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Notes from the barn | Sports & Recreation

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Notes from the barn
Notes from the barn

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – With the $250,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) exactly one week away, several leading contenders headed to the track Monday for their final workouts.

Leading the busy morning were Gem Stable’s Grade 1 winner J P’s Gusto and Zachney and Partners’ Elite Alex. Both are prominent names among the 364 nominees to this year’s Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1), however both colts have a lot to prove in Hot Springs before they start their Triple Crown journey in Louisville on the first Saturday in May.

J P’s Gusto, who arrived at Oaklawn last Wednesday, worked six furlongs in 1:15 3/5 under jockey Bryan McNeil in his first drill since joining the barn of Joe Petalino. The Successful Appeal colt was shifted by his owners from California to Oaklawn with the progressively longer distances of the races leading up to the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) his targets. His most impressive race last year was his 4 ½ length romp in the Del Mar Futurity (G1) at seven furlongs. Petalino is charged with preparing for the one-mile Southwest where he will team with 2010 Eclipse Award champion jockey Ramon Dominguez.

“He came to me with four works already in him,” said Petalino Monday morning. “He’s hasn’t missed any time so he’s pretty much ready. He’s doing pretty good here and he seems to like the track.”

Petalino also worked Gem Stable’s 4-year-old filly Honey Bunch in her first local breeze since shipping from trainer David Hofmans in California to Oaklawn along with J P’s Gusto. The daughter of Cherokee Run breezed four furlongs in 49 under Jon Court and is being pointed for Sunday’s $60,000 Spring Fever Stakes.

Baccari Racing Stable’s Brickyard Fast, runner-up in the Springboard Mile in December, is scheduled to work toward the Southwest Tuesday morning for Petalino. The son of Sharp Humor missed the Smarty Jones with a minor foot bruise.

Elite Alex, who breezed seven furlongs from the starting gate in 1:27 under jockey Calvin Borel, has big shoes to fill as the son of Afleet Alex, the 2005 Arkansas Derby winner, who also won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes en route to champion 3-year-old honors. Trained by Tim Ritchey, who also trained his sire, the Southwest will be his third career start and first attempt at stakes competition.

The colt went in company with another Tim Ritchey worker as well as a third horse who joined them in the barrier. Clockers caught the fractions in 36 3/6, 49 4/5 and 1:01 4/5 over the fast track with Elite Alex and Borel hitting the finish wire well clear of his workmates and continuing on his own around the first turn.

“He’s going very good and everything was there when I wanted it today,” said Borel, who along with his wife Lisa, was quickly making his way to Little Rock Airport to begin his journey to Dubai for an international all-star jockey event. “He’s super good right now and he feels like the real deal. Now we just have to hope we can get into the Southwest.”


Fires Sends Out His Southwest Duo for Works Monday

The recent wintery weather disrupted the training plans for the leading 3-year-old colts trained by Jinks Fires, but gorgeous weather Monday morning allowed Robert Yagos’s Sugar Bowl Stakes-winner       Archarcharch and Patricia Blass’s Bluegrass Bull to breeze ahead of possible starts the Southwest Stakes.

Archarcharch clocked six furlongs in 1:15 flat under jockey Jon Court as he seeks to bounce back from a fourth-place finish in the Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 17. Fires has been eager to push the robust son of Arch into action, but weather and circumstances made that difficult.

“I was really hoping I could get him into an allowance race because he’s such a big horse, it’s about the only way I can really get him what he needs,” said Fires. “Unfortunately we weren’t able to get a race to go, and then Mother Nature let us know that (this workout) would have to be good enough.”

Oaklawn was forced to cancel six straight live racing cards in the past two weeks due to a pair of winter storms and the resulting track conditions.

About 90 minutes later, jockey Gabriel Saez hopped aboard Bluegrass Bull for a six furlong move in 1:17 2/5 as that son of Bluegrass Cat pushes to improve on his third-place finish in the Smarty Jones last month.

“It was a little deep out there about three lanes out from the rail,” said Saez. “He worked good and should get something out of it. I just let him get a nice spot before he picked it up in the lane.”

In addition to fitness concerns, Fires is slightly worried about a potential full field for the one-mile Southwest. Those concerns still have him ready to possibly swerve one of his charges to any allowance races that might crop up this weekend, but he insists if they do run in the feature on President’s Day, there will be no excuses.

“I try to go for the gold every time we run,” said Fires. “If I feel we can win it, that’s what we will aim to do. That’s the idea.”

Von Hemel Stars Sent Through Southwest Paces

McNeill Stables’ Smarty Jones Stakes-winner Caleb’s Posse and Pin Oak Stable’s Alternation – both contenders for next Monday’s $250,000 Southwest Stakes – were also among those on Monday’s busy work tab morning for trainer Donnie Von Hemel.

Caleb’s Posse, a 3-year-old son of Posse coming off a 2 ¾-length triumph in the first stop on the Arkansas Derby (G1) series, breezed an easy five furlongs in 1:03 2/5 under regular jockey Eddie Razo Jr.

Alternation, a winner of a stacked allowance race over fellow Southwest hopeful Elite Alex Jan. 15, worked five furlongs under jockey Luis Quinonez in 1:01 4/5 in company with the lightly-raced Pin Oak   4-year-old Take Turns.

“They had to just gallop for a couple days, so it was good to get back to work this morning,” said Von Hemel. “I’m happy with what both of them were able to do. Caleb looked like he wanted to do some more. He really looks like he’s ready.”

Ever since emerging from opening weekend with these two contenders, Von Hemel has left open the possibility of splitting them up for their next starts. He remained non-committal Monday, but indicated he would have no problem sending both against each other in the one-mile President’s Day feature.

“We will see how things go over the next few days,” he said. “It’s looking like it could be a big field and there are a lot of races out there at this time of year, but we are ready to run one or both depending on how it goes here out of these works.”