Stakes Advance - Ozark

VALENTINE CANDY - Photo Credit - Coady Media

Compiled by Robert Yates

Valentine Candy (#7) can deliver himself an early birthday gift in the inaugural $150,000 Ozark Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters Saturday at Oaklawn.

Probable post time for the six-furlong Ozark, the 10th of 11 races, is 5:05 p.m. CST. Racing begins at 12:30 p.m.

The 7-5 program favorite, Valentine Candy (#7) faces six challengers in the Ozark. From the rail out, they are: The Donegal Clan (#1), Julien Leparoux to ride, 119 pounds, 8-1 on the morning line; Let’s Go Mark (#2), Martin Chuan, 119, 12-1; Googol Joke (#3), Cristian Torres, 119, 8-1; American Rascal (#4), Keith Asmussen, 121, 3-1; Time for Truth (#5), Rafael Bejarano, 119, 7-2; and Vitement (#6), Emmanuel Esquivel, 119, 15-1.

Valentine Candy won the first stakes race of the 2023-2024 Oaklawn meeting, the $150,000 Advent at 5 ½ furlongs Dec. 8. He became the meet’s first two-time stakes winner in the six-furlong $150,000 Renaissance Dec. 31.

Now, Valentine Candy tries to become the meet’s first three-time stakes winner in the Ozark, which falls four days before his actual birthday. Valentine Candy, out of Taste Like Candy, was born Feb. 14, 2021 (Valentine’s Day)

The speedy Valentine Candy, by 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, won the Advent by 6 ¾ lengths and the Renaissance by 1 ½ lengths after encountering traffic on the turn and upper stretch.

“It’s the first time that everything didn’t go his way and he still won,” Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said. “So, I think that kind of confidence leads well going forward.”

Asmussen is also scheduled to start American Rascal, who has trained primarily at Fair Grounds for his 3-year-old debut. American Rascal won the $100,000 Zia Park Juvenile Stakes Nov. 28 at Zia Park and completed 2023 with a runner-up finish in the $100,000 Sugar Bowl Stakes Dec. 23 at Fair Grounds. Both races were six furlongs.

Asmussen is seeking his record-extending 109th career Oaklawn stakes victory.

Trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs is represented by Time for Truth, who tackles stakes company after winning his Dec. 31 career debut at Oaklawn. Owner Harry Rosenblum sold an interest in Time for the Truth, the first Oaklawn winner sired by 2019 Arkansas Derby champion Omaha Beach, to Cheyenne Stable (Everett Dobson) shortly after the race.

Googol Joke shook off a sluggish start in the Renaissance to finish third, beaten 2 ¼ lengths by Valentine Candy, for co-owner/trainer Robbie Medina, who is wintering at Oaklawn for the first time in 2023-2024.

Medina, a former assistant under Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, is seeking his first career Oaklawn victory.

“I thought his last race was good,” Medina said. “He broke a little slow, then made a wide run. Looked like he got a little lost out there. Maybe cost him second. He wasn’t going to beat the winner, but he ran very well. Look forward to taking him over there.”

The Ozark is a major local prep for the $200,000 Bachelor Stakes at 6 furlongs April 27.