Barn Notes 12/22/23

Compiled by Robert Yates


Oaklawn’s signature race for 3-year-old fillies has received an upgrade.

The Fantasy Stakes will return to Grade 2 status in 2024 after being run as a Grade 3 event since 2013. The Fantasy was among 429 races nationally assigned numerical grades (1, 2, 3) in 2024 by the American Graded Stakes Committee, an arm of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. Grades were announced Saturday following the committee’s annual grading meeting Dec. 14-15 in Lexington, Ky.

Oaklawn lobbied several years for the 1 1/16-miles Fantasy, a major Kentucky Oaks prep race, to be upgraded. Grades are largely based on the performance of all starters 24 months before and after the specified race, with horses winning or recording top three finishes in graded stakes during that span carrying the most weight. Grade 1 is the committee’s highest race rating.

“Over the last few years, the horses that have won have gone and proven themselves in Grade 1 races,” Oaklawn vice president of racing Jason Milligan, who attended the last week’s grading meeting as an observer, said. “So, we feel like we’re on the right trajectory with the race.”

Pauline’s Pearl and Wet Paint, 2021 and 2023 Fantasy winners, respectively, later captured Grade 1 events. Yuugiri, the 2022 Fantasy winner, captured the Grade 2 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes in October at Keeneland before concluding her racing career with a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint in November at Santa Anita. Taxed, runner-up in the 2023 Fantasy, is now a Grade 2 winner.

Inaugurated in 1973, The Fantasy has a rich tradition.

The Fantasy became a $100,000-added event in 1974 – it marked legendary jockey Bill Shoemaker’s 100th career victory in a $100,000 race – and received its first grade (2) the following year.

Fantasy winners include National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame members Davona Dale (1979), Bold ’n Determined (1980) and Rachel Alexandra (2009). Our Mims (1977), Tiffany Lass (1986), Blind Luck (2010) and Swiss Skydiver (2020) used Fantasy victories as a springboard to an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly.

The Fantasy was a Grade 1 event in 1978-1989 and Grade 2 in 1990-2012. Oaklawn raised the Fantasy purse from $600,000 to a record $750,000 for 2024, making it the country’s richest Kentucky Oaks prep.

Oaklawn’s 13 other graded stakes races in 2023 retained their same grades in 2024, including the $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby and $1.25 million G1-Apple Blossom Handicap. Both races will carry record purses after previously being worth $1.25 million and $1 million, respectively. The Arkansas Derby and Fantasy will be run Saturday, March 30, while the Apple Blossom is scheduled for Saturday, April 13.

Oaklawn’s first graded stakes race was the $25,000-added G3-Magnolia for 3-year-old fillies in 1973. Knitted Gloves won the Magnolia and Fantasy that season, the first year that stakes races received grades by the committee.

Milligan attended last week’s grading meeting as an observer.

Oaklawn’s Graded Stakes Races (2023-2024 Season):

Grade 1:

  • $1,500,000 Arkansas Derby - Saturday, March 30
  • $1,250,000 Apple Blossom Handicap - Saturday, April 13

Grade 2:

  • $1,250,000 Rebel Stakes - Saturday, Feb. 24
  • $400,000 Azeri Stakes - Saturday, March 9
  • $750,000 Fantasy Stakes - Saturday, March 30
  • $1,250,000 Oaklawn Handicap - Saturday, April 20

Grade 3:

  • $800,000 Southwest Stakes - Saturday, Jan. 27
  • $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes - Saturday, Feb. 3
  • $600,000 Razorback Handicap - Saturday, Feb. 24
  • $400,000 Honeybee Stakes, Saturday, Feb. 24
  • $250,000 Whitmore Stakes - Saturday, March 16
  • $600,000 Essex Handicap – Saturday, March 23
  • $500,000 Oaklawn Mile – Saturday, March 30
  • $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap – Saturday, April 13

The Smarty Jones

The $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1 closed Saturday with 55 nominations.

The 1 1/16-mile Smarty Jones will offer 21 points to the top five finishers (10-5-3-2-1, respectively) toward Kentucky Derby starting eligibility.

One Smarty Jones nominee is Willy D’s, who finished second in the $150,000 Advent Stakes at 5 ½ furlongs Dec. 8 at Oaklawn. Trainer Greg Compton said he plans to stretch out Willy D’s in his next start, but it will probably come in an allowance spot.

“Didn’t really want to ship the horse to Remington, for an allowance or the Springboard Mile,” Compton said, referring to the Advent. “I just wanted to run him out of his own stall. As long as he was closing and making up ground, we were going to be happy with him. Third or fourth would be good. Ran second. Even better. So, everyone’s happy.”

Compton said the likely next target for Willy D’s is a two-turn allowance Dec. 31, the second card exclusively for 2-year-olds in Oaklawn history. The program is headed by the one-mile $200,000 Year’s End Stakes for fillies and the six-furlong $150,000 Renaissance Stakes.

Finish Lines

Oaklawn will be closed for training Monday (Christmas Day). … Jockey Luis Quinonez, in pursuit of 4,000 career North American victories, is scheduled to resume riding next week at Oaklawn. Quinonez (3,999) was winless in two mounts Sunday at Oaklawn. … Millionaire Oaklawn stakes winner Frank’s Rockette will be bred next year to Triple Crown winner Justify, according to Kathy Moore Howard, racing manager for breeder/owner Frank Fletcher. Frank’s Rockette won the $150,000 American Beauty Stakes for older female sprinters in 2021 at Oaklawn.