Trainers Bret Calhoun and Cody Autrey decided to out fox Mother Nature and sent their Southwest Stakes (G3) prospects to Evangeline Training Center in Carencro, LA for their final workouts Wednesday in preparations for Monday’s race, a key stop along the Arkansas Derby (G1) trail. Carenco is about six hours south of Oaklawn, which was forced to cancel four days of training and racing because of winter weather.
“Louies Flower and Son of Dixie both worked an easy half and galloped out 7/8ths,” Calhoun said. “It was a nice controlled work and went perfect. The plan right now is to run both in the Southwest. Both horses will ship back to Oaklawn on Saturday.”
Autrey is also is likely to have two runners in the Southwest with Smarty Jones winner Tanzanite Cat and impressive Oaklawn maiden winner Paganol, both owned by James and Ywachetta Driver.
“They worked together in 48 and a tick and galloped out in 1:01 3/5,” said Autrey. “That’s a real good work for that track.”
Paganol will be ridden by Oaklawn’s leading rider Norberto Arroyo Jr. and Tanzanite Cat will be ridden by Southern California-based jockey Corey Nakatani.
“Corey’s a good friend and a world class rider,” said Autrey. “He’s ridden a lot of winners for me.”
The $300,000 Southwest Stakes will be part of a special Presidents Day card at Oaklawn. First post is 1 p.m.
Tapiture and Walt Work between Races for Southwest
Oaklawn didn’t open its track Thursday morning for training in order to have it in tip top shape for racing, but that didn’t stop trainers Steve Asmussen and Chris Hartman from getting in final workouts for their Southwest hopefuls, who sent them out to work between the first and second races.
Asmussen’s Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) winner Tapiture, who had been training in New Orleans, worked a half mile in :50 flat in his first effort over the Oaklawn surface.
“I loved it,” said Asmussen. “The horse went over the racetrack well. That’s what we were hoping for. He showed up fit. I just wanted to give him a little feel of the racetrack.”
Hartman worked Smarty Jones runner-up Walt a half-mile in company with maiden Skydive under jockey Ken Tohill. The Run Away and Hide colt covered the distance in 47 1/5.
“It was a good work,” said Hartman. “It wasn’t exactly how we had planned it, because the other horse was supposed to be in front to start, but Walt finished up well, which was what we were looking for. We’ll see how he is in the morning and make our final decision about the race.”
Entries for the Southwest will be taken Friday morning and a field of between 10 and 12 horses is expected. Probables include Bourbonize, Coastline, Jet Cat, Kendall’s Boy, Louies Flower, Paganol, Ride On Curlin, Son of Dixie, Strong Mandate, Tapiture, Tanzanite Cat, and Walt.
Stealcase Leads 10-horse Field Entered in Saturday’s Essex Handicap
John Oxley’s Stealcase has taken a liking to Hot Springs and his connections are hoping that will pay off when he starts as the 7-2 morning line favorite and 118 pound highweight in Saturday’s $100,000 Essex Handicap. The 1 1/16-mile race will be the third start of the meet for the Lawyer Ron horse, who drew post one of 10.
“It was a last minute decision,” said trainer Mark Casse. “We had initially planned on passing the race, but he’s training well and maybe he has a little edge over some others who have been stabled at Hot Springs, but have not been able to train as much over the last week or two because of the weather. He’s gotten some conditioning just by racing. He’s a pretty fit horse after having two starts already.”
Stealcase finished third here in the Fifth Season Stakes January 14 and then won a $57,500 allowance/optional claimer by two lengths as the 2-1 favorite on January 26. It was his first win in six starts since capturing the 2012 Ontario Derby (G3).
“It was nice to see him back in the winner’s circle,” said Casse. “He’s a horse that we always thought a lot of, and he’s been disappointing, but maybe that will change now that he’s getting on (in age). He was a bit of a head case but maybe that’s changing now that he’s maturing. We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that he stays happy.”
Among Stealcase’s main challengers is a horse that is no stronger to Oaklawn’s winner’s circle. Win Willy, now in his sixth season at Oaklawn, has been a fan favorite since upsetting the 2009 Rebel Stakes (G2) at odds of 56-1 and winning the 2011 Oaklawn Handicap (G2). He was second in the 2011 Essex and third in the 2013 running of the race. He most recently returned from a six-month layoff to finish fifth in a one-mile allowance race Jan. 31.
“He needed that race last time out,” trainer Mac Robertson said. “He trained good after his last race and I expect him to move forward.”
The Essex field also features stakes winner Right to Vote, the impressive winner of that allowance race over Win Willy as well as fellow Essex starters Stachys and Mavericking; stakes winner Jaguar Paw, and Fair Grounds shippers Flashy Sunrise, Street Spice and Voodoo Storm.
The complete field for the $100,000 Essex Handicap, in post position order with riders, weights and morning line odds: Stealcase, Eurico Da Silva, 118, 7-2; Stachys, Luis Quinonez, 115, 12-1; Jaguar Paw, Calvin Borel, 115, 4-1; Street Spice, Alex Canchari, 114, 6-1; Right to Vote, Ricardo Santana Jr., 116, 4-1; Dreaming Blue, David Mello, 113, 20-1; Flashy Sunrise, Ramon Vasquez, 20-1; Mavericking, Israel Ocampo, 116, 8-1; Win Willy, Seth Martinez Jr., 116, 5-1, and Voodoo Storm, Norberto Arroyo Jr., 115, 12-1.
The Essex will be the seventh of 10-live races Saturday at 4:09 p.m. The card will also feature the $100,000 King Cotton Stakes that had to be postponed a week after the races were cancelled last Saturday due to weather. That race, the ninth of 10 at 5:09 p.m., also drew a field of 10, three more than the original race. Trainer Chris Hartman will send out the heavily favored entry of Black Bear and Alsvid, listed at 3-2 on the morning line.