01/19/2010 12:00AM

Dryfly passes first test

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Will Kenser/Coady Photography
Dryfly set the pace on his way to a 2 1/4-length win in the Smarty Jones.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - During the Oaklawn meet last spring, track president Charles Cella met with trainer Lynn Whiting and discussed trying to find a good young horse. Mission accomplished.

Dryfly is officially on the road to the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby after winning Oaklawn's first prep for the race, the $100,000 Smarty Jones, on Monday.

Cella purchased Dryfly privately last year on Whiting's recommendation. Following the sale, Dryfly made three starts as a 2-year-old, winning his maiden by more than six lengths at Philadelphia Park in September, finishing seventh in a Delaware Park allowance, then taking a first-level allowance at Churchill Downs in November.

"I think he's probably the best 2-year-old I've ever owned," Cella said.

Dryfly made a nice transition to 3 on Monday, when he rolled to a 2 1/4-length win in the one-mile Smarty Jones. Whiting said the horse came out of the race well and is being pointed to the Grade 3, $250,000 Southwest at Oaklawn on Feb. 15.

"That's the obvious spot that's before us right now," he said Tuesday.

Dryfly was making his two-turn debut in the Smarty Jones. He set the pace from his inside post and after being tried by a few of his rivals went on to a comfortable win.

Said Whiting, "I would have liked a little speed to develop and let him lay second or third, but he broke running and he's inside, and at that point, he just had to protect his position.

"Somewhere, he's going to have to learn to be in a striking position."

Pleasant Storm came rolling through the lane to finish second. He, too, is being pointed to the Southwest, his trainer, Joe Petalino, said Tuesday.

"I really liked his race," he said. "That was awful good first time around two turns.

"He's got a big stride."

Pleasant Storm is a tall horse who won his maiden and the Oklahoma Classics Juvenile in his two starts prior to the Smarty Jones.

Attendance up, handle dips

Oaklawn was up 7.5 percent in attendance and down 9.4 percent in handle over its four-day opening weekend compared to the corresponding period a year ago. The track drew 60,662 during the first four days of its meet, compared to 56,405 in 2009.

Handle on the live races from all sources was $12,414,539 over the four days, compared to $13,705,841 in 2009. The offtrack handle of $8,383,672 was down compared to the $9,599,017 wagered during the same period in 2009.

"Offtrack is impaired with the issue with the Mid-Atlantic tracks, not down significantly," said Eric Jackson, general manager of Oaklawn.

Oaklawn's races were not available to sites in seven states on the Eastern Seaboard due to an ongoing simulcast dispute between those sites, the MidAtlantic Cooperative, and TrackNet Media, which represents Oaklawn among other tracks. TrackNet is a partnership between Churchill Downs Inc. and Magna Entertainment.

Closer to home, Oaklawn had agreeable weather for its opening weekend just days after exceedingly cold temperatures forced the track to lose five days of training from Jan. 7-11.

"When we look at all four days, we can't complain about anything," Jackson said. "We're thankful to be racing. If we had opened up a week ago, there wouldn't have been any racing over the weekend. Anything that happened was going to be gravy."

The weather, promotions, and the excitement of opening weekend drove attendance.

"It was sort of 'Oaklawn's back,' " Jackson said.

Patrons also jammed the new gaming area that opened a few days before the meet started. Jackson said its returns are meeting expectations. There are now more than 800 player positions as opposed to 500 before an expansion and renovation project that called for a 52,500-square-foot addition to the south end of the grandstand. The project cost more than $30 million.

Berry, Castellano draw 3-day bans

Jockeys Cliff Berry and Abel Castellano Jr. have each been suspended three days for riding infractions over opening weekend. Their suspensions are to run from Friday through Sunday, barring any appeals. Each can ride in designated stakes.

* Richard McNaughton, the longtime agent for Berry, is now booking mounts for Luis Quinonez, too. Quinonez found himself without an agent for the first time in 18 years last month when his longtime agent, Gerry DiLaura, died.

* The pick-six carryover for Thursday is $16,210.