Lest the home city think itself overlooked on the local racing schedule, the Hot Springs Stakes is back at Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort. And on this April 1, that is no joke.
One of three stakes on the 13-race card before the Grade 1 $1.25 million Arkansas Derby, the Spa City is honored with a streamlined edition of an event dating to 1945. If anything, track officials may have made it Whitmore-proof, restricting it to 3-year-olds, so as to preserve the sanctity of the original race's only four-time winner, also lengthening the distance from six furlongs to a mile.
They quickly renamed the Hot Springs after champion Whitmore's 2021 retirement at age 8, also naming a barn in his honor. The previous race, for older sprinters and boosted to Grade 2, recently had its second running, and the horse holds court at Oaklawn for nearby owners Ron Moquett (his trainer and co-owner) and wife Laura.
The Hot Springs Stakes -- one hesitates to call it "new and improved" in fear of miffing Whitmore Nation -- retains the $200,000 purse for which it was last run. Besides the Derby, it joins Grade 3 runnings of the $600,000 Fantasy and $400,000 Oaklawn Mile on the Derby undercard, which falls on retired racemare Zenyatta's 19th birthday. (Oaklawn's $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap, which Big Mama won twice, is April 15 along with the Grade 3 $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, which Whitmore won a record three times).
The Hot Springs brings together five meet winners out of the seven horses entered. All race without Lasix (bleeder medication) and all but two-time meet winner Cactus is nominated to the Triple Crown, for which late entries were accepted this week.
Steve Asmussen-trained Gun Pilot and Powerful were seventh, and ninth, respectively in the Grade 2 $1 million Rebel Feb. 25 at Oaklawn, from which runner-up Red Route One returns in the Arkansas Derby with a stablemate. A maiden winner at Churchill Downs, Gun Pilot (by supersire Gun Runner) won an Oaklawn allowance Feb. 4 by two lengths over Derby starter Bourbon Bash. Ricardo Santana Jr. keeps the mount, unable to do much with a ground-saving trip in the Rebel.
Powerful, a Saratoga maiden and Churchill minor stakes winner, drew the rail in the Rebel but was beaten 17 lengths. The colt has worked three times between races, Tyler Gaffalione taking the mount.
Frosted Departure was one of trainer Ken McPeek's four winners on the track's first all-juvenile card Dec 31. Powerful beat him at 6 1/2 furlongs in the Ed Brown at Churchill before Frosted's son ran in the first of his four Oaklawn stakes, then beating Arkansas Derby starter Two Eagles River and Bourbon Bash going six furlongs in the Renaissance. The colt has worked twice at Keeneland since his last start with Flavien Prat named to ride under 122 pounds.
Bob Baffert sends out Carmel Road, a Del Mar maiden winner and runner-up in December's Grade 2 Los Alamitos Futurity. Eighth last time in a roughly run Grade 2 Gotham, Quality Road's son has a Santa Anita workout since racing in New York.
Hall of Fame trainer Wayne Lukas owns and trains Oaklawn winner Rocking Rocket, bred by Arkansan Frank Fletcher and sired by American Pharoah. Eyeing Clover debuted as a winner in the Dec. 31 Oaklawn finale for Moquett, while Cactus, by Twirling Candy, was claimed off Norm Casse for $30,000 in his Feb. 4 debut, winning 20 days later for new trainer Randy Morse.
Carded as race 8 and at 4:18 p.m., the Hot Springs looms as a possible prep for the May 20 Preakness and other spring stakes for 3-year-olds.