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Barn notes 3/21 | Sports & Recreation

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Barn notes 3/21
Barn notes 3/21

Hymn Book Back To Breezing Toward Oaklawn Handicap Date


Stuart Janney’s Donn Handicap (G1) winner Hymn Book breezed Wednesday morning in Florida with Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey starting to crank up the son of Arch for a trip to Arkansas for the $350,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 14.


It was the second work for Hymn Book since his mild upset in the unofficial start of the handicap tour at Gulfstream Feb. 11. He breezed a half-mile in 49 2/5 at Payson Park in Florida, and according to McGaughey all systems are ‘go.’


“So far, so good after today. We’re planning on nominating and coming,” said McGaughey. “He’s the kind of horse who puts a lot into his races and does well with some spacing between them.”


For McGaughey, the trip to Oaklawn will mark a return to a place that helped launch his racing career. A native of Lexington, Ky., McGaughey chose training over a potential professional golfing career in the early 1980s and came to Hot Springs to train for top Arkansas owner John Ed Anthony. He developed Vanlandingham into a champion for Anthony’s Loblolly Stable and eventually became the semi-private trainer for the Phipps Family, guiding the careers of superstars Personal Ensign, Easy Goer, Coronado’s Quest, Lure and My Flag. He won the 2001 Oaklawn Handicap with Traditionally, but has been back just once in the last 10 years, finishing second with Gone Astray in the 2010 Razorback Handicap (G3).


“I always enjoyed it there and I’m looking forward to going,” he said. “I haven’t been back since they (built the gaming center), but I was always a grandstand guy there.”


Hymn Book has never finished worse than third on dirt including a string of two wins and three runner-ups finishes in his last five dirt starts since the start of last year’s campaign. Like many McGaughey stars, Hymn Book was not rushed into stakes races and was even offered in a maiden claiming race in his second career start at Monmouth in 2009. He won that race and the following three straight, but didn’t get into a stakes race until winning an overnight contest last May at Belmont. Minus a dull sixth-place finish in the Bernard Baruch Handicap (G2) on turf, Hymn Book had finished second in the Suburban Handicap (G2) and the Cigar Mile (G1) before his breakout in Florida.


“Other than the grass race, all of his starts last year were very good,” said McGaughey. “Once he finished second in the Cigar Mile the main thing became just getting to the Donn. He’s the kind of horse that when he’s fresh he does good, and we knew we could take him over there and he would run hard. If they beat us, they beat us, but if they didn’t, well, good for us.


“He’s a hard trying horse that seems to do well over several distances and over different tracks, so shipping shouldn’t be a problem,” he said. “He’s very adaptable and as long as he’s doing well, it takes quite a bit to beat him.”


The Oaklawn Handicap will be run on the same card as the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on the final day of the Racing Festival of the South. McGaughey noted that jockey John Velazquez would be back to ride Hymn Book in the 1 1/8th-mile contest.