Hot Springs, Ark. (Thursday, March 17, 2016) – Champion Untapable and multiple graded stakes winner Upstart will kick off their 2016 campaigns at Oaklawn Park Saturday when they each take on talented fields in a pair of graded stakes races, the Grade 2 $350,000 Azeri Stakes and the Grade 3 $350,000 Razorback Handicap, respectively.
The 30th running of the Azeri, for fillies and mares 4-year-olds and older, and the 57th edition of the Razorback, for 4-year-olds and upwards, will be contested as part of an 11-race card highlighted by the Grade 2 $900,000 Rebel Stakes for 3-year-olds with Kentucky Derby qualifying points at stake. The trio of Saturday’s graded stakes races will award combined purses of $1.6 million.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred Untapable has been installed as the even-money favorite in the Azeri field of eight. She was the unanimous selection as the 2014 Eclipse Award-winning 3-Year-Old filly and also began her season last year with a strong second-place finish in the Azeri before coming back to take the Grade 1 $600,000 Apple Blossom here in her next start.
“The preparation this year has been very good, very relaxed and we haven’t missed a single breeze. She’s a very talented mare, and the weather and the circumstances have allowed us to let her be that, where I don’t think that last year we were in the same position at the same time,” said her trainer, Hall of Fame nominee Steve Asmussen, who conditioned Untapable at his Fair Grounds base over the winter and shipped her to his division here earlier this month.
Untapable competed in Grade 1 company exclusively the remainder of the year, finishing with two seconds and one third, and is seeking her first trip back to the winner’s circle since the Apple Blossom. With Florent Geroux in the irons for the first time, the $3.8 million career earner is being asked to shoulder 117 pounds, two less than 119 pound co-highweights Call Pat, Kyriaki and Streamline, and she will depart from post seven in the field of eight.
“She’s the picture of health and looks better today than she ever has. Being able to train her and be around her on a daily basis is extremely special,” said Asmussen,
Dual graded stakes-winning Call Pat, a 6-year-old mare owned by Miller Racing and trained by Brad Cox, is making her second start of the season. She beat Nancy Vanier and Cartwright Thoroughbreds’ Streamline by just a half-length last out in the Grade 3 $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes here one month ago.
Cox gave the return call to Joe Rocco, Jr. and they will contest the 1 1/16 miles event from the rail. California Invader Kyriaki and Mario Gutierrez, who gets a leg up from trainer Peter Eurton, will break just to Call Pat’s outside in post No. 2.
“There’s some speed in the race and she can come from on or off the pace,” said Brian Williamson, who trains Pippin Stakes winner Streamline and retains her regular rider, Chris Landeros. “If Untapable fires, I think we’re all running for second. But my filly is doing really great and I think being stabled here all meet and getting to run out of her own stall will be an advantage.”
Theogony (Ricardo Santana, Jr.), Meshell (Chris Emigh), multiple graded stakes winner Sarah Sis (Channing Hill) and High Dollar Woman (Joe Bravo) complete the field for the Azeri, which is the seventh race and has a probable post time of 4:21 PM (Central).
In the Razorback, which is Oaklawn’s final prep for the Grade 2 $750,000 Oaklawn Handicap April 16 as part of the under card on Grade 1 $1 million Arkansas Derby Day, Upstart also seeks to find his winning ways again.
Owned by Ralph Evans and trained by the New York-based Rick Violette, the New York-bred son of Flatter is the 5-2 early favorite and has been top weighted at 120 pounds. He will have to concede his nine rivals from three to eight pounds as they travel the 1 1/16 miles.
Joe Bravo, who rode him to a third place finish in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational behind Arkansas Derby and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015, will be back aboard.
Upstart’s last victory was in the Grade 3 Holy Bull and he was DQ’d from first to second in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth last winter at Gulfstream Park. He has been on the sidelines since a fifth place finish in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby in September.
“The layoff is not a concern. He ran one of the best races of his life in the Holy Bull and that was after a long time off. This horse runs very well fresh,” said Violette by phone Thursday. “He galloped this morning before I put him on the plane and he’ll be on the grounds later this afternoon. I’m excited about this race. He couldn’t be doing any better. He worked a spectacular mile (1:40.65) and followed that up with a very strong breeze (both at Palm Meadows training center in South Florida) the other day. He’s ready to roll.”
Far Right, the winner of the Smarty Jones and Grade 3 Southwest Stakes here last year for trainer Ron Moquett and owners Harry T. Rosenblum and Robert LaPenta, comes in to the Razorback fresh from a neck score in a conditional allowance race here last out and is a local favorite.
The 3-1 second choice on the morning line will carry 117 pounds, including Irad Ortiz, Jr., and break from post No. 7.
“I’m happy to see him run on a good day, in a good race. He’s poised for a big effort,” said Moquett, alluding to the Saturday forecast for perfect weather in the wake of rains that deluged the area recently.
Idolo Porteno, the 2014 Argentine Horse of the Year and a 10-race winner, will make his first North American start for trainer Ignacio Correas IV and be ridden by Florent Geroux from post No. 6. La Macchina, who won the Essex Handicap here as a Razorback prep, gets sent out by trainer Otabek Umarov as part of a three-horse entry with stakes winner Looks to Spare and Incremental.
Smack Smack, Carve, Shotgun Kowboy and Domain’s Rap complete the field.
The Razorback will be run as the eighth race on the day and has a probable post time of 4:57 PM (Central).
Source: Oaklawn Park