Gold Medal Dancer Looks for Apple Blossom Glory
Gold Medal Dancer ran the best race of her career while becoming a first time graded stakes winner when she upset reigning 3-year-old filly champion Untapable last out in the $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) here on March 14, but Donnie K. Von Hemel knows the waters get much deeper in Friday's rematch in the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1).
â€œShe's coming up to the race the best she can be and we're very happy with her,â€ said Von Hemel. â€œI know Untapable will be tough to beat (again) this time, but hopefully, we're a little tougher ourselves, too.â€
The front-running Gold Medal Dancer, who has seven wins in 16 outings, fought off a challenge down the lane from Untapable, who was 1-9 in the Azeri field and tracked her the entire way, on a â€œgoodâ€ track to prevail by one-half length. Von Hemel doesn't necessarily want to see the homebred daughter of Medaglia d' Oro set all of the fractions again.
â€œI don't think she has to be on the lead, but if it's a reasonable pace, then I think she will be again,â€ he said while noting that Sugar Shock, who won the pair of Grade 3 stakes for 3-year-old fillies here when she took the 2014 editions of the Honeybee and Fantasy Stakes, also has plenty of early foot.
Von Hemel has had the consistent and hard-trying Gold Medal Dancer, who has finished in the money 12 of 16 times, in his barn since the beginning.
â€œIt's very gratifying that at this stage of her career she's at her best,â€ said Von Hemel. â€œWe always thought that she was a very nice filly, but before, every time she stepped off into the deep water we'd get in trouble. It was good to see her get it done in a great stakes like the Azeri. This time, she'll have to be even better, and I'm sure Untapable will be a little tighter than she was last time (when coming off a long layoff).â€
Gold Medal Dancer will have her rooting section on track on Friday as owner/breeder Josephine Abercrombie and a contingent from Pin Oak are attending the races.
â€œI've been with Pin Oak for a long time, since the 1980s, and it makes my job easier because they are very patient with their horses. I had a lot of very nice horses for them over the years,â€ said Von Hemel, who trained Pin Oak homebred 2012 Razorback Handicap (G3) and Oaklawn Handicap (G2) winner Alternation.
Ivan Fullunovalot Looks to Turn Table in Count Fleet
Locally-based trainer Tom Howard would like nothing better than to capture Thursday's $300,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) with Ivan Fallunovalot at Oaklawn Park.
"We live here. This is home," said Howard, who is married to retired jockey Kathy Moore, one of the first women to be a regular member of the colony here. â€œIt would be awfully nice to get his first graded stakes win here. Any win is nice, but this would be real nice.â€
Howard, a former assistant to Cole Norman, has had his license since 1976 and has previously won one graded stakes race, the 2011 Arlington-Washington Lassie with Rocket Twenty-one. King Cotton Stakes winner Ivan Fallunovalot, pronounced â€œI've been falling off a lot,â€ will carry high weight of 121 pounds and is the 2-1 second choice in the field of eight that includes 8-5 favorite Gentlemen's Bet.
â€œHe is spotting them quite a bit of weight and is one of the favorites, but we won't tell him that,â€ said Howard with a big smile. "He likes this track and runs good over it, that's for sure.â€
After taking the six-furlong King Cotton on Feb. 7, the 5-year-old Texas-bred son of Valid Expectations was on the lead next out in the Hot Springs at the same distance on Mar 7, but was caught late by Gentlemen's Bet and finished in second, 1 1/4 lengths behind.
â€œI figure we'll be the pace again. Gentlemen's Bet's game plan will be what it was last time, so we'll have to see who's the fastest,â€ said Howard. â€œThey all concern me, but no one scares me. We hope to have good racing luck and may the best horse win.â€
Howard claimed the bay gelding for $25,000 last year for Pine Bluff, Ark. resident Lewis Matthews, Jr., who said this is the best horse he's owned in his 11 years in the game.
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