03/09/2013 2:55PM

Spring in the Air using OBS stakes as prep race

Tom Keyser
Spring in the Air will make her first start of the year Monday in the $100,000 OBS Championship for 3-year-old fillies.

The old “give-‘em-one” strategy can be a bane to a horseplayer’s existence. Trainer intent is often difficult to decipher when a horse is returning from a layoff and obviously pointing to a more important race in the future. Just what result the “prep” might yield is anyone’s guess and clearly makes gambling on that horse a tricky venture.

But when there is no wagering on the prep, then no blood, no foul. That’s the scenario trainer Mark Casse will have the luxury of using to his benefit Monday in Ocala, Fla., when he brings John C. Oxley’s Grade 1-winning filly Spring in the Air off the bench to run in the $100,000 Ocala Breeders’ Sales Championship for 3-year-old fillies.

There is no betting on the four “Day of Champions” races, to be run over the SafeTrack synthetic surface installed at the OBS facility in 2007.

“We’re pointing her to the Ashland,” said Casse, referring to the Grade 1, $500,000 race on the Keeneland Polytrack on April 6. “This race obviously is a means to an end. If she runs well at Keeneland with this race under her belt, then I’m sure we’d be inclined to run back in the Kentucky Oaks.”

Spring in the Air, away since running fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita more than four months ago, won the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland last October and therefore is the most notable equine name in the annual OBS series for 3-year-olds. She will face seven other fillies, most notably Toasting and her own Casse-trained stablemate, Spring Venture, when breaking from the outside post under Patrick Hu sbands.

The filly championship is carded as the third race and immediately precedes the anchor and co-featured event, the $100,000 OBS Championship for colts and geldings. Both go at 1 1/16 miles around the one-mile oval.

The roster of horsemen participating Monday is quite impressive, as jockeys scheduled to ride include John Velazquez, Joel Rosario, and Edgar Prado, while some of the trainers shipping in horses are Todd Pletcher, Casse, Mike Maker, Tim Ice, and Eddie Plesa Jr.

In the other Day of Champions events:

◗ $100,000 OBS Championship, colt-and-gelding division (race 4): Jack Milton (Pletcher), Brown Almighty (Ice), and Sky Commander (Casse) probably would be the favorites if these races weren’t betless exhibitions. A field of nine is entered.

◗ $50,000 OBS Sprint, colt-and-gelding division (race 2): Pro Prospect, with Prado riding for Plesa, is still eligible for first-level allowances but looks as good as any in a field of seven entered in this six-furlong dash.

◗ $50,000 OBS Sprint, filly division (race 1): Cor Cor, a front-running winner in 3 of 4 career starts, should take plenty of catching in this six-furlong race, which drew nine. Scott Spieth rides for trainer Joan Scott.

Inaugurated in 1990, the OBS races were devised and continue to exist largely as a financial incentive to breeders and buyers of horses who go through the OBS sales ring. All races are restricted to OBS-sold horses, with owners maintaining eligibility for their horses through futurity-style payments. OBS hosts year-round simulcasting on its property but is not permitted by Florida law to accept bets on its one day of live racing.

Ocala has a modest grandstand, with results and race times posted on an infield board. Calder announcer Bobby Neuman provides the race calls. Races are run every half-hour, starting at 1 p.m. Eastern. Several thousand fans, many of them locals, typically are in attendance in a horse-dominated region where live racing is a rarity.

There is no television coverage of the races, although live streaming video and other useful information and services are available on the website obssales.com.

The OBS purses peaked in 2008 and 2009, when Darley helped sponsor five races worth a total of $425,000. In 2010, the program reverted to four races worth $300,000 after the sponsorship ran out. The series has had races won by such standouts as Forever Together, Traitor, Golden Bri, Meadow Monster, Plenty of Light, and Valid Video.

The races are held to coincide with the 2-year-old OBS March select sale, scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.