Barn Notes 3/10/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas didn’t win a race Saturday at Oaklawn, but his legendary fingerprints were all over the 10-race card.

Trainer Dallas Stewart, a longtime Lukas assistant, saddled Tiny Temper to an upset victory in the $400,000 G2-Azeri Stakes or older fillies and mares. Tiny Temper ($25.60) finished a neck ahead of Misty Veil, who is trained by Mike Maker, another former Lukas assistant.

Tiny Temper’s victory came roughly 4 ½ hours after Jade Cunningham recorded an even bigger upset in the first race with Spankster ($71.20), which marked the trainer’s first career victory.

Cunningham, 27, struck out on her own last summer in Kentucky after spending the 2021 Oaklawn meeting working under Lukas – her mentor – and running Stewart’s Oaklawn division the past two seasons.

“They’re all in the family,” Lukas, 88, said before training hours Sunday morning. “My coaching tree is pretty strong. They’re all over the place, too, now.”

Spankster, who, fittingly, had previously been trained by Stewart and Lukas, was the 16th career starter for Cunningham. Ridden by apprentice Joseph Bealmear, Spankster won the starter-allowance sprint by two lengths over 4-5 favorite Jackman, who was seeking his fifth consecutive victory at the 2023-2024 Oaklawn meeting and sixth consecutive victory overall.

“I knew he was going to show up,” Cunningham said before training hours Sunday morning, her voice hoarse from screaming for Spankster and Tiny Temper to reach the finish line first. “Did I expect him to win? Not really. I just wasn’t having that kind of luck, but I expected him to show up. I knew he was a nicer horse than what he had been doing.”

Spankster, a 5-year-old son of Mastery, began his racing career with Stewart and now-deceased Arkansas owner Willis Horton and finished fifth in his April 2, 2022, career debut at Oaklawn. He made five starts at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting for Lukas (he’s also had a long business relationship with the Horton family), highlighted by an allowance victory and a fourth-place finish in the $200,000 G3-Whitmore Stakes for older sprinters.

Spankster subsequently sold for $125,000 at Fasig-Tipton’s May Digital Selected Sale and resurfaced in July at Gulfstream Park. Spankster was winless in four races at Gulfstream, finishing a well-beaten sixth in his last start for a $25,000 claiming tag Nov. 5 for trainer J. David Braddy.

Cunningham, because of her familiarity with Spankster and trying to build her small stable, said she contacted Braddy late last year because she was interested in privately purchasing the horse.

“I actually looked for him, specifically, because I knew he wasn’t around,” Cunningham said. “I found out that he was in Florida … so I started talking to the owner.”

After completing the deal, Spankster, in his first start for Cunningham, finished last of nine in a starter-allowance sprint Feb. 19 at Oaklawn. Prior to Spankster, Cunningham’s best career placing to date had been three fourth-place finishes. Cunningham started her first horse Sept. 3 at Kentucky Downs.

“That’s good,” Lukas said. “She needed to break the ice there. Dallas, he always sneaks something in there. He’s sneaky good. He really is. He’s won a lot of stakes at 25, 30-1.”

The Azeri was the 25th career Oaklawn victory for the Fair Grounds-based Stewart and his 984th overall in North America.

The Azeri is the final major local prep for the $1.25 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 13. Stewart said Tiny Temper will be pointed to the Apple Blossom, a race the trainer won in 2016 with future Eclipse Award winner Forever Unbridled.

Stewart also won the $1 million G2-Oaklawn Handicap in 2022 at Oaklawn with the Willis Horton-owned Last Samurai, who, in Stewart’s absence, was saddled by Cunningham.

Almost two years later, Stewart invited Cunningham into the Larry Snyder Winner’s Circle following Tiny Temper’s victory. Tiny Temper shipped into Cunningham’s barn Wednesday and was under her care before departing early Sunday morning for Fair Grounds.

“It was really cool to have Dallas here,” Cunningham said. “It meant a lot to have Dallas here for (my) win and also with a horse that we used to have together.”

Stewart said Cunningham’s victory brought “tears to my eyes.”

“Just such a good person,” Stewart said. “She just needs some horses to train. She’s going to do great. I hope I can help her out.”

Spankster is among four horses Cunningham has in training. She is supposed to add a fifth Sunday for Hot Springs restaurant owner Charles Jennings. Cunningham co-owns Spankster with Oklahoman Terry Westemeir, a family friend.

Cunningham ran 75 percent of her stable Saturday, with Brahms Image finishing third in the second race and Dog Red running seventh in the seventh race. Cunningham said her phone “blew up” following Spankster’s victory.

“Very fortunate,” Cunningham said. “A lot of support.”

Cunningham grew up near Nashville, Tenn., but now considers Hot Springs home after purchasing a house late last year adjacent to Oaklawn.

As a teenager, Cunningham worked as a veterinary technician at Remington Park in Oklahoma City. She later was a hot walker for Danny Pish, then worked as an exercise rider for the Texas-based trainer before becoming his assistant at 19 at Lone Star Park in suburban Dallas, helping manage a 50-horse string.

Cunningham is the stepdaughter of retired jockey Rob Williams, whose 4,254 career victories rank 68th in North

American history, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, and a niece of country music legend Dolly Parton.

Cunningham, who gallops and breezes her horses, graduated in 2019 from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in communication.

Cunningham said she has been allotted eight stalls at Horseshoe Indianapolis, which runs April 8-Nov. 14. Oaklawn’s meeting ends May 5.