Saturday’s All 2-Year-Old Card Features Prominent Horses and Horsemen
Oaklawn has run more than 1,000 races for 2-year-olds since opening in 1905. But Saturday’s 10-race card will mark its first exclusively for 2-year-olds.
The brainchild of Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope and patterned after Churchill Downs’ popular “Stars of Tomorrow” programs, Saturday’s format was unveiled when the first condition book was released in late August. The response was overwhelming during Wednesday’s post position draw. There were 113 horses entered, equaling a meet high, with six races drawing a full field of 12, including two races with also-eligibles. Every race in the condition book was used.
The card is highlighted by the inaugural runnings of the $150,000 Renaissance Stakes at 6 furlongs and the $150,000 Year’s End Stakes for fillies at 1 mile. Both races were added as part of Oaklawn’s beefed-up stakes program for 2-year-olds during the 2022-2023 meeting that began Dec. 9. Saturday is the cherry on top.
“We’re really starting to get excited,” Pope said. “You want to see these 2-year-olds. People want to see the breeding. They want to see the excitement and how much they paid for these horses. So, it’s pretty strong.”
Saturday’s card, which begins at 12:30 p.m., also includes six $90,000 maiden races, a $104,000 allowance optional claiming race with a claiming price of $80,000 and a $51,000 starter allowance optional claiming race with a claiming price of $50,000.
Nationally prominent trainer Kenny McPeek has six horses entered Saturday, including Frosted Departure in the Renaissance and 7-5 program favorite Defining Purpose in the Year’s End.
“We’re lucky,” McPeek said. “We handle a lot of young horses and we do a lot of developing of young horses. Days like this are good for our program. Glad to see Pat put some of those up.”
Noteworthy entrants Saturday include Magical Song and Wish It in the second race, a $90,000 1-mile maiden special weight for fillies; Sun Thunder, The Heights and Profound Impact in the fourth race; a $90,000 1-mile maiden special weight; Twirled in the seventh race; a $104,000 entry-level allowance sprint for fillies; and Easy Action in the 10th race, a $90,000 maiden special weight sprint.
The royally bred Magical Song – Tapit out of champion Songbird – finished a fast-closing third in her career debut Nov. 4 at Keeneland for breeder/owner Mandy Pope and two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox. Wish It, another daughter of Tapit, is out of Graeme Six, winner of the $50,000 Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters in 2008 at Oaklawn. Wish It, fifth in her Nov. 18 career debut at Churchill Downs, is trained by Hall of Famer and 12-time Oaklawn meet champion Steve Asmussen.
Sun Thunder, a $400,000 purchase in 2020, is by super Into Mischief. The McPeek trainee finished third in his Nov. 26 career debut at Churchill Downs. The Heights, by champion Nyquist, is an unraced half-brother to 2021 Arkansas Derby runner-up Caddo River for Cox and breeder/owner John Ed Anthony.
Unraced Profound Impact is out of Profound Moment, who was the first starter and winner for trainer Tom Van Berg following the death of his father, Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, in December 2017. Profound Moment, previously trained by Jack Van Berg, won a Jan. 12, 2018, allowance/optional claimer at Oaklawn. Profound Impact, by Grade 1 winner Frosted, is trained by 2020 Oaklawn meet leader Robertino Diodoro.
The Asmussen-trained Twirled was purchased for $360,000 earlier this year. The daughter of Twirling Candy exits a runner-up finish in the $200,000 Fern Creek Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs.
Easy Action, a $300,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase by prominent Arkansas owners Alex and JoAnn Lieblong, finished second behind the highly regarded Loggins in his Sept. 17 career debut at Churchill Downs. The 6 ½-furlong maiden special weight was among the most live races of the September meeting. Norm Casse trains Easy Action, a son of sprint champion Speightstown.
Chris Hartman, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015, is scheduled to start four horses Saturday, including 6-5 program favorite Two Eagles River in the Renaissance.
“Oh, yeah, absolutely, I love it,” Hartman said, referring to Saturday’s format. “They need more of that. You’ve got a good routine for the better 2-year-olds.”
Oaklawn, racing almost exclusively in the winter and early spring, conducted 2-year-old racing from 1905 until 1975. 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. Two-year-old racing returned for the 2021-2022 meeting, coinciding with Oaklawn’s expanded season and new December opening.
Last year’s $150,000 Advent, won by the Hartman-trained Kavod, marked Oaklawn’s first stakes race for 2-year-olds since the split Ballerina in 1973. Oaklawn has been able to card 2-year-old races since moving to a December opening, the earliest in its history, last year. Oaklawn traditionally had opened in January and February.
Pope said he believes cards exclusively for 2-year-olds will continue at Oaklawn.
“But it also depends on where the calendar falls,” Pope said. “This year, it just worked perfect because right away Louis (Cella) wanted the Smarty Jones (Stakes) Jan. 1. I said, ‘Wonderful. If you do the Smarty Jones there, can we try an all 2-year-old day?’”
The Heights is among three horses entered New Year’s Eve for Anthony, the Arkansas lumberman who became Oaklawn’s all-time winningest owner during the 2021-2022 meeting. The Heights is named for the historic Little Rock, Ark., neighborhood in which Anthony resides.
“Well, I was a little disappointed, or very disappointed, that there was so little 2-year-old racing in the month of December, which seemed appropriate in preparation for the spring season,” Anthony said. “But I guess he (Pope) is kind of making up for it all at one time at the end of December. But I think the format of the December racing is excellent and I support it wholeheartedly. It fits the pattern of Midwestern racing and moving from Churchill to Oaklawn, after Keeneland, well, all Kentucky racing, it just fits very well. I’m proud of them for making that move.”