04/10/2012 3:41PM

Oaklawn Park: Calhoun holds strong hand for Carousel, Redbud stakes

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Oaklawn Park/Coady Photography
Gleaming won both local preps for the $75,000 Carousel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Oaklawn Park has a stakes doubleheader Thursday as part of its annual Racing Festival of the South series, and trainer Bret Calhoun has capable starters in both of the races. He will send out Beat the Blues and Gleaming in the $75,000 Carousel, while Cascabella will be seeking her third straight win when she runs in the $100,000 Redbud.

The festival, which continues through Saturday with the running of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, is comprised of nine stakes worth a cumulative $2.8 million. The races are spread out over the final four dates of the meet at Oaklawn.

Beat the Blues and Gleaming will start as top choices in the Carousel, a six-furlong race for fillies and mares. Gleaming has won both local preps for the race, the $50,000 American Beauty and the $60,000 Spring Fever, while Beat the Blues won last year’s $98,000 Saylorville at Prairie Meadows.

“I think both horses are doing very well and belong and fit in there very well,” Calhoun said. “We know Gleaming loves Oaklawn. She loves the surface, kind of thrives there. It’s her backyard. I think everyone else is coming into her backyard. She’s done very well since her last race, and I look for another big effort from her Thursday.”

Beat the Blues, meanwhile, is out to rebound from a sixth-place finish in the $150,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Filly and Mare Sprint at Gulfstream Park in her last start Jan. 28. Prior to that race, she had won back-to-back allowances, between Churchill Downs and Fair Grounds.

“Her last race is a throwout,” Calhoun said. “She didn’t do well down there. She didn’t handle the surface. She’s proven to be a nice filly, pretty consistent. She’s been at Oaklawn for a while, had multiple breezes up there, and handled the track surface in the mornings.

“She’s run well shipping around, [but] I think she’s better when she can run out of her own stall, which is why we opted to send her there early. She’s been there at least a month.”

Beat the Blues ran perhaps her best race in defeat last year, when she was second by a neck in the Grade 3 Winning Colors at Churchill Downs. For the effort, she earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 98.

“She got beat the last jump by Sassy Image, when Sassy Image was at the top of her game last year,” Calhoun said.

Miguel Mena, who was aboard for the race, has the mount in the Carousel.

Cliff Berry will ride Gleaming.

Also set to start is Salty Strike, a Grade 3 winner for trainer Ken McPeek who is making her first stat since winning last year’s $87,000 Dream Supreme at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5. Mike Smith was aboard for that win and has the mount again Thursday.

Cascabella comes into the Redbud, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares, off a pair of allowance wins at Oaklawn.

“She’s another filly that’s enjoyed Oaklawn and the surface,” Calhoun said. “She’s also continued to improve by leaps and bounds over the last few months. She’s beaten some of the better fillies on the grounds her last two outs.”

Luis Quinonez has the mount on Cascabella in a field of eight that will be reduced to at least seven on Thursday as trainer Steve Hobby said he plans to scratch Tiz Miz Sue from the Redbud in favor of her running her Friday at Oaklawn in the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap. Holy Heavens is another who has been entered in both the Redbud and Apple Blossom.

Calhoun on Tuesday was seven wins from career victory No. 2,000.