Oaklawn Barn Notes: Court Reaches 700 Wins at Oaklawn

Jon Court reached a riding milestone in 2021 at Oaklawn, after all.

Court, 61, was poised for his 700th career local victory when he moved his tack to Churchill Downs in late April, about two weeks before Oaklawn’s 2021 live meeting ended.

“(Seven hundred) will be my goal upon my 2022 return,” Court said in a parting text April 23.

Times change, but the number didn’t.

Oaklawn announced in June that an expanded racing calendar for the upcoming season would feature a December opening for the first time in its 117-year history.

Stalled at 699 since April 9, Court reached the milestone when he won Friday’s fifth race aboard Unbridled Twister ($6.20) for trainer Al Cates of Hot Springs. It was Court’s second and final mount on the opening-day card, which drew an estimated crowd of 15,000. Only five other riders in Oaklawn history have reached 700 career victories.

“Isn’t that amazing?” Court said Saturday morning. “It was so exciting. It gave me butterflies to think, ‘Wow! I’ve actually made it,’ because at the end of last year’s meet I had run so many second and thirds, I thought I’m just snakebit.”

Court said his wife, Rosemary, reminded him that the wait to 700 may not be as long as he initially believed. Oaklawn’s live season was originally scheduled to begin in late January, a more traditional spot, before the date was amended.

“My mind is programmed to think every first of the year we come here,” Jon Court said. “I said to her, ‘That’s right, I do have a chance to get to 700.’ Not only do I have a chance, but the cards fell favorably. There seemed to be a useful sense of excitement for me to do it in 2021. When I left the meet, it was, ‘Oh, man, I tried so hard. I’m one win away.’ But it was fun. It’s always been fun and there’s a lot of energy and excitement. I’m just enjoying the journey.”

Court rode his first winner at Oaklawn in 1981 and was leading rider in 2000 with 69 victories. He has 35 career stakes victories at Oaklawn, including consecutive runnings of the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) in 2010 and 2011. Court won 11 races last season at Oaklawn.

Pat Day, the late Larry Snyder, Calvin Borel, John Lively and Tim Doocy are the only other riders in Oaklawn history to reach 700 career victories. Day rode a record 1,264 winners at Oaklawn, his last coming in 2004. Borel, also a member of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, is still active at Oaklawn and had 973 victories through Friday.

Court said he has no plans to stop at 700.

“Full steam ahead,” he said.

Court is represented by longtime friend Larry Baker, who began booking mounts for the jockey last spring.

Asmussen Still Hot

Hall of Famer and perennial Oaklawn champion Steve Asmussen saddled two winners on Friday’s opening-day card, pushing his career total in Hot Springs to 757 (No. 2 all time).

Asmussen won the second race with Requisition ($9) and the fourth race with favored Chicken Hawk ($5.40) to grab an early lead in the standings. Asmussen and the late Hall of Famer Henry Forrest share the Oaklawn record for career training titles with 11.

Asmussen returns to Oaklawn after winning a meet-high 60 races, including eight stakes, during the 2021 live season. He also set a single-season record for purse earnings ($6,057,877).

“We’re obviously very fortunate,” Asmussen said during training hours Friday morning at Oaklawn. “We’ve sent some extremely talented horses. Oaklawn offers the opportunity to run for good purses. Obviously, I like and am very comfortable with the stakes schedule here. Expecting a big meet.”

Asmussen holds career Oaklawn records for stakes victories and purse earnings, 96 and $41,762,480, respectively, through Friday.

Asmussen also was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. Asmussen is North America’s all-time winningest trainer (United States and Canada) with 9,564 through Friday, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

The late Bob Holthus is the only other trainer in Oaklawn history to reach 800 victories in Hot Springs. Holthus won nine Oaklawn training titles.

Friday’s second race marked Oaklawn’s first for 2-year-olds since March 27, 1975.

Arrieta’s Grand Slam

Jockey Francisco Arrieta recorded his biggest career day at Oaklawn after sweeping the final four races on Friday’s nine-race opening-day program, including the inaugural $150,000 Advent Stakes for 2-year-old sprinters aboard Kavod ($8.40) for trainer Chris Hartman.

Arrieta, 33, recorded a riding triple, his previous single-day Oaklawn best, on closing day of the 2021 meeting, May 1.

“Unbelievable,” Arrieta said following the Advent, Oaklawn’s first stake for 2-year-olds since 1973.

Arrieta also won the sixth race aboard favored Botswana ($5.40) for trainer Bentley Combs, seventh race aboard favored Hypersport ($4.40) for trainer Ingrid Mason and the ninth race aboard Jets a Ginnin ($12) for trainer Scott Becker. The four-bagger pushed Arrieta’s purse earnings this year to more than $5 million, a career high.

A native of Venezuela, Arrieta began riding in the United States in 2012 and had ridden extensively the past few years in New Mexico, Arizona and Minnesota before hiring agent Jay Fedor and changing circuits. Arrieta relocated to Oaklawn for the first time for the 2021 meeting and made a huge splash in the rider standings, finishing third in victories (50) and purse earnings ($3,100,250). Arrieta recorded his first career Oaklawn stakes victory in last April’s $200,000 Bachelor for 3-year-old sprinters aboard Jaxon Traveler for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Arrieta was based in Kentucky for the first time following last season’s Oaklawn meet.

“I felt like it was a good move coming here,” Arrieta said. “I’ve been growing here. I was jumping around. It’s my second year here, so I feel like I’m home now. A lot of people know me already. I’ve been riding for the same people in Kentucky and they’re coming back, so now they know me and trust me. Hopefully, it will be better than last year.”

Arrieta was leading rider in 2019 at Canterbury Park and won 250 races overall that year to rank eighth nationally.

Finish Lines

Agent Ruben Munoz was represented by winners of the meet’s first two races Friday. Cristian Torres rode the first-race winner, Take Charge Erica ($9.40), for trainer Aaron Shorter and perennial Oaklawn champion Ricardo Santana Jr. won the second race aboard Requisition ($9) for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. … Jockey Ken Tohill, 58, recorded his 3,989th career victory in Friday’s third race aboard Wild Behavior ($10) for trainer Shea Stuart. Tohill is trying to become the 80th jockey in North American history (United States and Canada) to reach 4,000 career victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. … Favored Hypersport, a promising 2-year-old Blame filly, broke her maiden by four lengths in Friday’s seventh race for trainer Ingrid Mason. Hypersport ($4.40) covered 6 furlongs in a sharp 1:09.66 over a fast track. … After winning the final race of the 2021 Oaklawn meeting, trainer Bentley Combs struck with his first starter in 2021-2022 as favored Botswana ($5.40) won Friday’s sixth race. Combs has a small string at Oaklawn for the first time this season. … Trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs won an 11-way shake, or blind draw, to claim Yodel E. A. Who for $30,000 out of Friday’s third race.