01/21/2010 12:00AM

Oaklawn roundup

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TRACK TRENDS

The constraints winter weather places on track maintenance typically makes for a slower surface in the early part of the Oaklawn Park meet. But over opening weekend Jan. 15-18, some of the fractional and final times here were downright tortoise-like.

Much of that had to do with a cold-weather blast that moved into the region the week before the meet and led to the cancellation of five straight days of training. Horsemen are hopeful that if the mild weather experienced last week continues, the track will be a little quicker heading into this second weekend of racing at Oaklawn.

"We had four days of a hard frost," trainer Mac Robertson said Monday. "In that situation, it will take a week to 10 days to straighten things up. But it seems like the track's already getting tighter and faster to me."

For the first three cards of the meet, many horses struggled over what was a deep, laboring surface. But later in the card Monday, horses put up some quicker times. A $50,000 allowance for older horses went in 1:12.66. Last Saturday, a stakes at the same distance, the $50,000 American Beauty for fillies and mares, went in 1:14.19.

Regardless of trends, the weather will continue to affect how the surface plays at Oaklawn. Cold days limit the amount of water able to be placed on the track, which leads to a tiring surface.

"Traditionally, it's been slow early," Robertson said. "You've got to be fit. You've got to be awful fit."

WHO'S HOT

The Steve Margolis train rolled through Oaklawn last weekend and went 2 for 2, withboth wins coming in photos. Margolis, who is hitting at a better than 30-percent rate at his winter base of Fair Grounds, even kept winning there while he shipped to Oaklawn.

On the same afternoon that Northern Belle ($10.40) was up by a nose in the American Beauty, one of Margolis's starters won an allowance at Fair Grounds. Both horses race for client Martin Cherry. Margolis's other Oaklawn win came Monday in a $50,000 optional claiming sprint with True Course ($9.80), who was claimed out of the race by Mike Langford and trainer Randy Morse.

Margolis said Northern Belle could return to Oaklawn for the $60,000 Spring Fever on Feb. 20. He liked her stalk-and-pounce win over favorite and pacesetter One Smokin' Lady in the American Beauty.

"When you give her a target to run at, she finishes well," Margolis said.

Other trainers off to good starts at Oaklawn are Steve Hobby and David Vance. Both won two races, leaving the three horsemen sitting atop the standings entering the second week of the meet. Hobby went 2 for 5 and Vance was

2 for 3.

Among riders, Terry Thompson finished opening weekend with a one-win lead in the standings over Jon Court, Corey Nakatani, and Chris Rosier. Thompson, who went 4 for 25, led the standings from start to finish last meet at Oaklawn.

Rosier had the best winning percentage opening week, going 3 for 6.

PETALINO SHIPPERS LIVE

Trainer Joe Petalino knows how to ship in and win at Oaklawn. Last meet, he won 11 races from 63 starters. This meet, he could be just as effective. Petalino signaled his stable's readiness to be a factor at Oaklawn over opening weekend. He sent out runners in two of the first three stakes of the season, and both performed well at generous odds.

Cosmo Girl was 16-1 in the $50,000 Dixie Belle for 3-year-old fillies and finished third, beaten three-quarters of a length, after setting the pace over a tiring track. Monday, the barn returned for the $100,000 Smarty Jones and sent out Pleasant Storm to a second-place finish at 8-1.

Petalino had a large number of horses based at Oaklawn when he won the title here in 2000. But recently, he has been shipping in from out-of-state. He is developing several young horses this winter, and shipping keeps him from having to split his operation.

"I can develop the babies, and all the help is in one spot," he said.

Petalino is currently shipping in from Louisiana Downs near Shreveport. Last year, he came in from Lone Star Park near Dallas.

"Lone Star was a good six-hour ship," he said. "Louisiana Downs is an easy two-and-a-half hours."

ON THE STAKES DOCKET

Zenyatta, pay attention. The first local prep for the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom, which is a goal for the champion, comes Saturday with the running of the $75,000 Pippin Stakes. A 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares, the Pippin could draw multiple stakes winner Euphony, who is 4 for 4 at Oaklawn.

French Kiss, who won the Pippin in 2009, and Be Fair, a Grade 3 winner this summer at Saratoga, are others who could go in the race. The division's next stop is the Grade 3, $150,000 Azeri here March 6, then the Apple Blossom on April 3.

TALES FROM THE TRACK

Ron Moquett's first win as a trainer came with neither a Thoroughbred nor a Quarter Horse. It was an Appaloosa that a client purchased as part of a package deal to secure a Thoroughbred maiden for the mixed meet at Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Okla.

"The horse we wanted came with a goat, and the goat came with the Appaloosa," Moquett said. "The goat needed the Appaloosa, and the filly needed the goat."

The filly never won, but the Appaloosa, named Sparkling Bull, was a useful horse in the mid-90's. A decade later, Moquett hit the top of the Thoroughbred game when he won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster with Seek Gold. He has a

35-horse stable on the grounds this meet at Oaklawn.

HORSES TO WATCH

Tap Tap Tapping

Trainer: David Vance

Last race: Jan. 17, 7th

Finish: 1st by 7 1/4

She made her first start on dirt in a maiden race for 3-year-old fillies and closed with a rush to win going away, earning an 83 Beyer. It was her second career start following a fourth-place finish on Polytrack at Turfway Park. Tap Tap Tapping could develop into a candidate for the 3-year-old filly series at Oaklawn.

Orientate Express

Trainer: Kelly Von Hemel

Last race: Dec. 6, 10th

Finish: 2nd by 1 1/4

A multiple stakes winner, he accounted for the $60,000 Veteran at Zia Park in November. The third-place finisher in that race, Black Hills, came back to win the $200,000 Distance Championship at Zia and the $50,000 Winsham Lad at Sunland. Orienate Express is being pointed for the Essex here Feb. 6.

Soar

Trainer: Tim Ritchey

Last race: Jan. 16, 7th

Finish: 1st by 3 3/4

Stalked and pounced his way to a Beyer Figure of 80, one start after finishing 10 lengths behind A Little Warm in a quick maiden race at Philadelphia Park. A Little Warm went on in his next start to win the $100,000 Spectacular Bid at Gulfstream with a Beyer of 100. Sonar is by Officer and out of a mare that produced stakes winner Sam Angelo and 13-time winner Honoring.

Hattaash

Trainer: Dan Peitz

Last race: Jan. 18, 2nd

Finish: 1st by neck

A $73 maiden winner, he was a $290,000 purchase at auction and his pedigree has ties to Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. Hattaash is out of the stakes-winning mare Lotta Rhythm, who is a half-sister to Lotta Kim, the dam of Rachel Alexandra.