Today’s Oaklawn Park media notes by Robert Yates (Coady Photography photo of Whitmore winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland):
Oaklawn’s top male sprinter last year can now be called the best nationally, too.
The ultra-popular Whitmore, a seven-time Oaklawn stakes winner co-owned and trained by Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, was named the country’s champion male sprinter of 2020 during the 50th annual Eclipse Awards ceremony Thursday night.
Whitmore received 132 first-place votes from members of the three consolidated voting blocs – Equibase, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. Vekoma finished second with 83, followed by three other 2020 Oaklawn-raced horses in Volatile (16), Charlatan (four) and C Z Rocket (three).
Three finalists in each division were announced Jan. 16, established through a 10-5-1 point system from earlier voting. Eclipse Award winners were determined solely by first-place votes.
Whitmore compiled a 3-2-0 mark from seven starts last year, punctuating his resume with a dominating victory in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
The gelding’s other two victories came at Oaklawn, his winter home since 2016. He won the $150,000 Hot Springs Stakes in March for a record fourth consecutive year and the $350,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) in April for a record third time.
“I think the reaction that we get from the rest of the people kind of mimics how we feel all the time about him,” Moquett said Friday morning. “It’s like everybody’s giving him credit, loving him or whatever. But Arkansas people kind of already thought that he was a champion, regardless, and it’s kind of like the rest of world got to see what we’ve been thinking for three years.”
Whitmore is training at Oaklawn in preparation for his scheduled 8-year-old debut in the $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes March 13. Whitmore’s major spring objective, Moquett said, is again the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 10. Both races are 6 furlongs.
“Still the plan,” Moquett said. “He’s going to run a mile and a half at Oaklawn.”
Whitmore headlined a banner night for 2020 Oaklawn-raced horses and its third-leading trainer last year during the virtual awards ceremony.
In addition to Whitmore, Oaklawn-raced horses were crowned champion 3-year-old filly (Swiss Skydiver), champion older dirt male (Improbable) and champion female sprinter (Gamine).
Swiss Skydiver won the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) last May for trainer Kenny McPeek. The Fantasy is Oaklawn’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies. The well-traveled Swiss Skydiver went on to win the $200,000 Santa Anita Oaks (G2) at Santa Anita, $500,000 Alabama Stakes (G1) at Saratoga and toppled males, including future Horse of the Year Authentic, in the Preakness – the final leg of last year’s revised Triple Crown – in October at Pimlico.
Swiss Skydiver became the sixth Fantasy winner to be named champion 3-year-old filly, following Our Mims (1977), Davona Dale (1979), Tiffany Lass (1986), Rachel Alexandra (2009) and Blind Luck (2010).
Davona Dale was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1985. Rachel Alexandra also won the Preakness en route to 2009 Horse of the Year honors. She was a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee.
Swiss Skydiver was a runaway winner in balloting for champion 3-year-old filly, receiving 218 first-place votes. Runner-up Gamine received 20. Swiss Skydiver also finished third in Horse of the Year voting. Shedaresthedevil, winner of the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) last March at Oaklawn, was the other finalist for champion 3-year-old filly.
Improbable easily outdistanced runner-up Knicks Go in the older dirt male category. Improbable, who began his 4-year-old campaign with a runner-up finish in Oaklawn’s $150,000 Oaklawn Mile, received 218 first-place votes. Knicks Go, a powerful Oaklawn allowance winner in his 2020 debut, received eight first-place votes.
After finishing second in the Oaklawn Mile last April, Improbable won the $300,000 Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita, $750,000 Whitney Stakes (G1) at Saratoga and the $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes (G1) at Santa Anita.
Whitmore and 2020 Oaklawn Mile winner Tom’s d’Etat each received one first-place vote for champion older dirt male.
Gamine, who crossed the finish line first in a closing-day entry-level allowance race last May at Oaklawn, received 219 first-place votes to easily secure champion female sprinter honors. Gamine captured three Grade 1 events last year, including the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
Oaklawn-raced Serengeti Empress (13 first-place votes) and Frank’s Rockette (four) finished second and third, respectively, in the female sprinter category. Serengeti Empress won Oaklawn’s $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares last March. Frank’s Rockette ran second in Oaklawn’s $100,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters last April.
Brad Cox, who won 26 races to finish third in last year’s Oaklawn standings, earned his first Eclipse Award for outstanding trainer. Cox received 106 first-place votes. Hall of Famer and 10-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen received 44 first-place votes to finish third.
Moquett received one first-place vote for outstanding trainer. But Whitmore, his prized gelding, had more than enough support to grab his first Eclipse Award after finishing eighth, second and third in the previous three runnings of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
“He’s a cool horse,” Moquett said.
Familiar names top the Oaklawn standings after the first three days of the scheduled 57-day meeting.
Through Jan. 24, seven-time champion Ricardo Santana Jr. and newcomer Florent Geroux led all riders with seven victories. All of Santana’s victories were for Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, whose seven winners led all trainers. Asmussen is seeking his record-tying 11th Oaklawn training title.
Santana and Asmussen teamed for three victories Jan. 23 and Jan. 24. JoAnn and Alex Lieblong had three victories to grab the early lead in the owner’s standings. All three victories came Jan. 24 as part of the Santana/Asmussen triple. The Lieblongs were Oaklawn’s third-leading owners last year.
Seven-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. entered Friday with 1,499 career North American victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. … Sekani, winner of the $100,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes for 3-year-old Arkansas-bred fillies last year at Oaklawn, was scheduled to make her 2020 debut in Friday’s fourth race for her new trainer, Brad Cox, and breeder/owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs. Cox said the open allowance sprint was a scheduled prep for the $150,000 Downthedustyroad Breeders’ Stakes for state-bred female sprinters, 3 and up, Feb. 20 at Oaklawn. … Post positions are to be drawn Saturday for the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters Feb. 6 at Oaklawn. Probables listed Friday morning by the Oaklawn racing department included Grade 2 winner Flagstaff for trainer John Sadler, Seven Nation Army (Ron Moquett) and Mr. Jagermeister (Valorie Lund). … The King Cotton is the first major local prep for the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 10. … Multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Hoonani Road is scheduled to make his 2021 debut in Sunday’s fourth race at Oaklawn, a waiver-claiming sprint for older horses. Hoonani Road, who isn’t eligible to be claimed under the waiver-claiming rule, hasn’t started since an Aug. 15, 2020, victory at Ellis Park. The Arkansas-bred gelding was claimed out of the race for $25,000 by Robertino Diodoro, Oaklawn’s leading trainer last year.