The Coach in one of his frequent winner’s circle interviews. (Coady Photography)
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— Attached to a bulletin board outside his Oaklawn barn office is a drawing of a wet bulb thermometer Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas uses to track his victories at the 2022-2023 meeting.
Lukas, 87, is going to need a bigger bulb.
Major Blue’s victory in Thursday’s eighth race, a $103,000 entry-level allowance sprint for 3-year-olds, marked the 15th at the meeting for Lukas. His victory tracker, already filled in with bright red ink, stops at 14.
“We’re getting the ones that can run to run,” Lukas said Thursday morning. “That’s what we’re getting paid to do. They pay us to make them better.”
Lukas has already established a single-season Oaklawn personal best for purse earnings ($1,866,604 through Thursday) and recorded his highest victory total at a meeting since 2011, when he won 27 races to secure his second Oaklawn training title. Lukas was also Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 1987 with 35 victories.
Lukas’ resurgence – he won seven races at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting – coincides with more numbers and landing several new clients with deep pockets. He’s also reunited with the family of the late Willis Horton (Kevin Horton), who campaigns millionaire multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Last Samurai, and another prominent Arkansas owner, John Ed Anthony.
Last Samurai represented Lukas’ 350th career Oaklawn victory in the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) for older horses March 18. Last Samurai is being pointed to the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses April 22. Caddo River, a homebred for Anthony, is scheduled to run in the $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) for older horses April 1. Lukas’ most heralded runner, 2022 Kentucky Oaks winner Secret Oath, is pointing to the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) for older fillies and mares April 15. She won the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) for older fillies and mares March 11 at Oaklawn in her 4-year-old debut.
“We’re going to be tough all the way on out,” Lukas said. “Obviously, Secret Oath, Caddo River, Last Samurai are all very live horses. We could finish up with a number of stakes winners.”
Lukas said he has several candidates for the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 1, including Bourbon Bash and Major Blue, who could wheel back following his front-running 1 ½-length victory Thursday. Post positions for the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) and $600,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies will be drawn Sunday.
“It just depends on how the Arkansas Derby shakes out,” Lukas said. “I want to know how many are in it, who is coming, before I make any decision on that.”
Major Blue represented Lukas’ 351st Oaklawn victory (No. 9 all time) and his 4,900th in North America, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Lukas’ North American total is No. 9 all time, based on Equibase statistics.
Lukas is the special guest for Saturday’s “Dawn at Oaklawn.” Oaklawn handicapper/paddock analyst Nancy Holthus will interview Lukas at 8 a.m. (Central) on the south grandstand apron. The free program includes barn tours at 7:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m.
Lukas saddled his first Oaklawn winner in 1983.
Moquett & Moquett
The Southern Springs Stables of trainer Ron Moquett, solely or in partnership, has amassed more than 50 career victories as an owner at Oaklawn.
The latest had a twist.
Dr. Forman’s victory in a March 11 race for older $8,000 claimers represented Southern Springs’ first with Maplewood, LLC. Maplewood is a new venture of Moquett’s son, Chance.
“I’ll definitely be involved in this forever,” Chance Moquett said. “It’s just my first opportunity to do something like this.”
Moquett, 30, said he began building his small stable by claiming Grapnel for $10,000 Nov. 11 at Churchill Downs. Maplewood then claimed Lord Dragon for $20,000 out of a Jan. 20 victory at Oaklawn and Dr. Forman for $6,250 out of a Jan. 29 runner-up finish at Oaklawn.
“All are in partnership with my dad, of course,” Moquett said. “I’m only a piece of a couple.”
Chance Moquett grew up in Greenwood, Ark., about 90 miles northwest of Hot Springs. He said his hometown factored into his stable name.
“I was from Greenwood, so I wanted some sort of ‘wood,’ ” Moquett said. “My dad’s Southern Springs. The opposite of water is wood, as far as outside, so I found the hardest wood that there was.”
In addition to Thoroughbred ownership, Chance Moquett operates Hot Springs-based Imperial Transit, an equine ground transportation company.
Kelsi Harr, Oaklawn’s all-time purse earnings leader among female jockeys, won two races Thursday. Harr won the second race aboard Point Blank ($137.80) for trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs and the fifth race aboard Reef’s Destiny ($42) for trainer Robert N. Cline, the jockey’s longtime fiancée.
Point Blank represented the highest win payoff of the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting. The double gave Harr 46 career Oaklawn victories and helped push her career purse earnings in Hot Springs to $3,054,017. She began riding at Oaklawn in 2019 and was its leading apprentice jockey in 2020 with 11 victories. Harr ($1,187,724) became the first female jockey in Oaklawn history to surpass $1 million in purse earnings at a meet in 2021-2022. Point Blank represented the 476th career Oaklawn victory for Fires (No. 4 all time). …
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen recorded his 851st career Oaklawn victory in Thursday’s seventh race with Black Powder($24). Only the late Bob Holthus (867) has more career training victories at Oaklawn. …
Leading rider Cristian Torres rode two winners Thursday to give him 70 for the 2022-2023 meeting. Torres won the fourth race aboard favored Kentucky Bourbon ($2.40) and the ninth race aboard favored Lochmoor ($4.80) for trainer Bruce Riecken. …
Jockey Francisco Arrieta was scheduled to return to action Friday after serving a one-day riding suspension Thursday. Arrieta entered Thursday as Oaklawn’s second-leading rider this season with 56 victories. …
“Oaklawn Raceday,” featuring David Longinotti, director of Oaklawn Anywhere, and Equibase representative Jeff Taylor, can be heard Saturdays 11 a.m.-11:30 a.m. (Central) during the 2022-2023 meeting on Little Rock, Ark., radio station KABZ-FM 103.7 and www.1037thebuzz.com. Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope is this week’s special guest.