03/19/2013 3:48PM

Oaklawn Park: Justin Phillip taking drop prepping for Count Fleet

Shigeki Kikkawa
Justin Phillip has made two starts this year, a third in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes and a fifth in the Grade 2 San Carlos, both at Santa Anita.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. – Justin Phillip returns to the overnight ranks for the first time in close to a year in Thursday’s eighth race at Oaklawn, a $50,000 optional claimer at six furlongs that figures to produce starters for next month’s Grade 3, $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap. In all, a field of seven older horses will start Thursday, including Humble Smarty, the 9-year-old who has won both of his starts this year, each with a Beyer Speed Figure of 94.

Justin Phillip has been a regular in sprint stakes since last June, when he was second in the Grade 2 True North at Belmont Park. A few starts later, he was second by a neck in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt at Saratoga. Justin Phillip then closed his season with a fifth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He has made two starts this year, a third in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes and a fifth in the Grade 2 San Carlos, both at Santa Anita.

“He’s a top-class horse that needs a win,” said Steve Asmussen, who trains Justin Phillip for Zayat Stables.

“For him to run his best in the Count Fleet, he needs a good race Thursday.”

Justin Phillip has run in seven consecutive stakes since his last win May 4, a score that came in a $75,000 optional claimer at Belmont Park. He has picked up checks in all of those seven stakes starts but one, with six of the races coming at the graded level. Justin Phillip overall is 4 for 24 with earnings of $599,162.

“He’s a horse with a tremendous amount of talent that I think it’s been way too long between victories for,” Asmussen said. “Hopefully, this is the right spot.”

Justin Phillip has had a chance to work over the Oaklawn surface, noted Asmussen, with local breezes on March 11 and Monday.

Ricardo Santana Jr. has the mount from post 7.

Justin Phillip could get a tracking trip behind Humble Smarty, who has used his speed to wire his rivals in both of his starts this year. He won a $32,000 optional-claiming sprint Jan. 20 at Oaklawn and came back one start later to take the $60,000 Nodouble for Arkansas-breds on Feb. 24. Alex Birzer has the mount for Brett Creighton and trainer Jerry Donaldson.

Grand Sensation has won his last two starts and will attempt to keep his streak going in what will be his first out since October. Calvin Borel has the mount for Alex and JoAnn Lieblong and trainer Steve Hobby.