Silver State Continues Climb to Elite Level

Two of the best horses developed by Steve Asmussen for Winchell Thoroughbreds came to the Hall of Fame trainer on the advice of David Lambert. Silver State hasn’t reached championship status yet, but the 4-year-old son of Hard Spun continued his climb toward the top of the country’s older two-turn division with a half-length victory in the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) last Saturday at Oaklawn under Ricardo Santana Jr.

The victory was the fifth consecutive for Silver State, who became the first horse to win the Oaklawn Handicap – Oaklawn’s biggest prize for older two-turn runners – $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes at 1 mile and the $500,000 Essex Handicap at 1 1/16 miles. The latter two races, Jan. 23 and March 13, respectively, were major local steppingstones to the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap.

Asmussen said on the recommendation of Lambert, a noted equine physiologist, Winchell Thoroughbreds (Ron and Joan Winchell) purchased Silver State for $450,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sales. Lambert, founder and president of Equine Analysis Systems in Midway, Ky., also steered the Winchells toward privately purchasing half-interest in Gun Runner and retaining homebred Untapable to race. Both became Eclipse Award winners.

Now, silver is turning to gold for the Winchells, who campaign Silver State with prominent Arkansas breeder/owner Willis Horton.

“It’s a horse the Hortons and Winchells purchased on Dr. Lambert’s advice, that has continued to develop and get better,” Asmussen said. “We’ve always loved his talent level.”

Silver State earned a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 101, equaling a career high, for his Oaklawn Handicap victory. After falling off the Kentucky Derby trail following a seventh-place finish in the $1 million Louisiana Derby (G2) in March 2020 at Fair Grounds, Silver State returned with two sharp allowance victories last fall in Kentucky before emerging as Oaklawn’s top older two-turn runner this year. His Beyer Speed Figures, a numerical representation of performance, have ranged from 97 to 101, during the winning streak. Asmussen calls Silver State, “a gorgeous animal” who needed time to develop because he’s “massive in size.”

“This race is significant enough,” Asmussen said. “He’ll get the future we were hoping for, and this proves it.”

Asmussen said next-race plans are pending for Silver State, who won for the sixth time in 10 lifetime starts. Silver State ($1,230,094) became a millionaire after collecting the $600,000 winning check.

It was the first Oaklawn Handicap victory for Asmussen and the Winchells and the second for Horton, who also won the race in 2014 with champion Will Take Charge. Horton turned 81 last Saturday.

“The Hortons owning half this horse with the Winchells and how important Oaklawn is to them, the Hortons are to Oaklawn, what a great birthday present for him today,” Asmussen said.

The Oaklawn Handicap was Asmussen’s record 95th Oaklawn stakes victory. Asmussen also won the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares in 2015 with Untapable and the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses in 2017 with Gun Runner. Untapable won an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion 3-year-old filly of 2014. Gun Runner captured two Eclipse Awards (Horse of the Year and older dirt male) in 2017.

Asmussen has a meet-high 49 victories this year as he seeks his record-tying 11th Oaklawn training title. The Oaklawn Handicap pushed his purse earnings at the meet to more than $5 million. He enters the final eight racing days at $5,072,636 and with a chance to break his single-season Oaklawn record ($5,644,609), set in 2019.

Joyful Update

Joyful Cadence, the first Oaklawn winner sired by champion Runhappy, is under consideration for the $300,000 Eight Belles Stakes (G2) April 30 at Churchill Downs and the $150,000 Miss Preakness Stakes (G3) May 14 at Pimlico, trainer John Ortiz said.

After a dazzling maiden victory March 4 at Oaklawn, Joyful Cadence returned to finish second, beaten a half-length, in her stakes debut, the $200,000 Purple Martin for 3-year-old filly sprinters April 3 at Oaklawn.

“Joyful, obviously, has turned out to be the filly that we expected her to be as a yearling,” Ortiz said. “The time and the patience that I’ve had with her is actually really paying off. She acts very mature and she’s physically matured as well. I think that’s contributed a lot to her success. Even though she didn’t win that race, it was a very successful effort. It’s a winning effort to me. She doesn’t know either way.”

Former Walmart executive William Simon (WSS Racing) purchased Joyful Cadence for $235,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. She finished seventh in her Jan. 15 career debut over Turfway Park’s synthetic surface before breaking her maiden by 8 ¾ lengths in her next start, March 4. Joyful Cadence debuted at 6 ½ furlongs and her last two starts have been at 6 furlongs. The Eight Belles is 7 furlongs, Miss Preakness 6 furlongs.

“I still think she might be asking for a little bit more distance,” Ortiz said. “I don’t know how far she can go, between 7 furlongs and a mile, maybe, but there’s a lot of options with her right now.”

Following Sea became Runhappy’s second Oaklawn winner, breaking his maiden by 5 ¾ front-running lengths April 10 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and breeder/owner Spendthrift Farm. Joyful Cadence and Following Sea are from the first crop of Runhappy, an Eclipse Award winner (male sprinter) in 2015.

Finish Lines

Ram, a 3-year-old brother to millionaire Coal Front, became the second Oaklawn winner sired by 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah with a maiden victory in last Friday’s second race for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. American Pharoah won Oaklawn’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) before sweeping the Triple Crown. Coal Front won the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses in 2019. Ram is owned by William L. Mack and Christina Baker, whose husband, Robert, died late last year. William L. Mack and Robert C. Baker were longtime Lukas clients, campaigning, among others, Grade 1 winners Dublin, Strong Mandate and Sporting Chance and Oaklawn stakes winner Super Saks. They purchased Ram for $375,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. … You’re to Blame is pointing for the $120,000 Isaac Murphy Marathon Stakes for older horses at 1 ½ miles April 27 at Churchill Downs, co-owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs said. You’re to Blame finished seventh in the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes March 13 at Oaklawn and second in an April 11 allowance race at Oaklawn after adding blinkers. Both races were 1 ½ miles. … Through Sunday, Day 43 of the 51-day meeting, 435 claims totaled $7,672,000.