Skelly Headed for Global Stage in G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint

February 7, 2024

Skelly splashes home a winner of the King Cotton Feb. 3 at Oaklawn Park (Coady Photography)

Otto the Conqueror, Carbone To Regroup After Southwest Efforts

By Robert Yates – Oaklawn Park

HOT SPRINGS, Ark.— Skelly is taking a long road trip for his next scheduled start, but it’s a round-trip ticket.

A regional star, Skelly will be on the global stage for the $1.5 million G3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint over 1,200 meters Feb. 24 in Saudi Arabia, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said Sunday afternoon.

If all goes well, Asmussen said Skelly would return to Oaklawn, his winter base, and defend his title in the $500,000 G3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for older horses at 6 furlongs April 13.

The freakishly fast Skelly, in his 5-year-old debut, ran his winning streak to seven with a front-running 3 1/4-length score in the six-furlong $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older horses Saturday at Oaklawn.

Skelly (six victories) surpassed champion Mitole and Terra Promessa to become the winningest horse at Oaklawn for Asmussen, its all-time leading trainer.

“Unbelievable horse,” Asmussen said. “Seven wins, nine and change every time. Came out of it in very good shape. Saudi, here we come again. Going to try again.”

Gunite, Asmussen’s now-retired millionaire Grade 1 winner, finished second in the 2023 Riyadh Dirt Sprint after capturing the King Cotton in his 4-year-old debut.

While Gunite remained in the Middle East for his next start, the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) in the United Arab Emirates, Asmussen said Skelly would be pointed to the Count Fleet, which marked his first career stakes victory.

“He’ll go and come back,” Asmussen said. “I don’t want to miss the Count Fleet with him at Oaklawn.”

Six of Skelly’s victories during the win streak, starting with a first-level allowance in February 2023, have come at Oaklawn, including the inaugural $150,000 Lake Hamilton Stakes last May. All seven victories have been at six furlongs. Skelly has flourished at that distance since being gelded and adding blinkers approximately a year ago.

Racing Saturday over a sloppy, sealed surface, Skelly clocked a meet-best 1:09.38 to generate a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 105, equaling a career high.

Freshened after the $100,000 Speightstown Sprint Stakes in late May at Lone Star Park, Skelly stretched his winning streak to six in a Dec. 30 allowance race at Oaklawn. His time (1:09.66) had been the fastest 6 furlongs of the meeting until the King Cotton. The Riyadh Dirt Sprint is roughly 6 furlongs.

Skelly ($3.60) represented the record-tying fifth King Cotton victory for Asmussen and his record-extending 108th career Oaklawn stakes victory.

A son of Practical Joke, Skelly has an 8-3-0 record from 12 lifetime starts and earnings of $875,163. A $250,000 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase purchase, Skelly races for Red Lane Thoroughbreds (Chris Hicks).

Otto the Conqueror, Carbone To Regroup After Southwest Efforts

Next-race plans are pending for Otto the Conqueror and Carbone after they finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in Saturday’s $800,000 G3 Southwest Stakes, Asmussen said Sunday afternoon.

Otto the Conqueror and Carbone set the pace before backing up in the lane and finishing 18 ¼ lengths and 21 ¾ lengths, respectively, behind runaway winner Mystik Dan. The 1 1/16-mile Southwest, Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby points race, was run over a muddy, sealed surface.

“They came out of it well,” Asmussen said. “Just very concerned with the missed training on two very large horses; just the circumstances going into the Southwest, moving the date and everything. We’ll see how they train after the race.”

The Southwest was postponed one week after winter weather led Oaklawn to cancel four days of racing (Jan. 14 and Jan. 19-21) and 11 days of training (Jan. 13-23).

Carbone (9-5) and Otto the Conqueror (4-1) were wagering favorites for the Southwest. Otto the Conqueror was exiting a victory in the $300,000 Springboard Mile Stakes Dec. 15 at Remington Park. Carbone was making his stakes debut after winning his first two starts, including an entry-level allowance Dec. 31 at Oaklawn in his first try around two turns.

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