Stakes Advance - Lake Ouachita

Compiled by Robert Yates

HOT SPRINGS, AR - Defending champion Ain’t Life Grand is among eight older horses entered in the $200,000 Lake Ouachita Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Sunday at Oaklawn.

The Lake Ouachita, originally scheduled to be run Friday, highlights an 11-race closing-day card that begins at 12:20 p.m. (Central). Probable post time for the Lake Ouachita is 5:10 p.m.

The Lake Ouachita was moved to Sunday to anchor a new a closing date for the weather-shortened 64-day meeting. Oaklawn added April 7 and May 5 to its racing schedule to help offset four lost dates to winter weather (Jan. 14 and Jan. 19-21). Oaklawn was originally scheduled to close May 4.

The eight-horse Lake Ouachita field from the rail out: Law Professor, Cristian Torres to ride, 119 pounds, 3-1 on the morning line; Strong Tide, Emmanuel Esquivel, 119, 20-1; Frosted Departure, Julien Leparoux, 121, 4-1; Alexander Helios, Paco Lopez, 121, 9-2; Silver Prospector, Keith Asmussen, 121, 5-2; Ain’t Life Grand, Martin Garcia, 119, 6-1; Nautical Star, Rafael Bejarano, 119, 12-1; and Ben Franklin, Francisco Arrieta, 124, 10-1.

Ain’t Life Grand was a two-length winner of the 2023 Lake Ouachita for trainer Kelly Von Hemel. A leg problem (bone bruising) sidelined Ain’t Life Grand for the remainder of 2023 following a third-place finish in the $300,000 G3-Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap at 1 1/8 miles July 8 at Prairie Meadows.

Ain’t Life Grand resurfaced with a fourth-place finish in a one-mile allowance Feb. 25 at Oaklawn. He then finished sixth in one of Oaklawn’s biggest two-turn races for older horses, the $600,000 G3-Essex Handicap at 1 1/8 miles March 23.

“It’s a little tougher than last year,” Von Hemel said, referring to the Lake Ouachita field. “He’s doing good, but he’ll have to step up and perform like he’s capable of. First race of the year was good. It’s just a mile. It was a little short. I thought he finished good and galloped out real good. Razorback, he didn’t run much that day. He was irritated, didn’t stand in the gate, got left. We’re optimistic he shows up Sunday and runs a really good race.”

Ain’t Life Grand adds blinkers for the Lake Ouachita, the last of an Oaklawn record 48 stakes races at the 2023-2024 meeting.

“Just to focus him a little bit, get him out of the gate a little better,” Von Hemel said. “We’re not putting on big blinkers, just some French cup blinkers on him to, hopefully, get him a little more aggressive and maybe lay a little closer.”

Other top entrants are millionaire multiple graded stakes winner Silver Prospector for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, millionaire Grade 2 winner Law Professor for trainer Wade Rarick, Nautical Star for trainer Chris Hartman and Frosted Departure for trainer Kenny McPeek.

Program favorite Silver Prospector ran second in the $500,000 G3-Oaklawn Mile March 30 at Oaklawn in his last start. Law Professor will be making his first start for Rarick after being privately purchased by Arkansas owner John Holleman following two allowance victories earlier this year in New York. Nautical Star ran third in the Oaklawn Mile. Frosted Departure exits an allowance victory at 1 1/16 miles April 13 at Keeneland. Frosted Departure was a front-running 7 ¼-length allowance winner Dec. 15 at Oaklawn. Frosted Departure’s time of 1:43.06 was the fastest for 1 1/16 miles in December in Oaklawn history.