If ever a horse hovered over a race he didn't enter, it was Whitmore in Saturday's 69th running of the King Cotton at Oaklawn Park.
King of his castle, winner of the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap and Hot Springs the last two years over a track that he is unbeaten at six furlongs, Whitmore is on winter vacation, a ways from his 6-year-old debut. Rest assured that when the star of trainer Ron Moquett's stable returns, it will be with a crash of cymbals worthy of the millionaire and Grade 1 winner that the Pleasantly Perfect gelding is.
Some other worthy sprinters were found for the $100,000 King Cotton, a forerunner to the $150,000 Hot Springs March 9 and the $400,000 Count Fleet April 13. A race that produced three repeat winners in the last 12 years offered that opportunity for Wilbo, although a second-time visitor to the Spa City got his picture taken.
Heartwood put away the determined Gordy Florida and fast-closing Control Stake to win by a half-length. After repeated attempts in graded events, the 5-year-old Tapit gelding scored his first career stakes victory in a listed race at an A-list track. The King Cotton marked Heartwood's first victory since the $75,000 Sen. Robert Byrd Memorial at West Virginia's Mountaineer Park last August and his first race since the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector in December at Florida's Gulfstream Park.
"He ran very hard," said David Cohen, completing a riding triple. The three horse (Gordy Florida) really dug in and made me have to work for it."
Gordy Florida, a 2017 Oaklawn winner for trainer Kenny Smith, cut early fractions of 22.26 and 45.69 seconds with Heartwood second down the backstretch. Wilbo, an Oaklawn winner each of the last two years for trainer Chris Hartman, ran fourth early before backing out of contention.
Responding to Cohen's left-handed stick, Heartwood pulled even in midstretch and crossed the wire after six furlongs in 1:09.99. Carrying 118 pounds, the gray or roan Kentucky-bred paid $6.20, $3.60 and $3. Control Stake, under Ricardo Santana Jr., got up for second by a neck for trainer Greg Foley.
"I really thought I would get that type of setup and my horse showed a lot of heart," Cohen said. "Kind of lived up to his name."
Control Stake came off a second in a $75,000 Fair Grounds stake Jan. 19. Bourbon Cowboy, a stakes winner from a barn (Robertino Diodoro) that won two races on the card, placed fourth ahead of Wilbo, Toasting Master, Balandeen and A M Milky Way.
For Heartwood, it was something of a homecoming after running second to Appalachian Gem in an Oaklawn maiden-special-weights event Feb. 20, 2017, at a mile and sixteenth. Although not a household name, Heartwood has earned $451,403, his 6-3-1 record from 26 starts including runs against Whitmore and City of Light, the latter winning the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap last year and most recently the $9 million Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup.
Stuart Tsujimoto, the 77-year-old Californian who races the King Cotton winner in partnership with trainer James Chapman, liked everything about the Arkansas visit.
"Everybody's told me how friendly everybody is here," said Tsujimoto, a health-care director. "I appreciate it. Like coming here. We'll have to come back."
If it's for the Hot Springs, with spring in the air and basketballs bouncing in the state high-school finals at Bank OZK Arena, that could be some race, Heartwood against Whitmore -- flip the order if you wish.Sports on 02/10/2019
Print Headline: While Whitmore rests, Heartwood wins King Cotton thriller