Derby And Oaks Points Ripe On Graded Sunny Saturday At Oaklawn

Timberlake | Sarah Andrew

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The massive deep freeze which crippled the second half of Oaklawn Park's January cards seems like a distant memory, as weekend weather in Hot Springs looks to punch through the upper 60s and into the lower 70s. The sunshine will be a welcome sight with points intended for passage to the GI Kentucky Derby and GI Kentucky Oaks ripe for the picking.

 

Timberlake Favorite Choice in Rebel

The Arkansas series for the colts features another running of the GII Rebel S., which brings together a field of 13.

The class headliner looking to take home 50 Derby credits to the winner is 'TDN Rising Star' Timberlake (Into Mischief). Bred by St. Elias and owned by WinStar, the Brad Cox trainee is coming off the shelf for his 3-year-old debut.

Last summer, the bay powered across the Ellis Park wire by 9 1/4 lengths which earned him a 'Rising Star' blue ribbon at second asking. As the runner-up in the GI Hopeful S. at Saratoga, he returned to New York a month later to capture the GI Champagne S. during the Belmont at the Big A meet. His juvenile campaign came to a close when he finished fourth to 'Rising Stars' Fierceness (City of Light), Muth (Good Magic) and Locked (Gun Runner) in the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Santa Anita.

“We gave him a little bit of a break after the Breeders' Cup,” said Cox. “He had a long campaign, and we were very happy with what he was able to accomplish at the age of 2. Just excited about what lies ahead for him. He's really turned it on over the last two weeks with his works. We feel like we've got him about as good as we're going to get him.”

Timberlake is the only entry without an attempt over the local strip in Hot Springs. Out of the other 12, Bill and Corinne Heiligbrodt, who welcomed as an investor current Oaklawn leading owner Staton Flurry, will look for 'TDN' Rising Star' Carbone (Mitole) to improve. The favorite in the GIII Southwest S. turned in a seventh-place finish.

Others in for a bushel full of points include a pair from Ken McPeek's shedrow. Northern Flame (Flameaway) missed hitting the board last fall in the GI Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland and in the GIII Street Sense S. at Churchill Downs. However, his gate to wire win against optional claimers at Oaklawn Jan. 28 proves he can be dangerous up front. His stablemate Common Defense (Karakontie {Jpn}) displays the complete opposite running style, as he likes to be heard from late in the game.

“(Northern Flame) has improved from 2 to 3,” said trainer Ken McPeek, who just celebrated his 2,000th victory this week. “He fought on well in that allowance race. He's a good, solid colt. … (Common Defense) didn't like the mud last time. I'm hoping for a dry track this weekend. I started to take him to the (Mar. 2) Battaglia Memorial at Turfway because I think ultimately his future may be on turf. He worked so good this week that I went ahead and put him back in at Oaklawn.”

Making his third start over the Oaklawn dirt is the experienced picker Just Steel (Justify) for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who was the runner-up in the GIII Southwest S. He will break to the inside of an upstart named Time for Truth (Omaha Beach) on the stretch out for conditioner Ron Moquett and principal owner Harry T. Rosenbaum.

 

Honeybee Could Be Sweet For West Omaha

West Omaha | Hodges Photography/Lou Hodges, Jr.

Just as with the boys, the fillies are also looking to harvest a top prize of 50 points. Their haul in Saturday's GIII Honeybee S. will be applied towards a spot in the starting gate for the GI Kentucky Oaks.

Leading the charge is another from Cox's stable, who like Timberlake, has been working out at his Fair Grounds base. Gary and Mary West's homebred West Omaha (West Coast) was scratched out of the GII Rachel Alexandra S. after she won the Silverbulletday S. by five lengths in New Orleans Jan. 20.

The filly will tangle the Martha Washington S. winner Band of Gold (Preservationist). The McPeek trainee turned on the jets down the lane in that Feb. 3 stakes race and won by 2 3/4 lengths in what was an impressive display of speed.

Finally, Greg Tramontin, who left racing for 23 years before returning once again as an owner in 2018, enters Alys Beach (Omaha Beach). The chestnut debuted a winner last summer at Saratoga under Tom Amoss, but she was a well-beaten fourth in the GI Spinaway S. upstate before the meet closed and when she faded to third in the GI Alcibiades S. at Keeneland in early October.

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