For Immediate Release

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, Director of Racing

jhoyt@oaklawn.com or 501-363-4305

Photo Credit: Coady Photography


HOT SPRINGS, AR (Friday, Feb. 18, 2022) – On the hooves of Kimari, trainer Wesley Ward has returned to Oaklawn with another fast filly who is favored in a female sprint stake in lightly raced Happy Soul, the 9-5 program choice for Saturday’s $150,000 Dixie Belle for 3-year-olds at 6 furlongs.

Probable post time for the Dixie Belle, the ninth of 10 races, is 5:10 p.m. (Central). First post Saturday is 1 p.m.

Renowned for his work with young horses, particularly sprinters, Ward is seeking an Oaklawn stakes victory for the third consecutive year. Kimari captured the $100,000 Purple Martin for 3-year-old filly sprinters in 2020 and the $200,000 Spring Fever for older female sprinters last February.

Happy Soul will be making her first start since a front-running 11 ½-length victory in the $150,000 Astoria Stakes at 5 ½ furlongs June 3 at Belmont Park. The lengthy absence, Ward said, traces to pneumonia Happy Soul contracted last summer. Happy Soul had broken her maiden by 11 ¾ front-running lengths at 5 furlongs May 13 at Belmont Park. In her only other start, she finished second against males in her career debut at 4 ½ furlongs last April at Keeneland.

After resuming training in November, Happy Soul had been under consideration for last Saturday’s $100,000 Sweet Life Stakes (G3), an about 6 ½-furlong race over Santa Anita’s hillside turf course, before she was re-routed from Southern California to Oaklawn for the Dixie Belle with her regular rider, Hall of Famer John Velazquez, in tow.

“She’s been training great all winter long,” said Ward, who conditions the daughter of sprint champion Runhappy for owner Gayla Rankin. “Johnny had her next to last workout. Loved it. Mike Smith worked her last time. Loved her. Can’t get better endorsements from those two guys, right?”

Favored in all three career starts, Happy Soul will be racing without blinkers for the first time Saturday.

“It’s something that I usually do with all my 2-year-olds,” Ward said. “I put them on at 2 and take them off at 3.”

Happy Soul also adds Lasix, which Ward said he believes “kind of takes the edge off of nervousness.” Ward calls Happy Soul “very fast,” and she lands in a spot with several other confirmed front-runners. Her works leading up to the Dixie Belle include a 5-furlong bullet move (:57.70) on the turf Jan. 25 at Palm Meadows Training Center in south Florida and two earlier this month at Santa Anita.

“Twenty-five years of riding Johnny Velazquez, I’ve never given him instructions yet, so he’s going to have to work out that himself,” Ward said. “She’s fast. She’s very fast. We broke her from the gate as well prior to that (Jan. 25) work, so she’s got that little bit of a gate refresher. I think she’ll break well and Johnny can put her, the first 10 steps coming out of there, he’ll be able to just go ahead and decide to put her wherever he thinks that she should be. But in her first couple of starts she was extremely quick, so we’ll have to see how Johnny plays it out as the race comes up.”

The projected eight-horse Dixie Belle field from the rail out: Icy Stare Down, Ricardo Santana Jr. to ride, 115 pounds, 5-1 on the morning line; Verylittlecents, Jon Court, 119, 8-1; Wicked Halo, Geovanni Franco, 119, 5-2; Hypersport, Tiago Pereira, 115, 12-1; Happy Soul, John Velazquez, 119, 9-5; Com’ On Sweet Luv, Francisco Arrieta, 115, 8-1; Pretty Bridie, David Cabrera, 119, 5-1; and Ding Ding, John Hiraldo, 115, 15-1.

Happy Soul is among three New York stakes winners entered, the others being Wicked Halo for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and Pretty Birdie for trainer Norm Casse.

Wicked Halo won the $200,000 Adirondack (G2) Aug. 8 at Saratoga in her last start. Pretty Birdie won the $150,000 Schuylerville (G3) July 15 at Saratoga. Pretty Birdie (2 for 3) hasn’t started since being eased in the $300,000 Spinaway Stakes (G1) Sept. 5 at Saratoga.

“Obviously, the Saratoga race was a disappointment, but she came out of that with a little legitimate excuse and had to have some time off to fix that excuse,” Casse said. “Ever since she’s came back, she seems to be bigger, stronger and faster and training really well. We’re excited to get her started again.”

Pretty Birdie resumed training in early December following the minor physical setback and has seven published workouts this year at Fair Grounds leading up to the Dixie Belle.

“She’s ready to go,” Casse said. “There wasn’t a whole lot out there. You’re in a tricky situation when you’re trying to bring a horse off a layoff. You would much prefer an easier spot. I think this is a pretty contentious spot, but this is the hand we’re dealt and we’re going to play it.”

Verylittlecents was a front-running winner of the $125,000 Ellis Park Debutante Stakes Aug. 15 at Ellis Park for trainer Randy Morse. The speedy Hypersport cuts back to a sprint after consecutive fourth-place finishes in route races for trainer Ingrid Mason. Com’ On Sweet Luv, a stalker, finished second, beaten a length by stablemate Girl With a Dream in the $75,000 Letellier Memorial Stakes Dec. 27 at Fair Grounds for trainer Brad Cox. Girl With a Dream returned to win the $100,000 Forward Gal Stakes (G3) Feb. 5 at Gulfstream Park.

Like Happy Soul and Wicked Halo, Pretty Birdie led at every point of call in her victories.

“Tons of speed in there,” Casse said. “She’s part of that. I think ideally with the post position that we’ve drawn, and coming off the layoff and probably needing at least one race to be at her 100 percent maximum, I think we’ll have to break and sit right off the speed.”

Pretty Birdie is the first career Oaklawn stakes starter for Casse, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse. Asmussen has a record 96 career Oaklawn stakes victories, including a record-tying three in the Dixie Belle.