Michael Stidham with Proxy after the Oaklawn Handicap (Coady Photography)
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— Trainer Michael Stidham added to his remarkable Oaklawn record when Proxy captured the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses at 1 1/8 miles April 22.
Proxy, a homebred for famed Godolphin LLC, represented the 21st career Oaklawn victory for Stidham. Nearly 40 percent (eight) have come in stakes company.
“I like that stat,” Stidham said moments after Proxy’s victory under Joel Rosario.
Proxy ($9.40) received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 103 for his head victory over Last Samurai, with Stilleto Boy a nose farther back to Stilleto Boy in third.
Stilleto Boy had beaten Proxy a neck in their previous meeting, the $500,000 Santa Anita Handicap (G1) for older horses at 1 ¼ miles March 4 at Santa Anita. Proxy raced in cheek pieces, or vertical shadow roll, for the first time in the Oaklawn Handicap. Stidham said the hope was cheek pieces, which the trainer has used in the past, would keep Proxy’s vision “more focused in front” and the horse a “little more interested” early in the race.
“Hey, who knows?” Stidham said, when asked if cheek pieces made a difference in the Oaklawn Handicap. “As trainers, we’re always trying to get that little bit extra that we need. It’s a trial and error thing. We had tried blinkers on him as a 3-year-old. Didn’t really feel like that made a big difference. But when we started working him in the cheek pieces, normally he can be kind of sluggish in his works, but with the cheek pieces he’s been very forward in all his works.”
Stidham said he began “experimenting” with the equipment shortly after the Santa Anita Handicap.
The Oaklawn Handicap moved Proxy’s record to 5-6-2 from 16 lifetime starts and increased his earnings to $1,775,970. Proxy is a 5-year-old son of super sire Tapit and millionaire multiple Grade 1 winner Panty Raid. Proxy scored his biggest career victory to date in the $750,000 Clark Stakes (G1) at 1 1/8 miles Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs.
“We’ll be looking at races like the Stephen Foster at Churchill and then Saratoga,” Stidham said. “But our goal is to try and be around at the end of the year for the Breeders’ Cup.”
The $1 million Stephen Foster Stakes (G1) for older horses is July 1 at Churchill Downs, a 1 1/8-mile race that could feature a rematch between the top three finishers in the Oaklawn Handicap.
D. Wayne Lukas, Last Samurai’s Hall of Fame trainer, said following the Oaklawn Handicap that “we’ll probably look at the Stephen Foster next.” Stilleto Boy’s trainer, Ed Moger Jr., said before the Oaklawn Handicap that if all went well, he was “thinking” the Stephen Foster. Proxy ran third in last year’s Stephen Foster.
Stidham’s seventh career Oaklawn stakes victory came in 2021 with Mystic Guide in the $600,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses. Another Godolphin homebred, Mystic Guide, won the $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) in his next start.
Stidham’s first career Oaklawn victory came in 1994 with Two Altazano in the $250,000 Fantasy Stakes (G2) for 3-year-old fillies. Stidham also won the 1999 Razorback with Desert Air and four Oaklawn stakes with top Arkansas-bred sprinter Comedero.
Torres Eyes Earnings Record
Jockey Cristian Torres moved closer to setting a single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings after winning Friday’s third race aboard favored Blow Torch ($3.40) for trainer Robertino Diodoro and owners Heath and Sheena Campbell of Benton, Ark.
Blow Torch helped Torres boost his purse earnings at the meet to $5,570,303, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Ricardo Santana Jr. set Oaklawn’s single-season record ($5,643,023) in 2021. Friday marked Day 63 of the scheduled 68-day meeting.
Torres, 25, is poised to break Santana’s record this weekend. Torres was named on 10 horses Saturday, including Grade 3 winner Mo Strike for trainer Brad Cox in Saturday’s $150,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters, and eight Sunday.
Blow Torch represented Torres’ meet-high 89th victory. Torres made his Oaklawn debut in 2021, riding 22 winners, and won 19 races during an injury-shortened 2021-2022 meeting. He is seeking his first career Oaklawn riding title. Francisco Arrieta entered Saturday with 81 victories to rank second in the standings.
Hall of Famer Pat Day is the only rider in Oaklawn history to reach 90 victories in a single season. Day won at least 90 races six times, including a single-season record 137 in 1986. Day (1,264) is Oaklawn’s all-time winningest rider.
Blow Torch gave Diodoro his meet-high 57th victory. He is seeking his second Oaklawn training title after topping the standings in 2020. The Campbells led the Oaklawn owner’s standings, through Friday, with 16 victories. They are seeking their first Oaklawn owner’s title.
Straight Out of Compton
Trainer Greg Compton waited more than 14 years for his first career Oaklawn double. He waited less than a month for a second.
Compton saddled two winners April 21 to increase his meet total to 10, a single-season personal Oaklawn best. Compton won nine races at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting. A North Little Rock, Ark., native, Compton started his first horse and recorded his first victory at Oaklawn in 2009. His first Oaklawn double came March 26.
“Hopefully, we can get a little lucky and maybe get a couple more,” Compton said last Saturday morning.
Compton’s April 21 double came with favored I’m the Boss of Me ($6.40), among the trainer’s most accomplished horses, and favored Polterer ($6.80), a three-time winner at the meeting. Compton co-owns both horses with major clients Danny Brown and his fiancée, Charis Brenneman, both of Hot Springs.
Compton claimed I’m the Boss of Me for $50,000 out of a Dec. 31, 2021, victory at Oaklawn. Since being claimed, I’m the Boss of Me has won two $106,000 allowance races at Oaklawn and finished second, beaten a half-length, in the $150,000 American Beauty Stakes for older female sprinters Jan. 21 at Oaklawn. I’m the Boss of Me also finished third in the inaugural $250,000 Matron Stakes for older female sprinters March 31 at Oaklawn.
“She had strong numbers on The (Ragozin) sheets,” Compton said, explaining the claim. “She looked versatile. Actually, her best number on the sheet was going a flat mile at Los Alamitos at the time. She has definitely turned into a very solid sprinter.”
Compton said I’m the Boss of Me will “probably” be pointed to the $100,000 Skipat Stakes at 6 furlongs May 20 at Pimlico.
Polterer, a 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper, began his racing career at Woodbine in Canada before Brown purchased the gelding for $110,000 at the 2021 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company’s Winter Mixed Sale. Compton has won five races with Polterer, including three consecutive this season at Oaklawn by a combined 13 lengths. The last two victories have been starter-allowance routes.
“It (purchase) is looking really good now,” Compton said. “He’s eligible for the starters for the next two years, $10,000 or less. It looks like he’s found a home.”
The success of I’m the Boss of Me and Polterer has also helped Compton establish a single-season Oaklawn personal best for purse earnings ($447,029 through Sunday) during the 2022-2023 meeting that began Dec. 9. Compton said his stable has fluctuated between 10 and 14.
“Grateful for what we’ve got,” Compton said. “Everybody’s run pretty well.”
Compton has made Oaklawn and Delaware his year-round circuit since 2017. He had previously been based in Kentucky after the Oaklawn meeting ended. Compton won 13 of 65 starts at the 2022 Delaware Park meeting (May 25-Nov. 5). Compton, Brown and Brenneman won 13 races to narrowly miss winning the Delaware Park owner’s title.
“Delaware to Oaklawn, it just fits really well in my schedule,” Compton said. “I’m in one spot for six months. I’m in the other spot for six months. Here, I run 100 percent out of my own stalls because there’s really nowhere else to run around here. Then up there, I’m probably running, over the last couple of years, 95 percent of my starts out of my own stall at Delaware Park.”
Compton has had at least one victory at every Oaklawn meeting since 2009 and, through Sunday, had 49 overall.
Yesternight ($30.80) equaled the most lucrative career victory to date for trainer Lindsay Schultz in last Saturday’s seventh race at Oaklawn, a $90,000 maiden special weight sprint for 3-year-old fillies. Schultz also won another $90,000 maiden special weight sprint for 3-year-old fillies March 17 at Oaklawn with Exponential Star. Both horses were for Schultz’s major client, Ten Strike Racing (founding partners Marshall Gramm and Arkansas native Clay Sanders). Schultz, a former assistant under Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, recorded her first career victory at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting and has 11 victories this season. Exponential Star returned to finish third in the inaugural $150,000 Valley of the Vapors Stakes at 1 mile last Saturday at Oaklawn … Valley of the Vapors runner-up Pink Ace departs Saturday for Southern California to join trainer Phil D’Amato, owner Staton Flurry of Hot Springs said in a text message Friday morning. Trainer Nevada Litfin, on behalf of Flurry, claimed Pink Ace for $40,000 out of a March 18 career debut victory at Oaklawn. Flurry said he will have a presence again this summer in Southern California after sending a small string there for the first time in 2022. … Talladega, a two-time winner at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting for trainer Rodolphe Brisset, is entered in the April Selected Horses of Racing Age Sale Sunday at Keeneland. Talladega, a 3-year-old son of Into Mischief, broke his maiden at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 28 and beat older horses in an entry-level allowance at 1 1/8 miles April 8, generating a career-high 85 Beyer Speed Figure. Talladega is being offered as a racing or stallion prospect. The April 8 victory moved Brisset’s record to 9 for 22 at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting and 17 of 53 (32 percent) overall the last two seasons in Hot Springs.…Francisco Arrieta rode two winners Friday to move closer to becoming the second jockey at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meet to reach $5 million in purse earnings. Arrieta won the eighth race aboard Shezz Koldazice ($19.60) for trainer Cipriano Contreras and the ninth race aboard favored Go West ($4.40) for trainer Bret Calhoun. The double helped push Arrieta’s purse earnings at the meet to $4,883,166. … Go West, who has won 4 of 5 starts this year, was the second victory on Friday’s card for Calhoun. He also won the fifth race with debuting The Girl in Red ($9.80), a 3-year-old full sister to multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Bye Bye J. … Texas-based trainer Danny Pish scored his first victory of the meeting with Elmo’s Secret ($21.60) in Friday’s first race. Pish (2,603 through Friday) is the 55th-winningest trainer North American history, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. … Arkansas-bred star Bandit Point was scheduled to make his ninth start of the meeting in Saturday’s eighth race, a $104,000 allowance sprint for older horses, for owner/trainer Robert N. Cline. … Chipofftheoldblock, third in the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) last year at Oaklawn, won the $50,000 Highland Ice Stakes at 6 furlongs Tuesday at Will Rogers Downs. Richard Eramia rode favored Chipofftheoldblock ($5.40) for trainer Mike Lauer. Chipofftheoldblock ran fifth in an allowance sprint for older horses April 1 at Oaklawn.