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Oaklawn Park: Justin Phillip goes into Count Fleet with ideal prep race behind him
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Justin Phillip comes into Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park in the right mindset – with his confidence soaring. That is precisely what his connections wanted to achieve last month, when the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Sprint alumnus made a rare start in the allowance ranks. Justin Phillip was a sweeping, four-length winner in an ideal prep for the Count Fleet.
“He got a win, and that’s what we were hoping for. That’s what he needed,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Justin Phillip for Zayat Stables.
The Count Fleet is one of four stakes on Saturday’s card, which closes out the meet at Oaklawn. The races are worth a cumulative $1.8 million, with the Arkansas Derby the high point and Fort Larned’s start in the Oaklawn Handicap a highlight. The program also includes the $100,000 Northern Spur.
Justin Phillip, who was fifth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita, is a Grade 2 winner of more than $600,000. He has run second or third in seven other stakes, while the Beyer Speed Figure of 101 that he earned for his allowance win here March 21 came close to matching his career-best number of 103.
“He’s an amazingly fast horse,” Asmussen said. “He’s capable. I think the reason I was looking for confidence [for him] is that it was the only excuse I could come up with as to why he wasn’t winning his previous races. I don’t think it’s ability. He has tremendous ability.”
Ricardo Santana Jr., the leading rider at Oaklawn, has the mount on Justin Phillip, who will break from post 3.
The Count Fleet will be run over six furlongs, and Justin Phillip could get a stalking trip behind Apprehender, who figures to set the pace, and Amanecer de Oro, who could press the leader. Laurie’s Rocket also could be close, after winning the $75,000 Hot Springs at Oaklawn on the front end March 23.
The Count Fleet field also includes Flashpoint, winner of the $50,000 Sam Houston Sprint with a Beyer of 101 on March 2, and Gentlemen’s Bet, who makes his stakes debut after winning the first three starts of his career. He will break from the rail under jockey Robby Albarado.
Northern Spur: Red Wings on dirt
Red Wings will be moving back to dirt for the Northern Spur after running third in the $75,000 Rushaway on Polytrack at Turfway in his most recent out March 23. He is part of a 10-horse field in the one-mile race for 3-year-olds that will end at the sixteenth pole, as with all races at the distance at Oaklawn.
Red Wings was a winner at the distance Jan. 26.
“He ran his best race on dirt,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “His best race was right here, so why not try the Northern Spur?”
Looking Cool invades for owner Jim Tafel and trainer Carl Nafzger, who won the 2007 Kentucky Derby with Street Sense. Nafzger said the men had debated running the horse in the Arkansas Derby right up to the close of entries Wednesday.
“We talked it over and we just went back to our old theory, ‘Let the horse bring you there,’ ” Nafzger said. “This horse needs a little more experience.”
Looking Cool will be making his stakes debut after winning a first-level allowance route at Gulfstream on March 17.
“It was a good win,” Nafzger said. “It was a beautiful race, and that’s what got us excited.
“We’re real happy with him. I think he’ll run good. I think he’ll run his race.”
Brian Hernandez Jr. has the mount on Looking Cool.
The field also includes Get Happy Mister, the Colorado-bred who is 4 for 5 and making his two-turn debut in the Northern Spur. Balance of Power, meanwhile, is a half-brother to 2011 Arkansas Derby winner Archarcharch.
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