Oaklawn Barn Notes: McPeek Returns to Oaklawn

McPeek Returns to Oaklawn

Trainer Kenny McPeek said early Thursday afternoon that he had eight horses stabled at Oaklawn and expects to eventually have “20ish” on the grounds for the 2021-2022 meeting that began Friday.

McPeek has a division of horses at Oaklawn for the first time since 2018, when he won five races from 32 starts. McPeek said Oaklawn’s expanded racing calendar was the hook to return to Hot Springs. Oaklawn is opening in December for the first time and has 66 scheduled racing dates, roughly 10 more than past years. Oaklawn had previously opened in mid to late January. The 2021-2022 live season ends May 8.

“The December start date completely changes the complexion of the Oaklawn meet,” McPeek said. “I think it’s a big help. You’re there longer. As long as they can get the races that you need to go … I know it’s a bit of an experiment, but I think it’s a really good move on their part.”

McPeek returns to Oaklawn with momentum after winning four races, including the $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) with Smile Happy, on the “Stars of Tomorrow II” program exclusively for 2-year-olds last Saturday at Churchill Downs. The four-bagger helped swell McPeek’s purse earnings this year to a career-high $6.7 million.

“Had a good meet,” McPeek said. “Had a good fall.”

Smile Happy, a son of champion sprinter Runhappy, remained unbeaten in two career starts with a 3 ¼-length victory in the 1 1/16-mile Kentucky Jockey Club.

“He’s a really, really good horse,” McPeek said. “He’s going to go to Florida initially and we’re probably going to bring him up for the Southwest and possibly the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby.”

The $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Jan. 29, $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 26 and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2 conclude Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby points series.

Smile Happy races for the Lucky Seven Stable of Mike Mackin, who campaigned 2001 Rebel winner Crafty Shaw with now-retired trainer Pete Vestal. Crafty Shaw also ran third in the Southwest and seventh in the Arkansas Derby.

McPeek is scheduled to start three horses Saturday at Oaklawn, including Oliviaofthedesert and Semble Juste in the inaugural $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles. Laughing Boy, McPeek said, “will probably be entered” in the inaugural $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles Dec. 11 at Oaklawn. Laughing Boy finished second in a Nov. 25 allowance race at Churchill Downs.

“Horses just shipped in last night, but I’ll be there for a little bit,” McPeek said. “I’ve got a team that’s coming from my Churchill barn that’s already there. We’ve only got eight in there right now, so we’re getting them settled in. It’s taken some time logistically to move everybody.”

With John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs as a major client, McPeek won 40 races in 2012-2017 at Oaklawn, including the $75,000 Arkansas Breeders’ Stakes in 2015 with Trace Creek and the $125,000 Spring Fever Stakes in 2017 with Kathballu.

McPeek’s last Oaklawn victory came with Swiss Skydiver in the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) in 2020. Swiss Skydiver went on to beat males in the Preakness – the final leg of the revamped Triple Crown – en route to an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2020.

Schultz Hoping to Launch Career at Oaklawn

Roughly 20 months after Reeve McGaughey recorded his first career training victory at Oaklawn, another former assistant under Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey will try to do the same during the 2021-2022 meeting that began Friday.

Lindsay Shultz, 33, has the resume to find the winner’s circle.

Schultz grew up riding hunter/jumpers in Connecticut and “fell into horse racing straight away” attending the University of Louisville’s Equine Industry Program with future trainers Jason Barkley, Will VanMeter and Bentley Combs. Schultz’s college roommate is another EIP graduate, Liz Crow, now a noted bloodstock agent, sales consignor and racing manager. Crow is also Schultz’s closest friend.

“She had a 4.0 GPA and was way smarter than I was,” Crow said Thursday afternoon. “I think she’s always wanted to train, but she’s kind of taken the route of wanting to learn everything before she went out on her own. I guess it’s not too late to go out on your own at 33. I feel like some people dive into it a little earlier, I guess.”

After graduating from Louisville in 2010, Schultz traveled the equine world through a two-year internship in Darley’s Flying Start management training program, cut her teeth as a longtime assistant under Breeders’ Cup-winning trainer Tom Proctor and managed famed Glen Hill Farm in Florida before going to work for McGaughey – Reeve McGaughey’s father – in the fall of 2020.

Schultz decided earlier this year to go out on her own and landed at Oaklawn, where she has seven horses, including six for the ubiquitous Ten Strike Racing of founding partners Marshall Gramm and Arkansas native Clay Sanders. Ten Strike considers Oaklawn its home track.

“It’s a new place for me, but, look, I’ve been here for three or four days and everyone’s been so nice,” Schultz said after training hours last Saturday morning. “It seems pretty horse friendly. Definitely not without nerves, but I’m excited.”

Schultz has two scheduled starters Saturday at Oaklawn – Pepper Pike in the fifth race and Capture the Glory in the sixth race. Both horses are owned by Ten Strike, which, solely or in partnership, won 10 races last season at Oaklawn and campaigns millionaire multiple Grade 3 winner Warrior’s Charge.

Schultz had a brief business relationship with Ten Strike in late 2017, but considers Capture the Glory her first true starter after the Scat Daddy gelding ran in a starter-allowance sprint Nov. 12 at Churchill Downs. Ten Strike offers fractional ownership from lower-level claimers like Capture the Glory to graded-stakes types like Warrior’s Charge. Schultz met Gramm and Sanders through Crow, who is Ten Strike’s racing manager.

“Marshall gave her the chance when she went out on her own, to help them,” Schultz said. “Marshall always said, ‘Let me know when you’re thinking about going out on your own.’ He actually called me this summer and said, ‘Well, are you going to do it? Are you not going to do it? What’s going on?’ I said if you can help me, let’s do it.”

Schultz, on behalf of Ten Strike, began building her stable this fall through claims, taking Pepper Pike for $32,000 Oct. 14 at Keeneland and Capture the Glory for $10,000 Oct. 17 at Keeneland.

Asked her biggest takeaway learning the ropes under accomplished trainers like John Shirreffs during the Flying Start program, then Proctor and, ultimately, McGaughey, Schultz said: “Keeping it simple.”

“And trust your instincts,” Schultz said. “Tom would always say that to me.”

Schultz, who also walked hots for Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito at Saratoga while attending Louisville, is among five Oaklawn-based trainers with horses on the grounds for Ten Strike. The others are 2020 Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox, Barkley, Combs and Randy Matthews. While Crow bleeds purple and black – Ten Strike’s stable colors – it’s personal with Schultz. She was maid of honor in Crow’s wedding and is godmother to Crow’s 9-month-old daughter, Ella.

“Obviously, there’s a little bit more,” Crow said. “She’s like family. I’m definitely rooting for her. It’s really exciting that she’s getting started with Ten Strike because they’re such a good ownership group. They’ve helped so many young people get started. That’s kind of what they enjoy doing. They helped me get started, so it’s kind of cool that they’re helping her as well.”

After working under his father, Reeve McGaughey saddled his first career winner March 19, 2020, at Oaklawn. VanMeter, now retired from training, saddled his first career winner at the 2014 Oaklawn meeting.

Two-Year-Old Racing Returns

Two-year-old racing isn’t all that’s returning to Oaklawn Friday, opening day of the expanded 66-day live meeting that is scheduled to run through May 8.

Trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs is back, too.

Fires, 81, has at least one victory at every Oaklawn meeting since 1977, a span of 45 seasons.

Fires isn’t wasting any time trying to keep the streak alive, entering Diva de Kela in Friday’s first race, a sprint for $10,000 female claimers.

“We might as well start out with it,” Fires said during training hours Tuesday morning at Oaklawn. “We’re going to try. We’ve got some babies here that are doing good. Maybe we’ll get some here.”

Friday’s second race, for $40,000 maiden claimers at 1 mile, will mark Oaklawn’s first race for 2-year-olds since March 27, 1975. Oaklawn can card 2-year-old races this season because the December opening marks the earliest in its 117-year history. Oaklawn, however, has a long history of 2-year-old racing (more than 1,000 races have been run since the first in 1905), it’s just the under-50 crowd may not know it.

As for Fires, he is among the last links to the lost world of 2-year-old racing at Oaklawn. Before going out on his own again in 1976, Fires was an assistant and exercise rider for the late Doug Davis Jr., who was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 1969, 1970 and 1975 and excelled with 2-year-olds. Owing to Oaklawn’s traditional racing calendar (January-April), the bulk of 2-year-old races have been run at 3 furlongs or a half-mile.

“They started at the three-eighths pole (second turn) and if you were lucky enough to get an inside post, you had the edge,” Fires said, referring to 3-furlong races. “Everybody was wanting the inside because it was the best, of course. When the gates sprung open, of course, all those babies, they left like a covey of quail. They went everywhere. If you had an inside post and got away from the gate good, you had a free run home.”

Among the most noteworthy 2-year-old winners in Oaklawn history is the freakishly fast Crimson Saint, who won her March 3, 1971, career debut by 12 lengths before equaling a half-mile world record (:44.80) about a month later in a five-length victory in the inaugural $15,000 Ballerina Stakes.

Crimson Saint set a 5-furlong track record (:56) in 1973 at Hollywood Park and became a Grade 3 winner in Southern California.

But Crimson Saint left a much bigger mark in the breeding shed, producing, among others, Group 1 winner and 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) champion Royal Academy, multiple Grade 2 winners Terlingua and Pancho Villa and stakes-winning Alydariel.

Terlingua and Pancho Villa, full siblings by 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, were trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. Terlingua is the dam of Storm Cat, among the most influential sires in racing history.

Other noteworthy 2-year-old winners during the early 1970s at Oaklawn were Annihilate ’Em for Davis and Arkansas owner Patricia Blass; Honky Star for four-time local training champion David Vance and powerhouse Arkansas owner Dan Lasater, a three-time Eclipse Award winner (1974, 1975 and 1976); and Tisab for trainer Jim O’Bryant and famed Mill Ridge Farm of the late Alice Chandler.

Fires said he galloped Annihilate ’Em, who won the prestigious Travers Stakes (G1) for 3-year-olds in 1973 at Saratoga. Honky Star and Tisab also became Grade 1 winners.

“There are a lot of good 2-year-olds that have run here,” Fires said.

Citing an increased risk of injury (bones not fully developed, etc.) and impacting the growth of other racing divisions, then-Oaklawn owner Charles Cella asked the Arkansas Racing Commission to eliminate 2-year-old racing after the 1973 meeting. Two-year-old racing was eventually phased out, with only a handful of races, strictly for Arkansas-breds, run in 1974 and 1975.

Friday’s $150,000 Advent at 6 furlongs will be Oaklawn’s first stakes race for 2-year-olds since the split Ballerina April 5, 1973. Friday’s card also features a 6-furlong maiden special weights race for 2-year-old fillies.

Oaklawn has traditionally opened in January or February.

Finish Lines

Red Hot Mess, the first career stakes winner for Chelsey Moysey, is at Oaklawn and pointing for an early season allowance race, the trainer said Monday morning. Red Hot Mess, a 2-year-old daughter of Shackleford, is owned by Lewis Mathews of Bismarck, Ark., best known for campaigning millionaire sprinter Ivan Fallunovalot, a multiple Oaklawn stakes winner. John Hiraldo, a 5-pound apprentice and a leading candidate for the Eclipse Award as Champion Apprentice Jockey, is the regular rider of Red Hot Mess. Hiraldo plans to ride the Oaklawn meeting after previously being based in the mid-Atlantic, Moysey said Thursday morning. Hiraldo is named on Ain’t She a Pistol for Moysey and Mathews in Sunday’s fifth race at Oaklawn. He will be represented by agent Jay Fedor … Normal training hours during the live meeting are 7 a.m.-11 a.m. (Central) Monday-Thursday and 6:45 a.m.-10 a.m. race days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). … Bandit Point – the first career winner for 2020 Oaklawn champion apprentice Kelsi Harr – is entered in Saturday’s eighth race, an allowance sprint for 3-year-olds and up. Harr is named to ride Bandit Point for her fiancé, owner/trainer Robert N. Cline. Also entered in the 6-furlong race is Lamutanaatty, who is scheduled to make his first start for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs and Oaklawn owner Louis Cella. A 3-year-old son of Into Mischief, Lamutanaatty was purchased for $700,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale by Shadwell Stable and began his racing career with four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown. Lamutanaatty won his only start last January at Gulfstream Park. … Oliviaofthedesert is the 3-1 program favorite for Saturday’s $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles. … Switzer, a 2-year-old colt named after Super Bowl and NCAA national championship winning coach Barry Switzer, is entered in Saturday’s seventh race for Moquett. … Oaklawn built three new, enlarged buildings in the infield for concessions during the offseason. Also new to the infield for the 2021-2022 meeting are ponds and decorative fountains near each end, which eventually will be used for irrigation, Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smith said.