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Races provide prep for stakes

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Today's nine-race card at Oaklawn Park features a split first-level allowance/optional claimer for 3-year-olds at a mile (races 5 and 7), companion events to Monday's $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes.

Saturday's races could produce a starter, or starters, for the Grade 3 $500,000 Southwest Stakes Feb. 19, Oaklawn's second of four major preps for the Kentucky Derby.

Nine horses are entered in the seventh race, including Higher Power, a half-brother to millionaire and 2012 Oaklawn Handicap winner Alternation for owner/breeder Pin Oak Stable, Josephine Abercrombie and trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel. Higher Power, by Medaglia d'Oro, enters his 3-year-old season with the same resume as Alternation did in 2011 for the same connections. Both horses raced twice late in the Remington Park meeting at 2. Both horses debuted sprinting and finished third. Both horses won their next start around two turns.

"It wasn't totally by plan, it just kind of worked out that way," Von Hemel said. "I hope (Higher Power) gets to the same spot."

Alternation finished fifth in the Grade 1 $1 million Arkansas Derby in 2011 but was a three-time stakes winner at the 2012 Oaklawn meeting. Following Higher Power's maiden victory, Von Hemel said he decided to pass the $400,000 Springboard Mile Dec. 17 at Remington Park and await the Oaklawn meeting. Von Hemel said Higher Power enters his 3-year-old campaign as a "very nice prospect" and is similar physically to Alternation, a robust son of Distorted Humor.

"He's a good-looking horse," Von Hemel said. "Maybe he's not quite as tall, but may have a little more length. He's still a gorgeous horse."

Higher Power worked a half-mile in 51 2/5 seconds Sunday in advance of his 3-year-old debut.

Also entered in the seventh race are Shortleaf Stable's Lone Rock, a romping maiden winner Sept. 2 at Indiana Grand for trainer Will VanMeter, and New York Central, a $750,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select Yearling Sale purchase who is campaigned by WinStar Farm LLC, China Horse Club and SF Racing LLC and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

New York Central, a gray son of Tapit, will be making his two-turn debut after breaking his maiden by 7 ¼ lengths Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs in his last start. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens is named to ride New York Central, whose second dam, Hold to Fashion, produced 2004 Oaklawn Handicap winner Peace Rules.

WinStar Farm LLC, China Horse Club and SF Racing LLC won the Grade 3 $500,000 Southwest Stakes last year with unbeaten One Liner.

Among the entrants in Saturday's fifth race are Bravazo, second in the Grade 1 $500,000 Breeders' Futurity Stakes Oct. 7 at Keeneland for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas; Kingsville, third in the Springboard Mile for trainer Danny Pish; Ezmosh, sixth in the Breeders' Futurity for trainer Brad Cox; and P R Radio Star, who will be making his two-turn debut after breaking his maiden by 12 ½ lengths Dec. 16 at Hawthorne in his last start for trainer Tom Swearingen.

Lone Rock is among seven 3-year-olds entered in Monday's Smarty Jones, Oaklawn's first of four major preps for the Kentucky Derby. Probable favorite Mourinho was flown Wednesday from Southern California for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who has dominated Oaklawn's 3-year-old prep series in recent years.

Mourinho has a 1-2-0 record from three lifetime starts, including a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 $100,000 Bob Hope Stakes Nov. 11 at Del Mar in his last start. Drayden Van Dyke, who grew up near Oaklawn and was the country's champion apprentice jockey of 2014, is named to ride Mourinho from post 4. Mourinho is scheduled to race in blinkers again Monday.

Also entered in the one-mile Smarty Jones are Combatant, Tap Daddy, Arched Feather, Navistar and Bode's Maker. Combatant and Tap Daddy are from the barn of eight-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen. Navistar, a Dec. 16 maiden winner at Gulfstream Park for trainer Todd Pletcher, will be ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez. Asmussen had one-third of the nominees, 12 of 36, to the Smarty Jones.

Probable post time for the Smarty Jones, the eighth of nine races, is 4:42 p.m.

Sports on 01/13/2018

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