A winter storm dumped about five inches of snow on Hot Springs, Ark., and forced the cancellation of training at Oaklawn Park Jan. 10, but improving conditions should produce temperatures in the 40s for the Jan. 14 opening-day program.
Oaklawn will begins its meet with the $75,000 Fifth Season Stakes for 4-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles. Track officials said 26 horses were nominated, including Jer-Mar Stables’ Win Willy, who won the 2009 Rebel Stakes (gr. II) as a 3-year-old at Oaklawn.
“We will probably run, but we have to see how much time we might miss because of the track,” trainer MacLean Robertson said Jan. 10.
Win Willy, a Kentucky-bred by Monarchos, has finished first in four of his seven starts at Oaklawn, though he was disqualified from his victory in last year's Razorback Handicap (gr. III) for a medication violation. He sandwiched that race with runner-up finishes in the Essex Handicap and the Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II).
“He just eats good here,” Robertson said of Win Willy. “I think the water is a little better than other places, plus it’s really quiet back here. He can be a nervous type of horse, but not much bothers him here. It’s a great atmosphere for a horse on top of being a great town for the fans. Everybody here seems to get into the racing. It’s such a nice place.”
Meanwhile, trainer Bret Calhoun said the weather and impact on training schedules will determine whether Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch’s Grant Jack races in the $100,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds at one mile Jan. 17.
Grant Jack hasn’t worked since his victory in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park in Oklahoma Dec. 11. Calhoun said he’s ready to move forward with the son of Harlan's Holiday, but he needs to gallop on the Oaklawn track before the weekend.
“I’d be reluctant (to race) if we can’t train this week,” Calhoun said. “He’s an aggressive horse, and if they close the track all week, I’d probably have to change my plans, but if I can get some time on the track, we should be good.”
The Smarty Jones is the first race in Oaklawn’s series of races leading up to the grade I Arkansas Derby.