Oaklawn Stakes over Farmington Road and Taishan / Coady Photography & Courtesy of Oaklawn Park)
From the Oaklawn Park Media Team:
The top three finishers in last Saturday’s $200,000 Oaklawn Stakes receive automatic berths into the Arkansas Derby. While next-race plans are pending for the winner, Mr. Big News, the second- and third-place finishers are targeting the $750,000 Grade 1 race May 2 at Oaklawn, their respective trainers said.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said in a text message Thursday morning that Farmington Road came out of his runner-up finish in “good shape” and is “pointing for the Arkansas Derby,” adding the late-running son of Quality Road is still at Oaklawn after previously being based in south Florida.
Farmington Road, who added blinkers, closed from far back to finish a half-length behind Mr. Big News in the 1 1/8-mile race. Farmington Road was running for the first time since a fourth-place finish in the split $400,000 Risen Star Stakes (G2) Feb. 15 at Fair Grounds.
Farmington Road finished 3 ¼ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Taishan, the slight 5-2 second choice in the 13-horse Oaklawn Stakes field. Taishan raced about five lengths off a sizzling early pace – :45.47 for a half-mile over a sloppy, sealed surface – and took the lead turning for home before being overhauled by the late-running Mr. Big News and Farmington Road.
Taishan was making his first start since a sharp first-level allowance victory on the Rebel Stakes undercard March 14. The $1 million Rebel (G2) is traditionally the final major local prep for the Arkansas Derby. Taishan came out of the Oaklawn Stakes in good shape physically, trainer Richard Baltas said Wednesday afternoon, and has already returned to the track to train for the Arkansas Derby.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t take a shot,” Baltas said. “I think the horse is doing well. I got his sheet number. It was actually like his best number ever. On the Thoro-Graphs, it was a 4. He has been running 5s. I thought he ran well. It was a very hot pace, he was parked wide, he made a little premature move, I think. He was actually one of the few horses that actually didn’t … the other horses came from way far back. They were flying. Obviously, we were hoping at the top of the lane that he would keep going. In hindsight, to look at the chart, it looked like he ran a pretty good race.”
Taishan is among eight horses on the grounds for Baltas, who is based in Southern California. His Oaklawn division is overseen by assistant Aimee Dollase.
Mr. Big News, a 46-1 winner under Gabriel Saez, came out of the race in good order, trainer Bret Calhoun said in a text message Thursday morning, but added he’s “not sure about the Arkansas Derby yet.” Mr. Big News was racing for the first time since finishing fifth in the other division of the Risen Star Stakes. He returned Sunday to his Fair Grounds base.
Mr. Big News and Farmington Road were entered in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) March 21 at Fair Grounds, but neither drew in from the also-eligible list.
Oaklawn flipped the dates of the 1 1/8-mile Arkansas Derby and the Oaklawn Stakes in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The Arkansas Derby will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, which has been moved from May 2 to Sept. 5.
Back to Work
Recent arrival and Grade 2 winner Venetian Harbor is scheduled to work Friday morning in advance of a scheduled start in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies May 1, trainer Richard Baltas said Wednesday afternoon.
Baltas said Venetian Harbor was scheduled to run in the $200,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G2) April 4 before being rerouted to Oaklawn. The filly joined Baltas’ local string after being flown Tuesday from Southern California.
“She’s been training forwardly and I just kind of wanted to get her there,” the Southern California-based Baltas said. “It seems like my horses are running better that have been there for a little bit, so that was kind of my decision to bring her early and not right on top of the race. Obviously, she’s a very talented horse and we’ll see what happens.”
A daughter of Munnings, Venetian Harbor has won 2 of 3 starts overall. She broke her maiden by 10 ¾ lengths Dec. 29 at Santa Anita and was a 9 ¼-length winner of her last start, the $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes (G2), Feb. 8 at Santa Anita.
The Fantasy will offer 170 points (100-40-20-10) to the top four finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Oaks, which has been moved from May 1 to Sept. 4. Oaklawn responded by moving the Fantasy from April 10 to May 1.
Also pointing for the Fantasy is British Idiom, who is on the grounds for trainer Brad Cox. British Idiom was the country’s champion 2-year-old filly after winning all three starts, including the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) Nov. 1 at Santa Anita.
Break Even, winner of the $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters last year at Oaklawn, is entered in Saturday’s ninth race, an allowance sprint for older females. …Everfast, runner-up in last year’s Preakness, is scheduled to make his 4-year-old debut in Saturday’s seventh race, an entry-level allowance at 1 mile. … Long Weekend remains on track to make his next start in the $100,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters April 25, trainer Tom Amoss said Wednesday afternoon. Long Weekend was a powerful gate-to-wire winner of $90,000 Gazebo Stakes March 21 in his last start. Grade 1 winner Eight Rings is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the 6-furlong Bachelor for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Eight Rings was flown Tuesday from Southern California to Arkansas.