04/05/2011 3:17PM

Oaklawn festival always provides big finish

Misremembered, with Martin Garcia up, wins the Santana Mile.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – The annual stakes bonanza known as the Racing Festival of the South will open on Saturday with the running of the Grade 2, $350,000 Oaklawn Handicap.

It is the first of nine stakes to be run over the final six dates of the meet, with purses for the races totaling $2.7 million. The festival features five graded stakes, including the lone Grade 1 races in the region, the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap on April 15 and the $1 million Arkansas Derby on April 16.

D. Wayne Lukas, the meet’s current leading trainer by wins and earnings – who has also won more festival stakes than any other trainer since the series was launched in 1974 – said the season-ending grouping of big races has come to define Oaklawn.

“It’s absolutely the highlight of the meet in the fact that we draw from all over the United States these better horses and we give the Arkansas fan a chance to see quality racing at its best,” he said. “At this time, Oaklawn becomes the premiere meet of the nation. It jumps up to a Saratoga, Belmont, Santa Anita status overnight, and for that six or seven days the whole world in racing focuses on Oaklawn because of the quality of racing and the shippers and the people that come in here.”

Trainer Bob Baffert leads the initial round of shippers, having sent Misremembered, the winner of last year’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, in for the Oaklawn Cap. The horse is the 119-pound highweight for the 1 1/8-mile race. Calvin Borel has the mount on Misremembered, who galloped about 1 1/2 miles on Tuesday morning at Oaklawn after arriving Monday aboard a flight from Southern California.

Winslow Homer on Tuesday breezed five furlongs in 1:00.60 under Gabriel Saez, who has the mount in the Oaklawn, said the horse’s trainer, Larry Jones. Winslow Homer is weighted at 114. Other probables include Win Willy (115), Stachys (113), and Double Threat (110).

Kate’s Main Man, winner of the $100,000 Essex, is possible for the Oaklawn, said his trainer, Randy Morse. He said the horse is also under consideration for the Grade 3, $200,000 Texas Mile at Lone Star Park on April 23.

Oaklawn will open its infield on Saturday, weather permitting. The infield will also be opened on Arkansas Derby Day, when there is a special first post of 12 noon Central.

Dominguez lined up for Arienza

Arienza, the undefeated daughter of 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri, is highly probable for the Grade 2, $300,000 Fantasy for 3-year-old fillies on Sunday, and if she goes she will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez, said her trainer, Dan Peitz.

“We’re leaning pretty strongly toward running,” Peitz said Tuesday. “I’m happy with how she’s doing.”

Arienza is undefeated in two starts, her latest score a one-mile allowance with a Beyer Speed Figure of 90.

Trainer Larry Jones said Joyful Victory remains on deck for the Fantasy after breezing five furlongs in 1:00.80 Tuesday morning. Mike Smith has the mount on Joyful Victory, who he guided to a more than eighth length victory in the Grade 3 Honeybee last month at Oaklawn.

Her dominance, coupled with the potential presence of Arienza, is making for a short Fantasy field. Trainer Benard Chatters on Tuesday said he planned to start both Holy Heavens, who was second in the Honeybee, and Explosive Disco, who was third to Arienza in the allowance March 27. Riders for the horses have not yet been lined out, said Chatters.