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Nominations Released for Racing Festival of the South; Havre de Grace Tops List in Two Races | Sports & Recreation

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Nominations Released for Racing Festival of the South; Havre de Grace Tops List in Two Races
Nominations Released for Racing Festival of the South; Havre de Grace Tops List in Two Races

Oaklawn traditionally saves the best for last and 2012 won’t be an exception when the Hot Springs track hosts the Racing Festival of South over the final four days of the meet, April 11 – 14. Nominations for the four graded stakes that along with the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) anchor the event were released Wednesday with 2011 Horse of the Year Havre de Grace, Sprint Champion Amazombie, Donn Handicap winner Hymn Book and early Kentucky Oaks favorite On Fire Baby among the most notable nominations.


Havre de Grace, who joined the ranks of Zenyatta and Azeri by winning the Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) during her championship season, nominated to both the $500,000 race for fillies and mares April 13 and the $400,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 14 where she would face males for the third time in her career. The Apple Blossom drew nine other nominations, including Grade 1 winners Awesome Maria, It’s Tricky and Plum Pretty as well as local stakes winners Absinthe Minded and Tiz Miz Sue.


The Oaklawn Handicap drew 24 nominations led by two-time Oaklawn stakes winner this meet Alternation, defending champion Win Willy and Donn Handicap winner Hymn Book, who are all expected to start. Also pointing to the race is Nehro, the 2011 Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby runner-up. The Oaklawn Handicap and the $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3), which attracted 23 nominations, were moved in 2012 and are now supporting features with the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes on the April 14 Arkansas Derby card.


The $300,000 Fantasy Stakes (G2), which has produced Kentucky Oaks winners and champions Rachel Alexandra and Blind Luck in recent years, kicks off the Racing Festival Wednesday, April 11. The 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-old fillies closed with 20 nominations topped by Honeybee Stakes (G3) winner On Fire Baby, who is also being considered for the Arkansas Derby (G1).


The other stakes that make up the Racing Festival of the South are the $100,000 Redbud and $75,000 Carousel Stakes Thursday, April 12 and the $100,000 Instant Racing Stakes on the Apple Blossom undercard. Nominations for these races close later this week.


Nehro Passes Workout Test; May Advance To Oaklawn Handicap


There was a slight sense of relief in the voice of trainer Steve Asmussen hours after Zayat Stable’s Nehro worked at Oaklawn Wednesday morning, three days after last year’s Kentucky Derby (G1) and Arkansas Derby (G1) runner-up scratched from the New Orleans Handicap suffering from muscle cramps.


The 4-year-old son of Mineshaft returned to action Feb. 25 at the Fair Grounds for the first time since finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes (G1) last year. He dominated allowance competition and seemed poised to run big Sunday, but he “tied up” Saturday morning after his daily training and had to miss the race. Instead he shipped to Oaklawn with today’s workout set as an important indicator of whether the team could regroup for the $400,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) on Sat. April 14.


“He went good and that’s a relief,” said Asmussen, whose Oaklawn string has won 24 races here this year, good for second in the standings. “If he continues to progress nicely we will look at the Oaklawn Handicap.”


Nehro breezed five furlongs in 1:02 1/5 Wednesday morning.


It promises to be a busy closing day at Oaklawn for Asmussen and his team with 2011 Delta Jackpot (G3) winner Sabercat looking to bounce back from an eighth-place finish in his 3-year-old debut in the Rebel Stakes March 17. He remains on target for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1).


On the other hand “iffy” to make the $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) that day is Zayat’s Riley Tucker, winner of the King Cotton Stakes in February, but a disappointing fourth as the favorite in the Hot Springs Stakes March 24.


“No real story there and nothing to point at to explain (the loss),” said Asmussen.


Asmussen also noted Glinda the Good, a 3-year-old filly most recently second in the Sunland Park Oaks in New Mexico, is more likely to take on the $100,000 Instant Racing Stakes Friday April 13 and not the $300,000 Fantasy Stakes (G2) two days earlier. The daughter of Hard Spun was best-of-the-rest eight lengths behind Princess Arabella and Asmussen isn’t keen on running into similar performers in Hot Springs.


“She saw one very, very good filly,” he said. “She gave it her one college try. Now she needs to try to be running where she belongs.”


Amie’s Dini Preparing for Fantasy Tussle


Martha Washington Stakes winner Amie’s Dini continues to be a “happy horse” according to trainer Ron Moquett, and he can point to the fast workout the 3-year-old filly turned in Wednesday morning at Oaklawn as evidence one week out from her next start in the $300,000 Fantasy Stakes (G2).


“She was fantastic,” said Moquett after the daughter of Bandini blitzed a half-mile in 47 4/5 over a fast track drying out from overnight thunderstorms. Owned by Mike Walker and Lou Sutterfield, she was ridden by her regular jockey Jon Court and the work was easily the fastest of the eight workers breezing that distance. Moquett caught the five-furlong gallop-out in 1:00 3/5 and pulling up through six furlongs in 1:12 3/5.


There wasn’t much of a plan for this workout beyond letting Amie’s Dini do what she wanted – within reason.


“She did it all on her own because I told Jon to let her do whatever made her happy,” said Moquett. “She went that fast, but it was in hand and we didn’t ask her for anything. She could have done a lot more.”


The Fantasy will likely be a rematch of last month’s Honeybee Stakes (G3) when On Fire Baby wore down Amie’s Dini at the same 1 1/16th-mile distance of next Wednesday’s contest. If On Fire Baby opts to race in the Fantasy and not the Arkansas Derby three days later, the field will likely be on the short side. Moquett has that in the back of his mind, but he isn’t worried yet about race strategy.


“My job right now is to get her as prepared to race next Wednesday and to be as prepared as we can be,” he said. “Once we know who is in the race, then we’ll get all tactical.”


Part of those tactics may involve J. Lee Didier’s Livi Makenzie, a winner of an optional allowance Feb. 25 who was being pointed toward the Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland Saturday, but was kept home in Hot Springs.


“We wanted to give her shot on synthetics, but it ended up being a shot with the best, proven synthetic fillies and that’s skipping a couple steps,” said Moquett.


Now, depending on the moves others make, Livi Makenzie could land in the Fantasy or the $100,000 Instant Racing Stakes on Friday April 13.