04/21/2011 2:42PM

Will Rogers Downs: Two divisions of inaugural Oklahoma Stallion Stakes

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Two one-mile divisions of the inaugural Oklahoma Stallion Stakes will be run at Will Rogers Downs on Saturday. The $50,000 divisions are for 3-year-olds bred in the Sooner State.

Heading up the colt and gelding race is multiple stakes winner Smiles Ahead. The son of Burbank will be making his first start of the year after a busy freshman campaign that saw him win four of eight starts, including the Prairie Juvenile against open company and a pair of Oklahoma-bred stakes at Remington Park in the fall.

“He just dominated against Oklahoma-breds last year,” said trainer Donnie Von Hemel who co-owns Smiles Ahead with Floyd Sagely. “We bought him privately this spring with an eye on some of these statebred stakes.”

“His former connections tried him a mile one time last year and he was unsuccessful,” Von Hemel continued. “We are hopeful that with another year of maturity he will be able to stretch out.”

Ken Shino, who has ridden Smiles Ahead in seven of his eight races, will once again be in the saddle as the likely heavy favorite takes on seven rivals.

The filly division appears to be more competitive with three of the six entrants coming in off victories.

Gotagogotagogotago has won her only two starts this year after a string of hard-luck second- and third-place performances as a 2-year-old. The daughter of Kipling appears to be coming into her own for trainer Kari Craddock. Regular rider Floyd Wethey Jr. will again handle the riding chores.

Sooner Luck also appears to be an improved filly this year versus last and comes off a game maiden score. Wild Distinction could be the controlling speed following a front-running win against conditioned claimers in her most recent start. Belen Quinonez rides Sooner Luck for trainer Roger Engel while Jody Pruitt will give Benny Landeros a leg up on Wild Distinction.

◗ Saturday will also mark the first day of a recently announced 5 percent increase in purses.

“The pari-mutuel handle at Will Rogers Downs is up on all sources,” said Justin Cassity of the Thoroughbred Racing Association of Oklahoma. “Ontrack live is up 11 percent and export is up 65 percent. Several factors have come into play this spring. Excellent field sizes and great relationships with our export partners have certainly bolstered handle.”