01/09/2013 4:46PM

Oaklawn Park: Endorsement's speed an asset in Fifth Season

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Barbara D. Livingston
Endorsement is part of a field of nine in the opening-day feature at Oaklawn Park, the $75,000 Fifth Season.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Endorsement’s natural speed might give him an edge over horse-for-course Win Willy when the pair meets Friday in the $75,000 Fifth Season at Oaklawn Park. The 1 1/16-mile race opens the popular meet known as Arkansas’s “fifth season” behind winter, spring, summer, and fall. It also is the first step on the road to the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap.

Friday’s field of nine older horses includes eight stakes winners, among them It Happened Again, who two years ago won the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap at Oaklawn; Skyring and Eye of the Leopard, who are coupled for the owner-trainer team of Bluegrass Hall and D. Wayne Lukas; and Stachys, who has won five stakes races in his career. Endorsement, who has a pair of Grade 3 wins to his credit – the Sunland Park Derby in 2010 and the last year’s Texas Mile at Lone Star Park – will be making his first start since August. And while he gives up recency to all of his rivals, he has more speed than most in the field and could either show the way or track Double Rah Rah. Robby Albarado has the mount from post 3.

“Endorsement was a little one-dimensional early in his career, then he ran a huge race in Texas when Robby rode him and rated him so nicely,” said Eoin Harty, who trains Endorsement for Casner Racing. “I think you can pretty much do anything with him, depending on how the race sets up.”

Endorsement has the added appeal of a strong last-race company line. In his most recent start, he finished sixth to eventual Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned in the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap at Saratoga. Harty said Endorsement was freshened after the Aug. 4 start. Since the middle of December, the horse has been based at Oaklawn, which was forced to miss a few days of training last month due to a winter storm that hit on Christmas

“I’ve got him as fit as the Good Lord and myself allowed,” Harty said. “I won’t really know until race day whether he’s 100 percent. I do know he will improve off this race. I just haven’t had the opportunity to tighten the screws [because of the weather]. I got to think everyone else is in the same boat.”

Skyring is a stakes winner on turf who will be making a rare dirt start.

“Well, the only grass is in the infield and there’s no rail,” Lukas said of targeting the Fifth Season. Oaklawn Park does not have a turf course.

Skyring was a winner on dirt last year, in an allowance at Churchill Downs. He will be ridden by Jon Court.

Win Willy, a 7-year-old who would surpass $1 million in earnings with a win Friday, has banked close to $700,000 at Oaklawn. His local scores include the Grade 2 Rebel at 3, and the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap and Fifth Season two years ago at 5. Alex Cintron has the mount for Jer-Mar Stables and trainer Mac Robertson.

◗ Liberty Girl, a Harty trainee and half-sister to Grade 1 winners Ruler On Ice and Champagne d’Oro, is part of a strong allowance route field for 3-year-old fillies that goes as race  3. The race also drew Grade 1 Alcibiades runner-up Broken Spell and a pair of runners for trainer Steve Asmussen.