Gold Medal Dancer Works toward Apple Blossom Start
On the brink of retirement a month ago, Gold Medal Dancer is in the best form of her career as she nears the biggest race of her career. In her first workout since a breakthrough victory, she traveled five furlongs in a brisk :59.20 Saturday at Oaklawn in preparation for the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares April 10. It was easily the fastest of 17 works recorded at the distance. Clockers caught Gold Medal Dancerâ€™s final quarter-mile in :23.40 and galloping out six furlongs in a dazzling 1:12.20.
Gold Medal Dancer breezed over a fast track, moments after Oaklawn opened for training on a chilly, mostly cloudy morning. She is coming off a half-length victory over champion Untapable in the $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 14.
Trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel said Josephine Abercrombie (Pin Oak Stable) was prepared to retire Gold Medal Dancer to the owner/breederâ€™s broodmare band before the 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia dâ€™Oro won the Azeri.
â€œI was fighting for all I was worth that this could be her best year,â€ Von Hemel said with a laugh. â€œThey were seriously considering if she didnâ€™t run well, that it could have been her last race.â€
Gold Medal Dancer opened 2015 with a third-place finish in the $100,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) Feb. 15. The Azeri was Gold Medal Dancerâ€™s seventh victory from 16 lifetime starts and increased her earnings to $529,269. Her only other stakes victory came in the $75,000 Minnesota H.B.P.A. Distaff Stakes in June 2014 at Canterbury Park in Minnesota.
â€œSheâ€™s a big, good-looking mare, bred well,â€ Von Hemel said. â€œItâ€™s gratifying getting her where she should have been.â€
Also working Saturday was Pearl Turn, who worked a half-mile Saturday in :48.80 for trainer Will VanMeter. Afterwards, the trainer said heâ€™s â€œdefinitely leaning towardâ€ running the March 14 allowance/optional claiming winner in the Apple Blossom.
Trainer Steve Asmussen said a decision concerning Untapableâ€™s next start will be made after a scheduled work Monday. Untapable is under consideration for the Apple Blossom, Asmussen said. Trainer Kenny McPeek said fifth-place Azeri finisher Flashy American will pass the Apple Blossom in favor of the $100,000 Doubledogdare Stakes (G3) April 17 at Keeneland or the $150,000 Sixty Sails Handicap (G3) April 18 at Hawthorne. Flashy American, the defending Sixty Sails champion, worked a half-mile in :50.80 Saturday morning.
A New Mc(Peek)
Trainer Kenny McPeek said he first wintered at Oaklawn in 1990. Yet, he had to wait 25 years to record his first stakes victory.
McPeek saddled Trace Creek to win Fridayâ€™s $75,000 Arkansas Breedersâ€™ Stakes (open division) for state-breds at 1 1/16 miles, ending a string of near-misses in black-type events in Hot Springs. Trace Creek, the even-money favorite, edged Pistolpackinpenny be a half-length in the Arkansas Breedersâ€™ Stakes.
McPeekâ€™s local runner-up finishes have included the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) in 2003 (Take Charge Lady was beaten a head by reigning Horse of the Year Azeri) and the $300,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) in 2010 (Nobleâ€™s Promise was beaten a head by reigning 2-year-old champion male Lookin At Lucky).
â€œIâ€™ve knocked on the door in a lot of the big ones,â€ McPeek said. â€œAll of them are fun. It didnâ€™t matter if it was a maiden-claimer, Iâ€™m glad to be in the winnerâ€™s circle.â€
Following a 19-year absence, McPeek returned to Oaklawn with a small string in 2012. McPeekâ€™s main division is now based in Hot Springs after the trainer previously wintered in Florida. McPeek recently purchased a home in the historic Trivista neighborhood â€“ just north of Oaklawnâ€™s property â€“ and plans to make Arkansas his winter base because of Oaklawnâ€™s rapidly growing purse structure.
Racing Commission Approves 2016 Dates
The Arkansas Racing Commission approved dates for Oaklawn in 2016 at their regularly scheduled meeting Saturday morning. The Hot Springs track will open Friday, Jan. 15 and close Saturday, April 16. Oaklawn will maintain its regular Thursday â€“ Sunday schedule with two special holiday Monday cards and two Wednesday cards in April. There will be racing Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Monday, Jan. 18 and Presidents Day, Monday, Feb. 15. The Wednesday cards will be April 6 and 13.
Six-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen ($1,007,685) became the first trainer to surpass $1 million in purse earnings at the meet Friday. â€¦ Asmussen enters Saturday with 6,996 career victories in North American (6,998 worldwide). He has nine horses entered at three venues across the country Saturday, including six at Oaklawn. â€¦ Trainer Bret Calhoun said Boss Barneyâ€™s Babe is â€œprobableâ€ for the $100,000 Carousel Stakes for older female sprinters April 8 and Supermason is â€œprobableâ€ for the $100,000 Northern Spur Stakes for 3-year-olds April 11. â€¦ Nominations to Oaklawnâ€™s major Racing Festival of the South events closed Friday and Saturday.
Oaklawn Barn Notes - Saturday, March 28
Gold Medal Dancer Works toward Apple Blossom Start