Recent grade I winners Hymn Book and Ron the Greek head a strong field of eight for the $400,000 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) April 14 at Oaklawn Park.
The 66th running of the the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap shapes up as a dandy. Hymn Book, trained by Shug McGaughey, won the Donn Handicap Feb. 11, and Ron the Greek, from the Bill Mott barn, dominated the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 3. They are the 118-pound co-highweights.
In addition, the field includes Nehro, last year's runner-up in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I); General George Handicap (gr. II) winner Yawanna Twist; and Oaklawn specialists Alternation and Win Willy, who captured the Oaklawn Handicap last year after finishing second in 2010.
The Oaklawn Handicap immediately precedes the Arkansas Derby. It is the 10th race on the program with a 5:07 p.m. CDT post.
Stuart S. Janney III’s 6-year-old Hymn Book heads into the race off a determined score by a nose at 6-1 odds over Mission Impazible in the Donn at Gulfstream Park. He was given some time to recover from that taxing effort.
“He went through a lot to get that win,” said Anna Martinovsky, assisting McGaughey. “He had every excuse to say, ‘I’m done,’ and he didn’t. He just doesn’t take it from anybody.”
Hymn Book raced in Kentucky and New York last year and has compiled a 7-4-1 mark in 14 career starts with earnings of $601,187. Aside from a sixth-place finish in the Bernard Baruch Handicap (gr. IIT) on turf last summer in Saratoga, he has never finished worse than second in stakes company. John Velazquez has the return call.
“I think the reason he gets a lot of time between races is because he does give you his all,” Martinovsky said. “He’ll take a little time to recover and he’ll let us know when he’s ready again.”
Ron the Greek registered the biggest win of his career when he shipped cross country to nab the Santa Anita Handicap from well off the pace by 3 1/2 lengths. He recorded a 105 Beyer speed figure. The big bay had served notice that he was sitting on a big effort when running second to Mucho Macho Man in his seasonal debut in the Sunshine Millions Classic Jan. 28.
Owned by Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable and by breeder Jack T. Hammer, Ron the Greek has won three of four starts since arriving in Mott's stable last summer.
Ron the Greek picks up two pounds from his Big 'Cap. The son of Full Mandate owns a career record of 6-3-1 in 17 races with earnings of $769,665. Jose Lezcano remains aboard.
Zayat Stables' Nehro, from the Steve Asmussen stable, was scratched from the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) April 1 after reportedly tying up following a gallop the day before. The 4-year-old Mineshaft colt has had one start since finishing fourth in last June's Belmont Stakes (gr. I). He won an optional claiming test at one mile and 70 yards at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots by 7 1/4 lengths. Corey Nakatani, who rode the bay on last year's Triple Crown trail, is back aboard.
Yawanna Twist stretches out from seven furlongs in the General George, which he won by a half-length as the favorite Feb. 20. Now in the barn of John Parisella, the 5-year-old son of Yonaguska was previously trained by Rick Dutrow Jr.
Alternation has won both of his starts this year at Oaklawn for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel, taking the Essex Handicap by 3 1/2 lengths in February prior to a front-running 1 1/2-length score in the Razorback Handicap (gr. III) March 10. He produced 100 Beyer speed figures in both races. The 4-year-old Distorted Humor colt is 4-for-5 over the track and could be in position to take them all the way once again.
Win Willy is another horse for course. The 6-year-old gray by Monarchos owns a lifetime mark of 5-3-1 in 12 starts at Oaklawn. But in the Razorback, his only start since winning last year's Oaklawn Handicap by one length, he never picked up his feet while trailing the field all the way around and finishing 12 lengths behind Alternation.
Stachys, a hard-trying 5-year-old by Candy Ride , comes in with an allowance victory over the track at 1 1/16 miles March 1. Don Dulce also won an allowance at Oaklawn at 1 1/16 miles in his last start March 4.
$400,000 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II, Race 10, 5:07 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Nehro (KY), C S Nakatani, 115, S M Asmussen
2. Win Willy (KY), I Ocampo, 114, M Robertson
3. Don Dulce (KY), J K Court, 112, R L Morse
4. Stachys (KY), A Birzer, 113, M E Biehler
5. Hymn Book (KY), J R Velazquez, 118, C R McGaughey III
6. Alternation (KY), L S Quinonez, 117, D K Von Hemel
7. Yawanna Twist (NY), M J Luzzi, 115, J Parisella
8. Ron the Greek (FL), J Lezcano, 118, W I Mott