02/09/2011 4:54PM

Berry looks likely to stay hot at Oaklawn

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Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
Win Willy, Cliff Berry up, wins the Fifth Season.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - With mounts on Win Willy and Jazzin' Okie in this weekend's stakes at Oaklawn Park, jockey Cliff Berry could be padding his lead in the standings. He was up by four wins heading into Friday's program, which is scheduled to be the first of the race week after a snowstorm forced the cancellation of the card here Thursday.

As for Berry, he has been anything but cold this winter. Ever since going 7 for 7 on a program last December at Remington Park, he has had some serious momentum. He won the $250,000 Springboard Mile a few days after his perfect card, and is now winning with 25 percent of his mounts at Oaklawn.

"Cliff's very consistent and has been consistent for many years," said trainer Bret Calhoun, who regularly names Berry on horses. "He's a very solid rider, and a great person. I like riding Cliff a lot and my owners do, and we've had a good run for many, many years."

Berry's relationship with Calhoun, one of the leading trainers in North America, as well as with trainers Mac Robertson and Donnie Von Hemel have contributed to his strong start at the meet. Berry will be aboard the Robertson-trained Win Willy in the $100,000 Essex Handicap on Sunday. Win Willy won the $75,000 Fifth Season in his last start, when he closed from last for a neck win at Oaklawn on Jan. 16.

"Nothing really went his way," Berry said. "He had to show his class to win. There was no pace, and he had to go wide. The whole race I'm thinking, 'This isn't going good.' The last part, I thought, 'We're going to win anyways.' He really showed his class."
Berry said Win Willy is the first horse he rode for Robertson. The pairing came in the Grade 2 Rebel back in 2009, when Win Willy upset top Kentucky Derby prospect Old Fashioned at 56-1. Win Willy closed from 16 lengths off the pace that day, and has used his kick to earn more than $550,000.

"When he runs he feels like a big old train," Berry said. "He's got a really, really long stride. It takes time to get it going. He's very impressive when he gets going."
Berry's other weekend stakes mount is Jazzin' Okie in the $75,000 Martha Washington for 3-year-old fillies at a mile Saturday. Trained by Von Hemel, she will be seeking her third consecutive win. Jazzin' Okie was up late to take a $100,000 optional claiming route at Remington in her last start Dec. 11. She defeated a field that included a full sister to Grade 1 winner Purge.

"She had a really bad trip and won," Berry said. "She ran good. And she's been working really well in Hot Springs."

Berry's other top horses at the meet include Taptam, who is to run in next weekend's $100,000 Bayakoa for fillies and mares; Chief of Affairs, who was second by a neck in last season's Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap; and Grant Jack, with whom he won the Springboard Mile. All three are trained by Calhoun.

Berry has won 3,763 races and has compiled $48 million in mount earnings since launching his career in 1981. A 48-year-old native of Joplin, Mo., he has won multiple titles at Remington Park and Lone Star Park. He is seeking his first title at Oaklawn.

Borel enters Arkansas Sports Hall

The honors keep piling up for Oaklawn-based jockey Calvin Borel, who will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Friday night in North Little Rock. The following week, Borel will be representing the United States in the Meydan Masters jockey competition in Dubai.

Borel and his wife, Lisa, will be in Dubai from Feb. 14-19, with the competition to be held Feb. 17-18.

Closer to home, Borel, along with such other Arkansas sports personalities as major-league pitcher Cliff Lee, will be feted during the Friday banquet at Verizon Arena. The event is expected to draw about 1,000 people.

Borel has won three of the last four runnings of the Kentucky Derby, his latest in 2010 with Super Saver.

◗ Fair Grounds shipper Homerun Berti might have a fitness edge on his six rivals in Friday's featured ninth race, a $65,000 optional claiming sprint. Horses at Oaklawn missed four days of training last week because of the weather, and were also unable to train on the track on Wednesday.

◗ Early nominations to Oaklawn's series of graded races for 3-year-olds, the Southwest, Rebel and Arkansas Derby, close Friday.