With seven straight victories, including six at Oaklawn, Skelly gets a chance to prove he's more than a horse for the course.
That sigh of relief heard is from opposing trainers weary of challenging the 5-year-old gelding, his last two wins coming at the current meeting. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, no stranger to shipping horses to the Middle East, is pointing to the Grade 3 $1.5 million Riyadh Dirt Sprint Feb. 24 in Saudi Arabia.
If all goes well, Asmussen said, Skelly would return to Oaklawn for a title defense in the G3 $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap April 13. "He'll go and come back," Oaklawn's 12-time training champion and current leader said. "I don't want to miss the Count Fleet with him at Oaklawn."
Skelly scored his third local stakes victory Saturday by 3 1/4 lengths in the $150,000 King Cotton. Asmussen-trained Gunite (since retired) won the King Cotton and placed second in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint last year.
Skelly, winner of the inaugural $150,000 Lake Hamilton last May, has been unbeatable at six furlongs, both since being gelded and adding blinkers approximately a year ago. Osbourne, the last horse to beat Skelly almost 55 weeks ago, declined a rematch in the King Cotton. Tejano Twist, a stakes-winning sprinter at the meet for trainer Chris Hartman, finished a closing second.
Asmussen, one seldom given to hyperbole after training more than 10,000 winners, a North American record, is keenly aware that he is watching something special in Skelly. With six victories, the gelding has surpassed Mitole and Terra Promessa to become the winningest horse at Oaklawn for the Texan.
"Unbelievable horse," Asmussen said. "Seven wins, nine and change every time. Came out of it in very good shape. Saudi, here we come again."
Skelly, whose winning streak includes the $100,000 Speightstown in late May at Lone Star Park, ran the fastest six furlongs of the meeting (1:09.38) over a sloppy, sealed surface for a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 105 in the King Cotton, Owned by Red Lane Thoroughbreds (Chris Hicks), Skelly is 8-3-0 from 12 starts with career earnings of $875,163. Practical Joke's son sold for $250,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase program.
Asmussen tied a mark with his fifth victory in the King Cotton, his record-extending 108th career Oaklawn stakes triumph.
* Otto the Conqueror and Carbone, 3-year-olds with the same trainer as Skelly, ran sixth and seventh, respectively, in the Grade 3 $800,000 Southwest at a mile and-sixteenth Saturday, Otto the Conqueror, last-out Springboard Mile winner at Remington Park, went off second choice in the wagering at 4-1 with Carbone 9-5 in his stakes debut off a two-turn victory here Dec. 31.
Questions after the Southwest concern which horses were compromised when winter weather shut down the track four days for racing and 11 for training. The race itself was pushed back a week from Jan. 27.
"They came out of it well," Asmussen said of his pair. "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."
Southwest winner Mystik Dan, eight lengths clear for trainer Ken McPeek, worked twice in New Orleans after starting in the $300,000 Smarty Jones here Jan. 1. That his peak victory came in the mud also is food for thought until the Goldencents colt races again with McPeek targeting the Grade 1 $1.5 million Arkansas Derby March 30 rather than a Feb. 24 turnaround in the Grade 2 $1.25 million Rebel. ... Kaboom Baby, a model of consistency for trainer Ernie Witt, is closer to being the career-leading Arkansas-bred female money earner after a runner-up finish Saturday. At age 6, Kaboom Baby ($480,559) trails the now-retired The Mary Rose ($539,894). The Hightail miss, owned by breeder Tracy Selby, won the Natural State Breeders' last May at Oaklawn, where she broke her maiden in 2021 and all four career victories have come. She finished a length back of Randy Morse trainee Connie K as the 7-5 favorite Saturday.