Creative Minister and Smile Happy Return at Oaklawn Thursday

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

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

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Trainer Kenny McPeek

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Creative Minister and Smile Happy Return at Oaklawn Thursday

Thursday’s eighth race at Oaklawn, courtesy of trainer Kenny McPeek, has a 2022 Triple Crown flavor.

McPeek is scheduled to send out the top two program choices (Smile Happy and Creative Minister) in the $106,000 allowance for older horses at 1 1/8 miles. Smile Happy, a Grade 2 winner for Lucky Seven Stable, hasn’t started since finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby last May at Churchill Downs. Creative Minister, stakes-placed for Fern Circle Stables, finished third in the Preakness and fifth in the Belmont Stakes. Creative Minister hasn’t started since finishing sixth in an Oct. 20 allowance race at Keeneland.

“Unfortunately, they both fell under the same allowance condition and they were both ready at the same time,” McPeek said Tuesday afternoon. “Reluctant to run them against each other, but really, development-wise, it’s good for both horses.”

Smile Happy, the 2-1 program favorite, and Creative Minister (3-1) have both been based this winter and early spring at Fair Grounds.

Smile Happy was among the country’s leading Kentucky Derby prospects last year after winning both starts 2, including the $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles, by a combined 8 ¾ lengths. After finishing second in two major Kentucky Derby preps to open his 3-year-old campaign, Smile Happy (bone bruising, McPeek said) didn’t run again in 2022 after being beaten 10 lengths by Rich Strike in Kentucky Derby.

“We turned him out for a little while at my farm in Lexington and when he brought him back, I still wasn’t happy with the way he was moving,” McPeek said. “Then we turned him out again and just let him sit for a while. He’s come back this time good. These things sometimes take a little longer than you think. Really nice horse and excited about him as a 4-year-old, as well as Creative Minister."

After finishing third in the Preakness, Creative Minister also finished third in the $135,000 Curlin Stakes July 29 at Saratoga, third in the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes (G3) Aug. 23 at Parx and second, beaten a nose, in the $275,000 Bourbon Trail Stakes at 1 3/16 miles Sept. 24 at Churchill Downs.

“We just stopped on him,” McPeek said. “He had run winter, spring, summer, fall and it was just a good period for him to grow up a little bit.”

McPeek said if Smile Happy and Creative Minister perform well Thursday, they could be considered for upcoming races at Oaklawn, Keeneland or Churchill Downs.

Probable post time for Thursday’s eighth race is 4:22 p.m. (Central).

Torres Hits 100

Jockey Cristian Torres rode two winners Sunday, pushing his career Oaklawn total to 100, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

Torres won the first race aboard favored Lamutanaatty ($3.20) for trainer Karl Broberg and the eighth race aboard Shotgun Hottie ($7.40) for trainer Cherie DeVaux. The double gave Torres a meet-high 59 victories through the first 42 days of Oaklawn’s scheduled 68-day season. Torres also leads all jockeys at the meeting in purse earnings ($3,617,338) and stakes victories (five).

Torres, 25, is seeking his first career Oaklawn riding title after winning 22 races in 2021 – his debut season in Hot Springs – and 19 during an injury-shortened 2021-2022 meeting. Torres has 478 career North American victories, according to Equibase, the first coming April 21, 2019, at Gulfstream Park.

Shotgun Hottie represented the first career Oaklawn victory for DeVaux, a former assistant under four-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Chad Brown.

Finish Lines

In conjunction with moving to four-day race weeks (Thursday-Sunday) in March, Oaklawn will offer free parking, excluding valet, free programs and $1 hot dogs each Thursday throughout the month. … Jockey David Cabrera enters Thursday with 199 career Oaklawn victories. Cabrera, Oaklawn’s co-leading rider in 2021-2022, is named on six horses Thursday. … Millionaire multiple Grade 2 winner Lone Rock, under Cristian Torres, worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.20 Sunday at Oaklawn. Lone Rock is scheduled to make his 2023 debut in the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes for older horses at 1 ½ miles April 2 at Oaklawn, trainer Robertino Diodoro said. Lone Rock won the 2022 Temperence Hill and finished second in 2021. … Odds-on favorite Fast Lane ($3.20) represented Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s 845th career Oaklawn victory in Sunday’s third race. Only the late Bob Holthus (867) has more career training victories at Oaklawn. … Jockey Alberto Pusac recorded his first career Oaklawn victory in Sunday’s fourth race aboard Mark the Moose ($15.20) for trainer Nevada Litfin. … Devil’s Tower ($10) recorded his sixth career Oaklawn victory in Sunday’s seventh race. Devil’s Tower was among two victories on the card for 2015 Oaklawn training champion Chris Hartman and 2021-2022 Oaklawn co-leading rider Francisco Arrieta. … Axton ($36.60), ridden by Arrieta, represented the 444th career Oaklawn victory for trainer Don Von Hemel of Hot Springs in Sunday’s ninth race. Von Hemel is the fifth-winningest trainer in Oaklawn history.