A cooling-off at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort was in order after Rebel Stakes weekend produced a $21-million all-sources handle.
That 12-race card Feb. 25 featured the $1 million Rebel for 3-year-olds and the $300,000 Honeybee for 3-year-old fillies — respective preps for the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby — plus a Carousel Stakes renewal with two past Oaklawn stakes winners. Some 42,000 witnessed the proceedings, chipping in $1.6 million, a goodly sum at a track where per-capita betting is traditionally low.
Call it a perfect storm for Oaklawn, which was open when Santa Anita, caught in the traditional California winter monsoon, took the weekend off. In addition, Fair Grounds slowed down after the Risen Star Stakes and other big races the previous Saturday, and Gulfstream Park’s Fountain of Youth Stakes card lay a week off.
Two $150,000 races for older Arkansas-bred horses may not stir a patron’s fancy like the Rebel or Honeybee might. But expected favorites seek repeat victories in the Nodouble Breeders’ and Downthedustyroad Breeders’, respectively. Both are six furlongs and honor, respectively, the Arkansas-bred 1968 Arkansas Derby winner for the late Gene Goff of Fayetteville and an Oaklawn winner for Hot Springs owner-breeder Tommy Walls that won the Grade 1 La Brea in California for trainer Bob Baffert.
Connie K, prepping to meet state-bred females, placed fifth for trainer Randy Morse in the $150,000 American Beauty Jan. 21 at Oaklawn. Morse bred and races the 5-year-old daughter of Street Strategy, himself a local stakes winner, in partnership with Kansas native Randy Patterson. The nine starters include Unbridled Twister (second) and Kaboom Baby (fifth) from last year’s Downthedustyroad, which Connie K won by a front-running neck.
Summer Shoes, the 9-5 program choice, makes her stakes debut for trainer Tom Swearingen. She owns a narrow victory over Connie K Dec. 30 at Oaklawn in a state-bred starter/optional claimer (Unbridled Twister ran third). A maiden winner by 12 3/4 lengths here last March, she beat state-bred again three weeks later in an entry-level allowance.
Though beaten three quarters of a length in open company in a Jan. 29 entry-level allowance sprint, confidence remains high in Summer Shoes’ camp about a return match with Connie K. Hard-riding Chel-C Bailey rides Summer Shoes, whose trainer scratched the filly from the one-mile $150,000 Natural State Breeders’ at one mile last May because “she just didn’t seem right.”
“We’re anxious to try her,” said Swearingen, an opening-day stakes winner with 2-year-old Count de Monet in the $150,000 Advent. “We’ve kind of waited just for this race. This is our motivation to try to get black type, we hope. See what happens, if we get a good race out of her. I think she’s doing well and we look for a good effort.”
The Downthedustyroad, seventh of 10 races, is set for 3:50 p.m. Live racing begins at 12:35 p.m.
Nodouble: Gar Hole takes a class drop, strange as it may seem, in the Nodouble, which he won by five lengths last year in a stakes-record 1:09.06.
Presumably there are no Gunites in this field. A Grade 1 winner for Steve Asmussen, Gunite ran a meet-best 1:08.89 when beating Gar Hole by 6 3/4 lengths in the $150,000 King Cotton here Jan. 28. Gar Hole, a 5-year-old homebred gelding from John Ed Anthony’s Shortleaf Stables, is even-money program favorite in the Nodouble.
About the last race, “Not disappointed at all,” said trainer John Ortiz, who along with trainer Brad Cox helped Anthony enjoy a record season at his home track last year. “The results on the page look horrible. Obviously, we didn’t win or hit the board, but in the last jumps, two horses caught him at the wire. To run 1:08 in open company against Gunite, those were real horses. And Gar Hole is a real horse as well. That was a deep field.”
Ricardo Santana Jr. keeps the mount, winning last year’s Nodouble and a Jan. 1 Oaklawn allowance for state-breds aboard the Tekton gelding. Gar Hole derives his name from the bar in the celebrated former Marion Hotel in Little Rock.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez gave Ortiz a good report after riding Gar Hole in the King Cotton.
“Obviously, we were trying to find a prep for him,” the trainer said. “We had to give him a shot in open company one more time. I think he ran a 1:10 in that race, so it’s not like he didn’t run or didn’t perform. Johnny V. said he was very pleased with him.”
Bandit Point (third), Mrs. Beans (fourth) and Big Success (eighth) return from the 2022 Nodouble. Another contender is Navy Seal, who beat state-bred allowance runners here Feb. 5. Race nine of 10, the Nodouble goes at 4:54 p.m.
The Nodouble honors the career leader in earnings by an Arkansas-bred horse. The 13-time winner bankrolled $846,749 in four seasons, later becoming the leading sire of North America in 1981. Owner Goff in 1960 bought sire Noholme II, the 1959 Australian Horse of the Year, and brought him to the United States. Nodouble emerged from a pairing with the mare Abla-Jay (by American juvenile champion Double Jay), an 8-for-68 runner whom Goff bought in 1963 for $3,200.
Racing prior to the Eclipse Awards, Nodouble twice was voted American champion male by the Thoroughbred Racing Association, winning the Santa Anita, Brooklyn and Metropolitan handicaps. Bert Sonnier (since deceased) trained Nodouble, who campaigned for Verna Lea Farms. Goff’s son, Dash, is an active horseman and usually represents the family on Nodouble Breeders’ Day at Oaklawn. The horse expired, age 25, in 1990.