HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Two-year-old racing isn’t all that’s returned to Oaklawn Park Friday, opening day of the expanded 66-day live meeting that is scheduled to run through May 8.
Trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs is back, too.
Fires, 81, has at least one victory at every Oaklawn meeting since 1977, a span of 45 seasons.
Fires isn’t wasting any time trying to keep the streak alive, entering Diva de Kela in Friday’s first race, a sprint for $10,000 female claimers (she finished third).
“We might as well start out with it,” Fires said during training hours Tuesday morning at Oaklawn. “We’re going to try. We’ve got some babies here that are doing good. Maybe we’ll get some here.”
Friday’s second race, for $40,000 maiden claimers at 1 mile, will mark Oaklawn’s first race for 2-year-olds since March 27, 1975. Oaklawn can card 2-year-old races this season because the December opening marks the earliest in its 117-year history. Oaklawn, however, has a long history of 2-year-old racing (more than 1,000 races have been run since the first in 1905), it’s just the under-50 crowd may not know it.
As for Fires, he is among the last links to the lost world of 2-year-old racing at Oaklawn. Before going out on his own again in 1976, Fires was an assistant and exercise rider for the late Doug Davis Jr., who was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 1969, 1970 and 1975 and excelled with 2-year-olds. Owing to Oaklawn’s traditional racing calendar (January-April), the bulk of 2-year-old races have been run at 3 furlongs or a half-mile.
“They started at the three-eighths pole (second turn) and if you were lucky enough to get an inside post, you had the edge,” Fires said, referring to 3-furlong races. “Everybody was wanting the inside because it was the best, of course. When the gates sprung open, of course, all those babies, they left like a covey of quail. They went everywhere. If you had an inside post and got away from the gate good, you had a free run home.”
Among the most noteworthy 2-year-old winners in Oaklawn history is the freakishly fast Crimson Saint, who won her March 3, 1971, career debut by 12 lengths before equaling a half-mile world record (:44.80) about a month later in a five-length victory in the inaugural $15,000 Ballerina Stakes.
Crimson Saint set a 5-furlong track record (:56) in 1973 at Hollywood Park and became a Grade 3 winner in Southern California.
But Crimson Saint left a much bigger mark in the breeding shed, producing, among others, Group 1 winner and 1990 Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) champion Royal Academy, multiple Grade 2 winners Terlingua and Pancho Villa and stakes-winning Alydariel.
Terlingua and Pancho Villa, full siblings by 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat, were trained by Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas. Terlingua is the dam of Storm Cat, among the most influential sires in racing history.
Other noteworthy 2-year-old winners during the early 1970s at Oaklawn were Annihilate ’Em for Davis and Arkansas owner Patricia Blass; Honky Star for four-time local training champion David Vance and powerhouse Arkansas owner Dan Lasater, a three-time Eclipse Award winner (1974, 1975 and 1976); and Tisab for trainer Jim O’Bryant and famed Mill Ridge Farm of the late Alice Chandler.
Fires said he galloped Annihilate ’Em, who won the prestigious Travers Stakes (G1) for 3-year-olds in 1973 at Saratoga. Honky Star and Tisab also became Grade 1 winners.
“There are a lot of good 2-year-olds that have run here,” Fires said.
Citing an increased risk of injury (bones not fully developed, etc.) and impacting the growth of other racing divisions, then-Oaklawn owner Charles Cella asked the Arkansas Racing Commission to eliminate 2-year-old racing after the 1973 meeting. Two-year-old racing was eventually phased out, with only a handful of races, strictly for Arkansas-breds, run in 1974 and 1975.
Won by Kavod (Lea), Friday’s $150,000 Advent at 6 furlongs was Oaklawn’s first stakes race for 2-year-olds since the split Ballerina April 5, 1973. Friday’s card also featured a 6-furlong maiden special weights race for 2-year-old fillies.
Oaklawn has traditionally opened in January or February.
Red Hot Mess, the first career stakes winner for Chelsey Moysey, is at Oaklawn and pointing for an early season allowance race, the trainer said Monday morning. Red Hot Mess, a 2-year-old daughter of Shackleford, is owned by Lewis Mathews of Bismarck, Ark., best known for campaigning millionaire sprinter Ivan Fallunovalot, a multiple Oaklawn stakes winner. John Hiraldo, a 5-pound apprentice and a leading candidate for the Eclipse Award as Champion Apprentice Jockey, is the regular rider of Red Hot Mess. Hiraldo plans to ride the Oaklawn meeting after previously being based in the mid-Atlantic, Moysey said Thursday morning. Hiraldo is named on Ain’t She a Pistol for Moysey and Mathews in Sunday’s fifth race at Oaklawn. He will be represented by agent Jay Fedor … Normal training hours during the live meeting are 7 a.m.-11 a.m. (Central) Monday-Thursday and 6:45 a.m.-10 a.m. race days (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). … Bandit Point– the first career winner for 2020 Oaklawn champion apprentice Kelsi Harr – is entered in Saturday’s eighth race, an allowance sprint for 3-year-olds and up. Harr is named to ride Bandit Point for her fiancé, owner/trainer Robert N. Cline. Also entered in the 6-furlong race is Lamutanaatty, who is scheduled to make his first start for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs and Oaklawn owner Louis Cella. A 3-year-old son of Into Mischief, Lamutanaatty was purchased for $700,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale by Shadwell Stable and began his racing career with four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown. Lamutanaatty won his only start last January at Gulfstream Park. … Oliviaofthedesert is the 3-1 program favorite for Saturday’s $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles. … Switzer, a 2-year-old colt named after Super Bowl and NCAA national championship winning coach Barry Switzer, is entered in Saturday’s seventh race for Moquett. … Oaklawn built three new, enlarged buildings in the infield for concessions during the offseason. Also new to the infield for the 2021-2022 meeting are ponds and decorative fountains near each end, which eventually will be used for irrigation, Oaklawn General Manager Wayne Smithsaid.
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
Photo of Jinks Fires by Coady Photography