Stonestreet Stables’ homebred Terra Promessa has never tasted defeated in five starts at Oaklawn, including two stakes victories this season, and she enters Saturday’s $ 350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) as the prohibitive 3-5 favorite. Eskenformoney intends to knock that filly right off her pedestal.
“She tries hard every time,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who sent her from South Florida along with Rebel Stakes hopeful Malagacy and Essex Handicap starter Madefromlucky.
After capping her 4-year-old season with her first graded stakes score in the Rampart (G3) at Gulfstream December 16, the daughter of Eskendereya returned from a vacation to finish third in the Royal Delta (G2) at the same track last time out.
“She got a wide trip all the way around there last time so we’re hoping for an improved position early on,” Pletcher said. “She seems to travel well and she seems to be in great form at the moment. She looks really well and she seems to have matured nicely this year, so we’re looking for her to bounce back with a better effort this time.”
Eskenformoney is owned by 10 women in a Star Ladies Racing partnership and Lisa Trout, the wife of WinStar Farm owner Kenny Trout, recently bought 50 percent of the now 5-year-old mare. Leigh Butler, one of the mare’s original 10 owners, traveled from Colorado for the race.
“I have been a part of the partnerships every year since Star Ladies was formed in 2013, and this horse is the last to still be racing from the original crop of five fillies we bought, said Butler, who will be joined by several of the other Star Ladies jetting in from all over for the race. “She’s also our first stakes winner, so she’s special. Out of that original crop, she’s my favorite. I named her. She’s beautiful and has a sweet disposition. We love her. We try to make as many of her races as possible and she’s taken us to a lot of different tracks.”
Butler and her husband, Bob, are taking in the sights during their first trip to Hot Springs, but they eschewed visiting the stable star at the barn.
“I’m superstitious and one of them is not seeing my horses before the race,” she said.
On St. Patrick’s Day, Butler confessed she does have a lucky charm. One day at Keeneland, multiple graded stakes winner Turbulent Descent lost a tooth and the groom picked it up and handed it to Butler.
“I’ve carried it with me when our horses race ever since,” she said.
Pletcher said that Eskenformoney will be campaigned for the rest of this year and then the connections will assess her status the fall. With Trout now as an owner, it is likely that if the mare is retired to become a broodmare she will be mated with a stallion on WinStar’s impressive roster.
She Maybee Wild finished at the back of the pack the day that Terra Promessa whistled in the Pippin with a gate-to-wire score in January, and comes into the Azeri as the winner of a $ 35,000 optional claiming race in her next start. Although she appears to be ambitiously spotted in Saturday’s Grade 2 event, Mark Danner thinks the Indiana-bred deserves the chance to outrun her 20-1 morning line odds.
“She’s coming in real good and we’re looking forward to the race,” said Danner, who trains Michelle Shaw’s homebred and is based at Oaklawn. “She’s been here all winter and is acclimated to her surroundings. Hopefully, that will give us a home field advantage. The race is very tough, and she’ll have to have her running shoes on, but I think she deserves a chance at it.”
In 19 outings, the 5-year-old mare has five wins, including Indiana Grand’s 2016 Richmond Stakes restricted to state-breds, and $ 279,624 in her bankroll.
“I decided to run her in this spot because here aren’t any more allowance races for her and we’d have to wait for Indiana in the summer. She’s made quite a bit of money with her lifetime earnings, but we don’t have any black type. We got photo-ed out of black type last fall at Churchill, and if we can get some for her that would make her a lot more desirable as a broodmare. We don’t get a lot of chances at that black type, so we’re shooting for it.”
She Maybee Wild will be ridden by Jon Court.
Dazzling Gem, one of Oaklawn’s top 3-year-olds last year, will try to snap a three-race losing streak in Saturday’s $ 250,000 Essex Handicap for older horses at 1 1/16 miles.
Dazzling Gem won his first two career starts at Oaklawn before finishing fourth in the $ 1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) last April. His racing career has been slowed by a foot problem, but trainer Brad Cox said Friday morning the 4-year-old son of Misremembered “is doing good.”
Dazzling Gem is coming off a third-place finish, beaten a half-length, in the $ 125,000 Mineshaft Handicap (G3) Feb. 25 at Fair Grounds, where he had been based most of the winter. He had been entered in Oaklawn’s $ 500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) Feb. 20, but scratched to run in the Mineshaft.
“It’s a solid race,” Cox said of the Essex. “I think it’s a step up from what he’s been running against. What made us come? The purse and Oaklawn. He obviously loves the track.”
Cox said his other option was to wait and run Dazzling Gem in the $ 400,000 New Orleans Handicap (G2) April 1 at Fair Grounds. The Essex is the final major local prep for the $ 750,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) April 15.
“Whether we can compete tomorrow will determine what we do at the end of the meet,” Cox said.
Cox trains Dazzling Gem for prominent automobile dealer Steve Landers, a member of the Arkansas Racing Commission.
Domain’s Rap may be 9, but the gelding is still going strong for three-time defending Oaklawn leading owner Danny Caldwell. He will try to turn back the clock again in Saturday’s $ 250,000 Essex Handicap, following up two victories and a third earlier in the meeting.
“All good,” Caldwell said Thursday afternoon. “As good as we could expect him to do, really. He’s training really well.”
Domain’s Rap won the $ 150,000 Fifth Season Stakes Jan. 13 and a Feb. 4 allowance/optional claimer before running third behind Gun Runner and Hawaakom in the $ 500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) Feb. 20.
Caldwell said he was on the fence about running Domain’s Rap in the Razorback, but the Essex was always in the gelding’s crosshairs.
“I kind of pointed him toward the race,” Caldwell said. “Really, it’s about the only thing I could enter in right now. With him liking this track, I thought we would go ahead and give him another shot.”
Claimed for $ 10,000 in November 2015 at Remington Park, Domain’s Rap won four consecutive races for Caldwell before finishing second in the $ 350,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) last year at Oaklawn.
Domain’s Rap is trained by Federico Villafranco.
Cheyenne Stable and Mac Nicol’s Madefromlucky, a son of 2010 Rebel Stakes winnner Lookin At Lucky, will be plenty pleased that this time there will be no American Pharoah with him in the Oaklawn starting gate. He also catches a break with stablemate Stanford not listed on his Saturday dance card.
In two previous forays at Oaklawn, Madefromlucky ran second to the eventual 2015 Triple Crown winner in the Rebel and then was fourth behind “Pharaoh” in the Arkansas Derby. In his last two races, he’s had to run against multiple stakes winner Stanford, who set a track record in a Tampa Bay Downs stakes March 11. Other recent foes include Grade 1 winners Frosted, Imperative, Keen Ice, and Mshawish.
The Essex, which came up triple-tough for an ungraded stakes, presents the perfect opportunity for the now 5-year-old horse to enhance his reputation and increase his bankroll.
“He’s consistently performed well and the company lines have been very strong,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “We felt the timing of the race was good so we think that he should show up and run hard like he always does.”
Madefromlucky scored in the Peter Pan (G2) and the West Virginia Derby (G3) during his sophomore season, but although he’s been close in some races, victory has eluded him eight times since that West Virginia score. Nonetheless, he’s enjoyed longevity in the Pletcher barn and been a favorite.
“He’s been a fun horse,” Pletcher. “He’s done well in some big spots. His West Virginia Derby was a big win. It’s nice when you have horses like Stanford and him that you get to keep around for a little while. They have a chance to earn some money, and hopefully, at some point down the road they’ll get an opportunity in the stallion barn. In the meantime, it’s nice to keep them around and have productive older horses.”
Javier Castellano has the mount and will also ride Pletcher charges Malagcy in the Rebel (G2) and Eskenformoney in the Azeri-G2 on the card.
Mor Spirit, trainer Bob Baffert’s 7-5 morning line favorite for Saturday’s $ 250,000 Essex Handicap, was in rather high spirits Thursday while schooling on the Oaklawn infield where the jockeys get legged up before stakes races. Therefore, the aptly-named Mor Spirit may be excused from taking part in that part of the pre-race pageantry.
Stanley Bowker, the chief state steward, said that is what the horse’s connections requested but a determination won’t be made until Saturday morning. If the weather should turn to rain by post time, it won’t be an issue because all of the horses will go straight from the paddock where they are saddled to the post parade.
Meanwhile, Mor Spirit was none the worse from his little adventure and was declared “Cherry Mundo” Friday morning. Cherry good, or Cherry Mundo en Espanol, is Baffert’s terminology for a horse in prime condition before a big race.
Michael Peterson’s Grade 1 winning Mor Spirit was a Triple Crown contender last year, but was pulled off the trail following a 10th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He didn’t make his comeback until December 16 when he was fourth in the Malibu Stakes (G1), and then was just edged in deep stretch by stablemate and 2014 Rebel Stakes winner Hoppertunity in the San Antonio Handicap-G2 in his last.
“He should be ready now,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s assistant who also brought Rebel Stakes (G2) favorite American Anthem to Oaklawn. “He’s had those two starts back at Santa Anita off the layoff so he should be good. But there are no easy spots, especially in Arkansas.”
Mike Smith will be in from California to ride him, and also will be aboard Rebel Stakes-G2 early favorite American Anthem for the same barn.
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