Today’s Oaklawn Park barn notes by Robert Yates (Coady Photography photo of Monomoy Girl winning Oaklawn Park’s Azeri Stakes:
HOT SPRINGS, AR. (Friday, March 19, 2021) — Perhaps the surest bet this year at Oaklawn was that Kentucky-based jockey Florent Geroux would have a much bigger impact on the jockey standings than he did during his first stint as a regular in 2012 when he came to Hot Springs to ride primarily for powerful Midwest Thoroughbreds, which would threaten Dan Lasater’s then-single-season record for victories by an owner (48).
Midwest finished with 42 victories, but Geroux didn’t ride any of them after one its trainers at the meet, Jamie Ness, went in a different direction with riding assignments. Quietly, Geroux left Oaklawn after going winless in seven mounts.
Betting that Geroux would fare better in 2021, specifically because of his relationship with Brad Cox, Midwest’s other trainer during the 2012 Oaklawn meet, has, as expected, been a financial windfall for the jockey’s longtime agent, Doug Bredar.
Through Sunday, Day 23 of the now 51-day meeting, Geroux had ridden 23 winners from just 83 mounts and bankrolled $1,594,830 in purse earnings. He was tied for second in victories, No. 2 in purse earnings, first in stakes victories (five) and tied for first in graded stakes victories (two).
“Very happy,” Bredar said Thursday morning. “We were second-leading rider at Fair Grounds and a lot of people said to us: ‘Are you nuts to leave there?’ We’re pretty much second-leading rider here now, so it’s worked out really, really well.”
Geroux began building his relationship with Cox during the jockey’s brief stay in Hot Springs almost a decade ago and has become the go-to rider for the 2020 Eclipse Award-winning trainer. Geroux, now among the country’s most successful jockeys, normally winters at Fair Grounds, but decided to move his tack to Oaklawn after talking with Cox, who maintains large strings at both tracks. Purses are Oaklawn are the country’s highest during the winter.
Geroux and Cox, through Sunday, were 10 for 32 together at this year’s Oaklawn meet and had totaled $924,574 in purse earnings. They have teamed for three stakes victories – $150,000 Smarty Jones for 3-year-olds Jan. 22 (Caddo River), $250,000 Bayakoa (G3) for older fillies and mares Feb. 28 (Monomoy Girl) and last Saturday’s $350,000 Azeri (G2) for older fillies and mares (Shedaresthedevil). Geroux also won the $150,000 American Beauty Stakes for older female sprinters Jan. 30 aboard Frank’s Rockette for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and last Saturday’s $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes for older sprinters aboard C Z Rocket for trainer Peter Miller.
“It’s been special, very special,” Bredar said. “You hope when you make these plans that things turn out the way you want them to. We’re tickled to death. Like I said, we’re very, very excited. It’s been a great year. I think we’re fourth in North America in earnings. That’s one of the highest numbers we’ve ever had. We’ve enjoyed our stay here. Everybody’s treated us really, really well.”
Bredar said Geroux, 34, will “kind of finish up through the end of the month” at Oaklawn before Keeneland opens April 2, but “definitely come back” April 10 and April 17. Oaklawn’s April 10 card will include four stakes races – $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) for 3-year-olds, $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older sprinters, $400,000 Oaklawn Mile for older horses and the $250,000 Carousel for older female sprinters – while Monomoy Girl is scheduled to run April 17 at Oaklawn in the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares. The $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses is also April 17. Geroux is the regular rider of Monomoy Girl, a two-time Eclipse Award winner.
“It’s gone better than whatever that year was,” Bredar said, referring to 2012. “It didn’t work out real well. We’re very thrilled that it turned out a lot better this year.”
Bredar also represents Martin Garcia and said Oaklawn’s co-second-leading jockey in 2020 will ride regularly until the meeting ends May 1. Geroux and Garcia will both ride March 27 at Turfway Park, Bredar said.
Geroux, through Thursday, had 34 victories, including 10 stakes, in his Oaklawn career. His mounts had earned $3,599,825. Geroux is scheduled to ride the Cox-trained Warrior’s Charge in his 2021 debut Thursday at Oaklawn. Geroux won the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses last year at Oaklawn aboard Warrior’s Charge.
Geroux’s wife, Kasey, is the daughter of the late jockey Louis Spindler, who rode 27 winners at the 1973 Oaklawn meeting. That bulk of Spindler’s victories were for Lasater, who won a then-record 48 races at the 1974 Oaklawn meet.
Bodenheimer was among 19 horses nominated to the $150,000 Gazebo Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters Saturday at Oaklawn, but trained Valorie Lund opted to pass the 6-furlong race after the son of Atta Boy Roy missed training time in February following harsh winter weather.
Lund, who last year relocated her main base to Kentucky, said she still expects Bodenheimer to run at Oaklawn before the meeting ends May 1.
Bodenheimer was recently named 2020 Washington-bred Horse of the Year, champion turf horse and co-champion 2-year-old after winning 3 of 5 starts (all sprints), including the $50,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile Stakes Aug. 22 at Prairie Meadows and the $150,000 Indian Summer Stakes Oct. 4 at Keeneland. Bodenheimer hasn’t started since finishing eighth in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (G2) Nov. 6 at Keeneland.
“He’s still developing,” said Lund, who also trained Atta Boy Roy, a Grade 2 winner. “There’s nothing in his breeding that says he couldn’t stretch out. I didn’t stretch him out last year because he was too much of a 2-year-old. Like his second start at Prairie, under the lights and all, he tried to run off like three times during the race. It was too soon to try and stretch him, so we stayed with just the sprints. But his dam (Beautiful Daniele) was a stakes winner at a mile and even though Atta Boy Roy himself wouldn’t relax enough to really be a route horse, he did win at a mile.”
Bodenheimer has recorded three workouts at Oaklawn since Feb. 25, the last a half-mile move in :48.80 last Saturday. Bodenheimer’s only start on dirt was a front-running neck decision in the Prairie Gold Juvenile Stakes.
It’s Back, Times Two
Beginning this weekend, Oaklawn will open the infield, weather permitting, on Sundays throughout the remainder of the meeting. Oaklawn officials cited popular demand for the move, which came roughly 2 ½ weeks after the track announced that, following COVID-19 lockdowns, the infield would be open for the first time this season March 6 and subsequent Saturdays throughout the remainder of the meet.
Gates open at 11 a.m. (Central) Saturday and Sunday. General admission is on a first come, first-served basis. No reservations are required, with all ages welcome. Based on Oaklawn COVID-19 guidelines, fans will only be allowed to enter the infield through the north alley, which is located off Central Avenue across from the Best Western Hotel. Oaklawn’s north parking lot will be open for parking.
Oaklawn management will monitor capacity throughout the day and masks or facial coverings are required for ages 10 and older. Social distancing protocols remain in place.
Chairs and blankets are permitted. Tents, coolers and backpacks are prohibited.
Oaklawn’s live season ends May 1.
Defending Oaklawn training champion Robertino Diodoro won two races Thursday. Diodoro won the fifth race with favored Pioneer Spirit ($4) and the seventh race with Henrys Deal ($9.40). Pioneer Spirit was claimed out of his victory for $50,000 by trainer Mike Maker, as was runner-up Chris and Dave, also trained by Diodoro. Chris and Dave went to Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen for $50,000. Asmussen (27 victories) and Diodoro (24) entered Friday 1-2 in the Oaklawn standings. … Through Thursday, Day 24 of the now-51-day meeting, 230 claims had totaled $4,214,500.