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Knock Em Flat Opts for Northern Spur

Knock Em Flat Opts for Northern Spur
Photo: Oaklawn Park

The contentious field for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) will most likely be diminished by one with trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel deciding instead to run Knock Em Flat in the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes on Saturday’s supporting card. The official scratch still hadn’t been made as of 2 p.m. Friday.

Sam Britt and Michael House’s Knock Em Flat, who graduated from the maiden ranks here in his fifth attempt last out, was cross-entered in both races restricted to 3-year-old. The Northern Spur, which attracted 10 entrants, will be run at one mile.

“The Arkansas Derby is a pretty tough field,” said Von Hemel.

The defection leaves a very contentious and talented group of eight for the 1 1/8 miles Arkansas Derby, which is one of the final qualifying races for the Kentucky Derby (G1). Danza, Tapiture, Ride on Curlin, Thundergram, Commissioner, Conquest Titan, Bayern and Strong Mandate will battle for the 170 qualifying points at stake, with 100-40-20-10 going to the first through fourth finishers.

Winchell Thoroughbreds’ homebred Tapiture, a maternal grandson of 1991 Arkansas Derby winner Olympio, who was also owned and bred by the Winchell family, is the 9-5 morning line favorite on the basis of his impressive win in the Southwest Stakes (G3) and second to the Bob Baffert-trained Hoppertunity in the Rebel Stakes (G2) at Oaklawn this season. Trainer Steve Asmussen, who was tightening the final screws on the chestnut colt Friday morning, has engaged Joel Rosario to ride him for the first time.

“With how important a race this is, and with Joel wanting the mount, this provided us a unique opportunity, said Asmussen. “We’re trying to give him the best chance to win the Kentucky Derby. We’re dreaming the Derby dream, just like everyone else.”

Asmussen said that Tapiture’s energy level is higher than it was for the Rebel and that he is extremely pleased with how well he has trained and progressed since being part of the roughly-run Rebel on Mar. 15.

Baffert bypassed the Arkansas Derby with Hoppertunity, who ran second the Santa Anita Derby one week ago and is qualified for the Kentucky Derby, but sends out Bayern from his powerful Southern California-based stable. Kaleem Shah’s Bayern has only raced twice, but broke his maiden and won a first level allowance race by a combined margin of almost 19 lengths. Bayern is the 2-1 second choice in the early line.

“Bayern is a physically impressive horse with two brilliant races, and he concerns me. If he gets loose on the lead…Bob comes prepared. He does not run a short horse,” Asmussen said, who added he wants to see his horse remain focused and patient in the race.

The Arkansas Derby will be run as the 11th of 12 races and the supporting stakes are the $600,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) and the $100,000 Instant Racing Stakes in addition to the Northern Spur Stakes.

The Oaklawn Handicap has attracted seven of the country’s top older horses and Willis Horton and Three Chimneys Farm’s Will Take Charge is the even-money morning line choice. Razorback Stakes (G3) run-away winner Golden Lad and Revolutionary, both trained by Todd Pletcher, will try to best the reigning 3yo Champion Male, who will be saddled by D. Wayne Lukas. Carve, Moreno and Prayer for Relief also take aim at Will Take Charge.

Arkansas Derby is the closing day of Oaklawn’s signature Racing Festival of the South and of the 2014 live racing season.

 

 

 

 

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