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Oaklawn Preview Part 1 of 6: Ten Trainers to Watch for in 2017

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Steve Asmussen

It all starts with this guy when you talk about Oaklawn Park.  Last year he won the trainers title yet again as he got revenge on Chris Hartman who upset him for the award in 2015.   Asmussen had an incredible meet winning 46 races in 218 starts.  Lets face it…he can win this title again if he wants to do so.  His barn will overwhelm you with numbers, and this year he also looks to be loaded with quality horses as well.  He had another solid two year old season, and I’m sure many of those horses will be competing at Oaklawn.  The only question mark each year is whether he’ll focus more on Oaklawn or Fair Grounds.  With the current quarantine of horses at Fair Grounds it might hurt some of his early numbers, however Asmussen isn’t known to really get going until the second half of the season.  There is no reason to think he won’t win the title this year, and is the heavy favorite to do so.

Chris Hartman

In what had to be considered a major upset in 2015 Chris Hartman knocked off three time defending training champion Steve Asmussen to win the his first Oaklawn training title.  Last year Hartman still had another  big meet winning 26 races at Oaklawn in 126 starts.  That number put him in second place in the trainer standings, but he was a staggering 20 races behind Asmussen for first. He will once again be loaded with several claiming horses for this meet, but he also continues to attract more quality to his barn as his success rises.  We’ll see if that quality can help him knock off Steve Asmussen like he did in 2015.

Ron Moquett

The home town guy made the home town crowd proud last year winning 24 of 137 races and finishing third in the trainer standings.  For a good number of weeks Moquett was actually leading in the standings before giving way to Asmussen and Hartman later in the season.  Last year he trained the talented Whitmore to solid finishes in most of the major Kentucky Derby Preps at Oaklawn Park.  Whitmore ended up becoming Moquett’s second Kentucky Derby participant in a row, and is still in training heading into 2017.  He’ll have another shot this year at the Derby with Petrov who looks to target many of the same races Whitmore did last year.  Nobody wants to win races at Oaklawn more than this guy! Moquett considers Oaklawn his home track, and is always successful here so you can bet he’ll be ready to fill the entry box on opening day.

Brad Cox

Brad Cox continues to be a rising star in the game, and just missed getting his first Grade 1 victory a few days ago at Santa Anita Park.  After Midwest Thoroughbreds dumped him four years ago I thought he was in big trouble, but Cox has built his stable back better than ever.  He started with claiming horses, but has now built his barn with mostly high caliber horses that compete at the bigger levels.  His stable has expanded so much that for the second straight year he’ll have a full string at Oaklawn and the Fair Grounds.  Look for him to be a major player once again in 2017 as he always hits at a high percentage.

Federico Villafranco

He’s backed by owner Danny Caldwell which says everything you need to know! Caldwell is coming off an owners championship at Oaklawn the last three years in a row, as well as titles at Prairie Meadows and Remington Park in three straight seasons.  Caldwell prepares for this meet extremely well, and you can bet the DRC team will want to take the crown home once again. Can he win enough to get trainer Villafranco the training title?  He’s been close in recent years, but the challenge is ultra tough when competing against the bigger outfits like Asmussen.  However, Caldwell will be up for the challenge once again.

Robertino Diodoro

This guy has always been a major player in racing, but never had done much at Oaklawn Park before arriving on the scene last year in a big way.  In 2015 Diodoro came in with just 9 wins, but in 2016 he won 22 out of 70 races which landed him in a tie for fifth in the trainer standings.  His win percentage was an eye popping 31% which should serve notice to handicappers everywhere.  He’ll fill the entry box with most lowly claimers with the occasional allowance entry as well.

Randy Morse

If you are a fan of looking at horses in the paddock then this is probably your favorite trainer.  Nobody brings horses over that look any better than this guy does!  Morse is not all about looks though.  He is always in the top 15 of the trainer standings at Oaklawn, and also makes a similar impact anywhere he goes.  Last year at Oaklawn Park he finished 7th in the standings winning 17 of 87 races.  A model of consistency in a game that is hard to be consistent in.

Donnie K Von Hemel

The list of horses Von Hemel has campaigned at Oaklawn has been very impressive the last few years, and this year he brings back last years Southwest Stakes winner Suddenbreakingnews for his four year old season.  Suddenbreakingnews competed in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes last year, and is known for his late running come from behind style.  He’ll be pointing towards the Oaklawn handicap division this year.  The Von Hemel racing family and Oaklawn Park go hand and hand, and you can bet Donnie K will be geared up for another solid meet.  His consistency has been very impressive over the years.

D Wayne Lukas

There is no doubt the Hall of Fame trainer has struggled at Oaklawn Park the last two years, but he’s still the most recognizable figure on the backside.  As always Lukas will be looking to make a major splash in the Oaklawn Park three year old series as he’ll once again will look to get a starter in the Kentucky Derby.  Warrior’s Club looks to be his best shot at doing so right now, but you can bet he’ll fire as many out as he possibly can.  The recent split between him and Willis Horton was a shock so we’ll see how Lukas responds.

Wayne Catalano

The “Cat Man” didn’t overwhelm anyone with numbers last year at Oaklawn (only 43 starts) but it was quality over quantity.  Catalano seemingly had a horse in every 3 year old maiden race during the meet, and most of the times they were well bred and expensive horses owned by Gary and Mary West.  He ended up winning 11 races while hitting at a 26% clip, and you would imagine he’ll have the same type of horses ready to go for this meeting.

Others to watch for: Steve Hobby, Ingrid Mason, Al Cates, Jack Van Berg, Lynn Chleborad, Kelly Von Hemel, William Martin, Mac Robertson, J. R. Caldwell, and Don Von Hemel 

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