Necker Island (inside) gamely won The Jeff Hall Memorial Stakes at Ellis Park July 24, 2022. (Coady Photography)
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—The 2022-2023 Oaklawn outlook for trainer Chris Hartman? Quantity and quality.
Hartman said he has 35 stalls this season and is armed with a particularly strong contingent of older male sprinters and promising 2-year-olds.
“We’ve definitely got our best group of horses, as a whole, that I’ve ever had,” said Hartman, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015. “They’re all pretty solid. Got some better horses. Got some good 2-year-olds, Two Eagles River, Klassy Bridgette, and some more nice 2-year-olds in the pipeline. I’ve got some that haven’t even started yet, so we’re doing pretty damn good.”
Hartman ($3,797,331 overall through Thursday) has already smashed his previous yearly career high for purse earnings, thanks, in part, to older male stakes-winning sprinters Tejano Twist and Necker Island.
Claimed out of a third-place finish in a Sept. 21 allowance/optional claimer at Churchill Downs for a hefty $125,000, Tejano Twist returned to win the $250,000 Steel Valley Sprint Stakes Nov. 21 at Mahoning Valley in his last start.
Necker Island, who has more than $800,000 in career earnings, won the $75,000 Jeff Hall Memorial Stakes July 24 at Ellis Park and was disqualified from a victory in his next start, the $150,000 Chesapeake Stakes Aug. 16 at Colonial Downs, for stretch interference.
Hartman also trains Kavod, who, in his first start after being claimed for $50,000 at Churchill Downs, won the $150,000 Advent Stakes for 2-year-old sprinters last December at Oaklawn. Kavod is the 2-1 program favorite for the $150,000 Ring the Bell Stakes at 6 furlongs Saturday at Oaklawn. He won the Sept. 21 race at Churchill Downs that Tejano Twist was claimed out of.
Kavod and Tejano Twist are both about to turn 4. Necker Island, 5, was claimed for $100,000 in June 2020 at Churchill Downs and ran ninth in the delayed Kentucky Derby (COVID-19) later that year.
“Yeah, got a problem separating them,” Hartman said. “It ain’t going to be a problem because (trainer) Bobby (Baffert) has been doing this stuff for a minute, so I’m sure I can handle it. I’ve seen the problem when I didn’t have any of them, so that’s the other problem. We’re going to get them all started, hopefully. We freshened up Necker Island and Tejano Twist is in prime form.”
Hartman said he hasn’t selected a next race for Tejano Twist or Necker Island. Oaklawn has two major preps for older sprinters for the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 15 – $150,000 King Cotton Stakes Jan. 28 and the $200,000 Whitmore Stakes (G3) March 18. A new stake for older sprinters, the $150,000 Lake Hamilton, is closing day, May 6.
“I want to tap in the best player at that time,” Hartman said.
Two Eagles River, purchased for $220,000 at the Ocala Breeders’ Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training, won his Oct. 30 career debut at Churchill Downs before finishing second, beaten a neck, by Victory Formation in a Nov. 26 entry-level allowance sprint at Churchill Downs. Victory Formation (2 for 2) is among several highly regarded Kentucky Derby prospects for two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox.
“He’s probably my best 2-year-old,” Hartman said.
Hartman said Two Eagles River, from the first crop of 2017 Preakness winner Cloud Computing, is a candidate for the inaugural $150,000 Renaissance Stakes at 6 furlongs Dec. 31 at Oaklawn. All races on the New Year’s Eve card are for 2-year-olds.
“We’re going to go sprint and then step him on out,” Hartman said.
Klassy Bridgette, from the first crop of unbeaten Grade 1 winner Army Mule, is entered in Sunday’s seventh race at Oaklawn, a maiden special weight sprint, after finishing second in her first two career starts this fall in Kentucky.
Hartman entered the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting with 185 career victories in Hot Springs.