02/22/2012 4:56PM

Oaklawn Park: Absinthe Minded up for challenge in Azeri

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Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography
Absinthe Minded will take on Havre de Grace in the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri at Oaklawn Park.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Absinthe Minded has been on a stakes roll at Oaklawn Park, and next month she will be taking on a Horse of the Year. Absinthe Minded will defend her home court against Havre de Grace as both runners are now being pointed to the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri.

The 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares is March 17 at Oaklawn. It is one of four stakes for the division this meet and a key stepping-stone to the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom.

Absinthe Minded has accounted for the first two stakes in the series. She was a neck winner of the $75,000 Pippin on Jan. 21, then dominated the $100,000 Bayakoa last Saturday, winning by four lengths while earning one of her best career Beyer Speed Figures, a 97.

“We’re going to go through the series,” said D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Absinthe Minded for Briland Farm. “She likes this place. She’s thriving here. She came out of the race in excellent order, so we’ll look at the Azeri.

“Obviously, the hills are going to get a little steeper. They’ll be a few new faces. But with her performance here so far, she will be a factor. We know that there’s going to be better horses. But she’s going to be better, and we have the home-court advantage. So, we’ll go to the next step, and hopefully, we’ll come full cycle in the last of the series, the Apple Blossom.”

Lukas felt the Bayakoa was the best effort he’s seen from Absinthe Minded.

“The thing that was significant about the race is that she was pressured,” he said. “I think going into the race a lot of the fellows, and my colleagues, thought she might get loose on the lead and it’d be hard to run her down. But she didn’t. She not only didn’t get loose on the lead, she got the rail and the other horse pressured her and tightened it up and kept her there.

“Going down the backside, I thought, this is going to be tough, because I knew it was going to make her reach for her hole card. What I was surprised about, is when they came to her at the quarter pole, how she rebroke and finished. That was clearly her best race.”

Absinthe Minded is a 5-year-old by Quiet American. She was bred by Briland owners Robert and Stacy Mitchell.

“Their families of horses all seem to get better with age,” Lukas said. “The ones I’ve had all seem to get a little bit better with age, and to their credit they have kept this one around. A lot of people, having a mare like that, probably would have bred her this year, and they’re keeping her around. And I think it’s going to pay great dividends.”

Plesantly Blessed sold, retired

Pleasantly Blessed, winner of the $50,000 Jersey Lily at Sam Houston on Feb. 4, was sold earlier this week, owner and trainer Steve Asmussen said. The Louisiana-based Coteau Grove Farms purchased the mare, and on Wednesday she was to ship to Kentucky to be bred to Pure Prize, said Pat Devereux Jr., a private trainer for Coteau Grove.

Asmussen raced Pleasantly Blessed for a good portion of her career. She won three stakes, including two runnings of the Ricks Memorial at Remington Park in 2009 and 2011. Overall, Plesantly Blessed, an 8-year-old by Pleasant Tap, won 11 of 30 starts and $409,586.

“I was going to run her back at Houston, but she deserves to be a mom,” Asmussen said. “She’s a good mare. She’s a nice mare. I had such a ‘Should I, shouldn’t I?’ [about selling], but I’m not going to breed any mares or anything. And Pat’s always loved her.”

Devereux is a former assistant to Asmussen.

“Everyone that was around her loved her,” Devereux said. “She’s a big, cheerful mare.”

Devereux said Pleasantly Blessed would have her foal in Louisiana.

Great Mills eyes Keeneland’s Shakertown

Plesantly Blessed was the first of three straight stakes winners Asmussen has had of late at Sam Houston. Great Mills has been part of the streak, taking the $75,000 Champion Energy Services on Feb. 11. He will likely make his next start in the Grade 3, $100,000 Shakertown at Keeneland, Asmsusen said.

“I’ll probably wait and run him at Keeneland,” he said of the race on April 14.

Great Mills is a three-time stakes winner for Millennium Farms.

Martin remains on ventilator

Jockey Jacky Martin, the prominent Quarter Horse jockey paralyzed from the neck down in September, remains on a ventilator after a recent surgery to restore his ability to breathe on his own was unsuccessful. Friends are rallying in search of medical and financial help, with one fundraiser being held all this week at Sunland Park.

“At this juncture, all of the insurance money has been totally exhausted as well as most of the monies raised from various benefits,” said Jim Helzer, an owner on an advisory committee with the Ruidoso Downs Chaplaincy. “I believe that there must be somebody in this world who would be willing to perform some type of surgery on Jacky that would improve his quality of life without it costing an unaffordable amount of money.”

Sunland is asking patrons to place a wager or any type of donation in barrels throughout the facility through Sunday.