Asmussen Set to Break Holthus’ Win Record at Oaklawn

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, or (501) 363-4305

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Hall of Fame Trainer Steve Asmussen

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Asmussen Set to Break Holthus’ Win Record at Oaklawn

Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen is poised to become Oaklawn’s all-time winningest trainer after winning two races last Sunday.

Asmussen won the second race with Moonlight Rain ($15.20) and the fourth race with favored Table Money ($4). Both horses were ridden by Asmussen’s son, Keith. The double pushed Steve Asmussen’s career Oaklawn victory total to 866. Only the late Bob Holthus (867) has more career training victories at Oaklawn. Asmussen has 10 horses entered Friday at Oaklawn, 13 Saturday and four Sunday.

Asmussen has collected a record 12 Oaklawn training titles and a record 101 career stakes victories in Hot Springs after winning last Saturday’s $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) with Clairiere and the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) with Skelly. The Apple Blossom and Count Fleet were among four victories on the card for Asmussen, who has 46 victories at the meeting. His first Oaklawn victory came in 1996.

There are nine racing days remaining in the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting.

Stidham Set to Send Out Proxy in Oaklawn Handicap

Nearly 40 percent of trainer Michael Stidham’s 20 career victories at Oaklawn have been stakes. Stidham bids for another Saturday when he sends out millionaire Grade 1 winner Proxy in the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles.

“We’re lucky when we ship up,” Stidham said Monday afternoon. “Hope the luck continues.”

Stidham’s last Oaklawn stakes victory, and seventh overall, came in 2021 with Mystic Guide in the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses at 1 1/16 miles. A homebred for famed Godolphin LLC, Mystic Guide won the $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) in his next start.

Stidham returns to Oaklawn with another Godolphin homebred in winner Proxy, who exits a runner-up finish in the $500,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) for older horses at 1 ¼ miles March 4 at Santa Anita. Proxy, based this winter at Fair Grounds, opened his 5-year-old campaign with a fifth-place finish in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park. Proxy is 4-1 on the morning line for the Oaklawn Handicap.

“It was always a race that we were considering, and really the timing of it fit well with us shipping out to Santa Anita,” Stidham said. “We didn’t want to come back too quick, so this was good timing versus trying to run at the end of Fair Grounds, which would have been too close back. For the money involved and for timing, it made a lot of sense.”

Proxy was beaten a neck by fellow Oaklawn Handicap entrant Stilleto Boy in the Santa Anita Handicap. Proxy will be racing in cheek pieces, or vertical shadow roll, for the first time in the Oaklawn Handicap, Stidham said. Stidham said the hope is cheek pieces, which the trainer has used in the past, will keep Proxy’s vision “more focused in front.”

“We tried blinkers on him as a 3-year-old and we didn’t see a big improvement there,” Stidham said. “If you watched the Santa Anita Handicap, down the backside at the half-mile pole, he looked like he was just completely dropping out of the race again. We’re trying to do something to keep him a little more interested early, so he doesn’t give himself so much to do toward the end.”

Proxy scored his biggest career victory to date in the $750,000 Clark Stakes (G1) at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs. Proxy raced without Lasix in the Clark, but will compete with the anti-bleeder medication for the first time in more than a year Saturday.

“Certainly, if you can use it, we’re not going to take it away,” Stidham said. “He’s run well without it. But certainly, for a million dollars, you want to have everything covered that you can cover. You certainly wouldn’t want a horse to bleed in a race like this. If you can avoid it, that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Stidham’s first career Oaklawn victory came in 1994 with Two Altazano in the $250,000 Fantasy Stakes (G2) for 3-year-old fillies. Stidham also won the 1999 Razorback with Desert Air and four Oaklawn stakes with top Arkansas-bred sprinter Comedero.

Torres Eyes Record

Jockey Cristian Torres enters the final nine days of the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting with a chance to set a single-season record for purse earnings. Torres, the meet’s leading rider, has $5,132,298 in purse earnings, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Ricardo Santana Jr. set the single-season record ($5,643,023) in 2021.

Torres would eclipse Santana’s record with a victory aboard Last Samurai in Saturday’s $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles. Torres and Last Samurai teamed to win the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) – the jockey’s biggest career victory to date – and $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) earlier in the meeting. Last Samurai is the 2-1 second choice in the program for the Oaklawn Handicap.

“It’s not a big field,” Torres said Tuesday morning. “Tough horses, but I think he’s doing great. I’ve seen him work a couple of times. I wasn’t on him, but he looked great. He’s doing awesome. We’re just hoping for a good trip and see if we can get another win.”

After capturing his first career riding title in December at Remington Park, Torres has a meet-high 86 victories this season at Oaklawn. Hall of Famer Pat Day is the only rider in Oaklawn history to reach 100 victories in a season, doing it three times (1986, 1990 and 1991). Day won a record 137 races at the 1986 meeting. He rode 104 winners in 1990 and 101 the following year.

“Going to be tough, but I think we can make it,” Torres said, referring to 100 victories. “We’ll see how it goes. Going to have to win a lot in nine days.”

Torres, 25, will be based in Kentucky for the first time after the Oaklawn meeting ends May 6.

Cox Has Chance to Break Stakes Record Saturday

Eight is not enough for Brad Cox, who has a chance to set a single-season Oaklawn record for stakes victories by a trainer Saturday when he sends out program favorite Merlazza in the inaugural $150,000 Valley of the Vapors for 3-year-old fillies at 1 mile and Victory Formation and Tapit Shoes in the $200,000 Bath House Row for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles.

Cox has 20 victories at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting, with 40 percent (a record-tying eight) coming in stakes company. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen won eight stakes races at the 2019 and 2021 Oaklawn meetings.

Cox won the $250,000 Smarty Jones Jan. 1 with Victory Formation, $200,000 Martha Washington Jan. 28 with Wet Paint, $250,000 Bayakoa (G3) Feb. 4 with A Mo Reay, $300,000 Honeybee (G3) Feb. 25 with Wet Paint, $150,000 Purple Martin March 25 with Key of Life, $200,000 Hot Springs April 1 with Eyeing Clover, $600,000 Fantasy (G3) April 1 with Wet Paint and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 1 with Angel of Empire.

Tapit Shoes, a half-brother to Cyberknife, Cox’s 2022 Arkansas Derby winner, will be making his stakes debut after finishing third in an entry-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 18 at Fair Grounds. Merlazza, who also will be making her stakes debut, has won two consecutive starts after finishing second, beaten a head, in her Jan. 21 career debut at Fair Grounds.

“It’s why we do this,” Cox said Monday afternoon. “We’re very fortunate to have clients send us very nice horses. Merlazza is perfect example of a filly that I pretty much had ready to run last spring or summer. I had to give her a bunch of time off. The owners were great about giving her the time, bringing her back. There’s a lot of ups and downs with all this.”

Cox has 285 career victories at Oaklawn, the first coming in 2009. All 36 Oaklawn stakes victories, including seven in 2021, have come since 2015, coinciding with his rise to national prominence. Cox was honored with an Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding trainer in 2020 and 2021. Cox is personally based at Fair Grounds in the winter and credited assistant Jorgito Abrego, who oversees the trainer’s Oaklawn string, for the barn’s Hot Springs success.

“Oaklawn’s a huge part of our year,” Cox said. “Jorge runs the ship. He’s very well aware of what’s going on. Very proud of what he does. It means a lot running well at Oaklawn. Kind of where our stable took off. Winning the Arkansas Derby, that’s huge. To win it the last two years is very, very special. We love racing there. Every division, whether sprinting on the dirt, running long on the dirt, it works well with our stable. Obviously the 3-year-old division, between the fillies marching toward the (Kentucky) Oaks and the colts going toward the (Kentucky) Derby, it’s a great setup.”

Victory Formation (3-1) and Tapit Shoes (7-2) are the second and third choices, respectively, in the program for the Bath House Row.

Diodoro on the Move

A day after setting a single-season Oaklawn career best for victories, 2022-2023 leading trainer Robertino Diodoro swept last Saturday’s early daily double to move into 10th place, outright, on the track’s all-time victory list.

Diodoro won the first race with favored R Doc ($4) and the second race with favored Fabulous Fanny ($3.60). The double gave Diodoro 333 career Oaklawn victories – all since 2015. Diodoro recorded his 334th victory, and 55th this season, in last Sunday’s sixth race with Haskelled ($10). Three-time Oaklawn training champion Kenny Smith has 331 career local victories to rank 11th.

“It’s been a great meet so far,” Diodoro said Sunday morning. “We’ve got to finish strong because the big-blue machine is coming.”

The big-blue machine is Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, who has collected a record 12 Oaklawn training titles and won four races last Saturday and two more Sunday to increase his meet total to 46.

Diodoro is seeking his second Oaklawn training title after securing his first in 2020 with 51 victories. He recorded his 52nd victory at the 2022-2023 meeting in last Friday’s second race with favored Space Odessey ($6.40).

Sunday marked Day 59 of the scheduled 68-day meeting.

Finish Lines

First post Saturday is 12:10 p.m. (Central). … Multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Secret Oath “probably” will make her next start in the $750,000 La Troienne Stakes (G1) for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles May 5 at Churchill Downs, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Tuesday morning. Secret Oath finished second in the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) at 1 1/16 miles last Saturday at Oaklawn. … Hall of Fame jockey Calvin Borel recorded his 977th career Oaklawn victory in last Sunday’s fifth race aboard Texas Red Hot ($52.40). Borel, Oaklawn’s leading rider in 1995 and 2001 and its third-winningest rider in history, rode Texas Red Hot for owner/trainer Randy Morse. … Texas Red Hot represented Morse’s 312th career Oaklawn victory (No. 13 in track history). …Trainer Chris Hartman established a single-season Oaklawn personal best for victories when favored Recker Point ($5.80) won last Sunday’s seventh race under newcomer Mitchell Murrill. Recker Point was the 35th meet victory for Hartman, who won 34 races in 2015 to capture his first Oaklawn training title. Murrill has ridden extensively for Hartman at Fair Grounds and in Kentucky. … Hartman has 220 career Oaklawn victories, the first coming in 2007, and is third in the 2022-2023 standings. … The $150,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters April 29 at Oaklawn closed with 22 nominations, including Iowa-bred star Tyler’s Tribe for co-owner/trainer Tim Martin of Hot Springs and Arman for trainer Peter Miller. … Trainer Robertino Diodoro said multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Lovely Ride remains on track for the inaugural $150,000 Dig A Diamond Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1 mile April 29. The Dig A Diamond closed with 25 nominations. … Doppelganger, fourth in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) last year at Oaklawn, won the $300,000 Carter Handicap (G1) for older horses at 7 furlongs April 8 at Aqueduct. Doppelganger became the third starter from the 2022 Arkansas Derby to subsequently capture a Grade 1 race, following Secret Oath and Cyberknife.