Oaklawn Park
notes – March 20

(Edited Oaklawn Park report)

Fair Grounds Shippers Take on Eight Locals in Saturday’s Gazebo Stakes

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Saturday’s $100,000 Gazebo Stakes at Oaklawn attracted a quality 10-horse field of 3-year-old sprinters and trainer Malcolm Pierce hopes that the lightly-raced Speightsong is ready to run with them, and run to his pedigree.

“He’s a nice little horse, but it’s a big step up even though he broke his maiden so easily in his last race,” said Pierce. “Jumping into a stake race wasn’t our first plan. I’ve been sitting here waiting for a month for races to fill so shipping in for this was our best option.”

The Sam-Son Farms homebred is by Speightstown, the 2004 Champion Sprinter. It stands to reason that Speightsong will relish the six furlong distance of the Gazebo, even though it took him four tries to find the winner’s circle.

“Sprinting should be his game,” said Pierce, the private trainer for the prestigious Sam-Son racing and breeding operation. “He finally put it all together in his last. He’s acted like a pretty nice horse all along, but he had excuses, greenness and just overall learning things. I think finally the bell went off last time. He was very impressive. He got some good numbers out of that race.”

Speightsong is a half-brother to homebred Up With the Birds, who won the 2013 Breeders’ Stakes after finishing second in the Queens Plate. In the fall, Up With the Birds notched an American Grade 1 victory when he took the Jamaica Handicap on Belmont Park’s turf course.

“That was my first grade one win and is the thrill of my career so far,” said Pierce. “Speightsong is well-related, but I think he’s more of a sprinter.”

Pierce, who has never before run a horse at Oaklawn and hasn’t even visited Hot Springs, will ship Speightsong from New Orleans early on Thursday morning with an expected arrival on the grounds in the afternoon. Although the dark bay colt likes the dirt, it is unknown whether he will take to the racing strip here.

“It does concern me that he might need a race over the track. You’re always concerned when you ship somewhere else,” said the trainer.

Not only will he have to handle new surroundings and being saddled by a stranger, he’ll have a new partner for the Gazebo. Eurico Da Silva was aboard for Speightsong’s first three efforts at Woodbine and then James Graham rode him when he crossed under the wire first in their Fair Grounds race, but Graham is committed to ride in a stakes race in New Orleans the same day.

“Gary Boulanger is coming in from Tampa (Bay Downs),” said Pierce. “He rides at Woodbine in the summer and he’s ridden horses for Sam-Son in the past. He’s a very competent rider. If the horse is good enough, the jock will be just fine.”

Speightsong’s connections are hopeful that the Gazebo will be a springboard for the colt.

“He’s a nice horse to train and he’s easy on himself,” said Pierce. “He does whatever you ask him. He’s not complicated at all and he’s a nice horse to be around. Hopefully he can have a good season.”

While Speightsong is being asked to handle the significant class hike in the Gazebo, Kendall’s Boy takes a step down from the $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) here in his last when he returns to Oaklawn.

That day he wound up 11th of the 12 in the field, but he did tangle with recent $600,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) second, third, and fourth place finishers Tapiture, Ride on Curlin and Strong Mandate. The trio is being pointed to the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) on April 12.

The Southwest was New Orleans-based Kendall’s Boy’s first attempt to win at 1 1/16 miles as well as his initial effort at Oaklawn, where the smart money says horses often require a trip over the track.

“I hope they’re right,” trainer Tom Amoss said. “He had a tough trip last time. He got bounced around at the start and was carried very wide. The Southwest was a tough race. This is a little easier spot, and this time, we’re going back to a distance that he has won at.”

Amoss also said that some changes are in the cards for Jerry Namy’s Kendall’s Boy. Namy also owns local heroine Don’t Tell Sophia, the back-to-back winner of the Pippin and Bayakoa Stakes in 2013-14.

Kendall’s Boy, named for Namy’s late close friend and business partner Kendall Hill, will wear blinkers for the first time and be partnered with new rider Cliff Berry.

The Sky Mesa colt worked 4f on Mar. 16 at Fair Grounds and his 48.40 breeze was the second fastest of 35 horses working at the distance.

“He’s been doing well since the Southwest,” said Amoss. “He’s had a nice breeze this week so we’re looking forward to it. He was second to Havana (one of Todd Pletcher’s highly regarded 3yos) in his first start. His last work was pretty good so it shows he’s in form. We’re excited to give it a whirl and see what happens.”

The complete field for the $100,000 Gazebo Stakes, in post position, with riders and morning line odds: Mister Pollard, Jareth Loveberry, 30-1; Kendall’s Boy; Cliff Berry, 6-1; Big Sugar Soda, Ricardo Santana, Jr., 6-1; Dunkin Bend, Jesus Castanon, 9-2; Bagg O’Day, Alex Birzer, 12-1; Guns Loaded, Norbert Arroyo, Jr., 6-1; Speightsong, Gary Boulanger, 6-1; Brewing, Jon Court, 6-1; Condo Closing, Alex Canchari, 15-1 and Boji Moon, Terry Thompson, 2-1.