Sunny Isle Beach taking first in an allowance at Oaklawn on Dec. 18. (Coady Photography)
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
HOT SPRINGS Ark.—Ten Strike Racing considers Oaklawn its home track and the home team is off to a strong start in the owner’s standings after the first six days of the scheduled 68-day Oaklawn meeting that began Dec. 9.
Ten Strike, which offers investors, many of whom reside in Arkansas, fractional ownership from claimers to graded stakes horses, already has three victories as a sole owner and another in partnership.
Two of the winners were saddled by trainer Matt Shirer, who has a string at Oaklawn for the first time in 2022-2023. A former assistant under Kenny McPeek, Shirer was represented by his first career Oaklawn winner in Friday’s fourth race, Good Penny ($7), and captured Sunday’s ninth race, a $104,000 entry-level allowance, with Sunny Isle Beach ($9.60).
Shirer, 37, normally winters at Fair Grounds, but said he decided to split his stable, roughly 20 horses, and send 12 to Oaklawn because of its lucrative purse structure.
“We had kind of focused all year on claiming dirt horses,” Shirer said moments after Sunday’s ninth race. “Obviously, we had some issues with turf at Churchill and stuff. We just wanted to focus on that. We made the right claims and figured that we needed to bring them here. Obviously, big purses here and so we needed to bring the good ones here. That’s what we did.”
Shirer said his major clients are Memphis, Tenn.-based Ten Strike (founding partners Marshall Gramm and Arkansan Clay Sanders), Jeremy Sussman and Cory Moelis. Ten Strike, Sussman and Moelis also partner on horses.
Sunny Isle Beach has won 2 of 3 starts since Shirer, on behalf of Ten Strike and Sussman, won a four-way shake to claim the filly for $40,000 Sept. 21 at Churchill Downs. Shirer also finished second with his other two Oaklawn runners this season – Miacomet (owned by Sussman and Moelis) in Friday’s seventh race and Olliemeister (Sussman, Ten Strike and Moelis) in Sunday’s second race. Miacomet and Olliemeister were making their first starts after being claimed for $40,000 and $50,000, respectively, last month at Churchill Downs.
“I think right now, we have probably like 30, 40 claimers that we’ve kind of turned into starter horses or 1X (allowance) horses like this filly (Sunny Isle Beach),” Shirer said. “That’s kind of what we focus on, kind of that level.”
Shirer won four races with Good Penny after claiming her for $50,000, on behalf of Ten Strike, in October 2021 at Churchill Downs. Her second victory came the following month at Churchill Downs in a $127,000 first-level allowance race. She collected $73,420 for that victory and another $27,000 Friday. Good Penny was claimed out of Friday’s race for $30,000.
Shirer also turned a quick profit with Sunny Isle Beach, a 4-year-old daughter of Jimmy Creed. She earned $30,800 in beating $20,000 claimers Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs and pocketed $62,400 for Sunday’s victory. Oaklawn’s 2022-2023 purse structure, projected at more than $735,000 per day, is the country’s highest for a winter venue. Shirer said he has eight horses at Fair Grounds.
“Honestly, it wasn’t a great number to split,” Shirer said. “Like I had about 20 or so, but we had to come here for the money. Fair Grounds has been very good me to me. I like it there. The track’s great. With the amount of money we paid for some these horses, claiming, it just made more sense to come here and this is where you run for bigger money during the winter.”
Mirroring Churchill Downs, Shirer said he will be active at the claim box during the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting that resumes Dec. 30 following the Christmas break. Shirer started three horses in 2020 at Oaklawn.
“We’re just kind of getting settled in,” Shirer said. “I just got here last week, so we’ll start (claiming) pretty soon here. We dropped on a lot of horses at Churchill and luckily, we got the right ones. Obviously, a couple of these have run very well here. We’ll be claiming.”
Ten Strike’s three solo victories at Oaklawn have come with three different trainers. In addition to Shirer (Good Penny), Bentley Combs saddled Hellorhighwater ($10.60) to win a Dec. 11 starter-allowance race and Ten Strike captured Friday’s seventh race, another starter allowance, with the Lindsay Shultz-trained Tiger Moon ($41). Miacomet finished second to Tiger Moon.
Liz Crow, Ten Strike’s racing manager, said in a text message earlier this month that Ten Strike also had horses at Oaklawn with two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox. Crow said trainer Norm Casse may also have horses at Oaklawn for Ten Strike before the meeting ends May 6.
Ten Strike has won 53 races at Oaklawn, solely or in partnership, since it was formed in 2016. Its biggest victory to date in Hot Springs came with Warrior’s Charge in the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses in 2020. Ten Strike campaigned millionaire Warrior’s Charge with Madaket Stables.
Jerry Caroom of Hot Springs leads the 2022-2023 Oaklawn owner’s standings with four victories. Ten Strike is second with three.
Chris Hartman, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2015, saddled three winners Sunday. Hartman won the first race with favored Idratherbeblessed ($5), sixth race with Tipsy Gal ($10.20) and the eighth race with Ash Flat ($8.40). The triple pushed Hartman’s career Oaklawn total to 190. Newcomer Nik Juarez rode Idratherbeblessed and Tipsy Gal and has seven victories through the first six days of racing. …
Meet leaders Cristian Torres (jockey) and Robertino Diodoro (trainer) teamed for two more victories Sunday. They won the second race with Ninja Warrior ($22.60) and the seventh race with favored Kattath ($6.80). Kattath marked Diodoro’s first victory at Oaklawn for a new client, Arkansas owners Heath and Sheena Campbell. The Campbells won a race opening day with trainer Tim Martin of Hot Springs. Diodoro has eight victories at the meeting and 287 in his Oaklawn career following Sunday’s double. He was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2020. …
Chel-c Bailey, Oaklawn’s leading apprentice jockey at the 2021-2022 meeting, recorded her first victory in Hot Springs as a journeyman in Sunday’s fifth race with favored Macho Ronnie ($6) for trainer Burl McBride.