Barn Notes 12/14/23

Compiled by Robert Yates

Trainer Norm Casse has an expanded presence in his third season at Oaklawn.

Can you blame him?

Casse had a 31-percent strike rate (18 of 59) at the last two Oaklawn meetings, with a staggering 68 percent of his runners finishing in the top three. Casse returns to Oaklawn with around 35 horses – roughly 15 more than

2022-2023 – and has some 18 more at Fair Grounds.

“There’s a big difference and a lot of that has to do with Pat (Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope), and Oaklawn has kind of welcomed us here and wants us here,” Casse said. “It’s a fairly large barn at this point, so we have a mixture of horses. At the end of Churchill, we did claim some older horses with some conditions that will be in the claiming races. I’m excited about those. But we do have a lot of young horses that we’re still trying to figure out where they fit in the program here.”

Casse’s first starter of the meeting, Effortlesslyelgant, was eighth in Saturday’s $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes. Casse trains Effortlesslyelgant for Alex and JoAnn Lieblong of Conway, Ark., who also own Hot and Sultry and Easy Action.

Casse said he’s pointing Easy Action to the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters Jan. 27 at Oaklawn.

Hot and Sultry, won Oaklawn’s six-furlong $150,000 American Beauty Stakes in January and closed 2023 with a blowout victory in the one-mile $300,000 G3-Chilukki Stakes Nov. 18 at Churchill Downs.

Casse said next-race plans are pending for Hot and Sultry, adding she probably won’t return to the work tab until after Christmas.

“We obviously had a tremendous meet last year,” Casse said. “Brought more horses. Brought a lot of horses that have good conditions and feel like we’ve kind of got a handle on what horses need to be here and what horses need to be at the Fair Grounds, which has a lot to do with it. I guess we just keep our head down and do what we’ve been doing and hope for the same level of success that we’ve been having.”

Whelen Springs Returns Friday

Multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Whelen Springs is among 11 horses entered in Friday’s ninth race, a 8 ½-furlong $142,000 allowance miles that could determine how he is campaigned during the Oaklawn 2023-2024 meeting that began Dec. 8

Whelen Springs, a 4-year-old homebred for Arkansas lumberman John Ed Anthony, did a career 180 last summer at Monmouth Park after being transferred to trainer Lindsay Schultz and moving to two-turn races.

Whelen Springs won a 1-mile allowance June 17, finished second in the $400,000 Monmouth Cup Stakes (G3) at 1 1/8 miles July 22 and won the $250,000 Philip H. Iselin Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Aug. 19.

Whelen Springs had left Oaklawn in May having lost six consecutive races – all six furlongs – by a combined 85 ¾ lengths. The last four races were in open allowance company in 2023 at Oaklawn.

“Lindsay’s done a good job with him,” said John Gasper, who is Anthony’s racing manager. “I mean, we were going to run him for a claim when we left here. We were going to run for like ($50,000) or something. We thought, ‘Oh, well. Heck, he’s just a horse.’ He gets up there, I mean, he’s a different horse. I told Lindsay, I hope he’s not a horse for course.”

Whelen Springs exits a seventh-place finish in the $500,000 G3-Lukas Classic Stakes 1 1/8 miles Sept. 30 at Churchill Downs.

Friday’s race also attracted millionaire Silver Prospector; Double Crown, cross-entered in the $200,000 Tinsel Stakes Saturday at Oaklawn; and Grade 1 stakes-place Command Performance, the 3-1 program favorite. Whelen Springs is 5-1 on the morning line.

“Friday’s going to tell us a lot about where we’re at with him,” Gasper said. “He’s in against some horses that he should beat, based on what he did last summer. But we’ll see.”

In 2022 at Oaklawn, Whelen Springs, then with trainer John Ortiz, beat Arkansas-breds in the $150,000 Rainbow Stakes and open company in the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes. Both six-furlong races were for 3-year-olds.

Probable post time for Friday’s ninth race is 4:14 p.m. (Central).

Finish Lines

A Dec. 8 double pushed jockey Ramon Vazquez’s career Oaklawn total to 395. … Nine claims totaled $135,000 through Oaklawn’s first two days of racing. … Trainer Bret Calhoun won a 17-way shake, or blind draw, to claim Awesome View for $10,000 out of a seventh-place finish in the sixth race Dec 8.