Race of the Week 2017

Nehro Works; Oaklawn Handicap Possible

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.”


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.


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