Racing returns to Oaklawn with opening day Derby prep

Racing returns to Oaklawn with opening day Derby prep
Photo: Oaklawn Park
Racing at Oaklawn Park is set to resume Friday as the track stages an opening card that features the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes, a 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby points race. See entries for Oaklawn's opening day here.

The meet features last year’s training champion Robertino Diodoro, who finished the 2020 edition of Oaklawn’s meet with 52 wins. He will start Pioneer Spirit on Saturday in the $150,000 Fifth Season Stakes and expects to run Keepmeinmind in the $750,000 Southwest (G3), another Derby points race, Feb. 15.

Joining Diodoro will be Oaklawn’s 2020 trainer earnings leader, Steve Asmussen. The Hall of Famer amassed more than $4 million last year, while also racking up 49 victories. Asmussen has 16 opening weekend entries, including two in the Smarty Jones with Cowan and Big Thorn.

Asmussen won the 2020 Smarty Jones with Gold Street, who did not go on to Derby glory. The colt raced two more times in 2020, finishing ninth in the Southwest Stakes and eighth in the Oaklawn Invitational.

Gold Street was ridden in that race by jockey Martin Garcia, who finished tied for second in wins last year among the Oaklawn colony with 53. Garcia, who returns to Arkansas for 2021, has not ridden since October, when he broke his collarbone at Keeneland.

Garcia has five scheduled mounts on opening day, including Hardly Swayed in the Smarty Jones.

"I’ve had 2½ months," Garcia said earlier this month. "I’m not 100 percent yet, but I will be. The bone doesn’t hurt, so I think that’s the main thing."

Garcia will be joined in the jockey colony by a host of Oaklawn familiar faces, including Joe Talamo, David Cohen and Ricardo Santana Jr., who led 2020’s meet in both wins (61) and earnings (more than $3.8 million).

Working regularly at Oaklawn this meet is Florent Geroux, who will be riding mostly for Brad Cox. Cristian Torres, who has been riding at Gulfstream, also announced a move to Oaklawn last week.

Another new element to this year’s Oaklawn meet will be the reduction of Lasix used at the track. This year’s Kentucky Derby trail will be free of the anti-bleeding medication by order of Churchill Downs.

For other races, Lasix will still be allowed. Six of the nine opening day races feature entire fields using the medication, and another has all but one horse. However, track president Louis Cella told HRN that horsemen agreed to a 50 percent drop in dosage for non-Derby trail races.

Besides the Smarty Jones, the Kentucky Derby prep races taking place during Oaklawn’s 2021 meet are as follows with dates and points payouts:

Feb. 15: $750,000 Southwest (G3), 10-4-2-1

Mar. 13: $1 million Rebel (G2), 50-20-10-5

Apr. 10: $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1), 100-40-20-10

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