Oaklawn Live Racing

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Compiled by Nancy Brannon

In a press release sent March 14, 2020, “Oaklawn decided on Thursday (March 12) to not allow spectators into the facility for racing this weekend out of an abundance of caution and in the interest of everyone’s safety given that the track was expecting over 40,000 fans for this Rebel Stakes weekend.”

So the Rebel Stakes was run on Saturday March 14 with no fans in the stands watching the horses run. But Bob Baffert was on hand to claim victory with his horse Nadal in the last prep race before the Arkansas Derby re-scheduled for May 2.

Nadal lived up to his 4-5 odds and gave Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his seventh Rebel Stakes (G1) victory in 10 years with his front-running win in the $1 million milestone on the road to the Arkansas and Kentucky Derbys.

Ridden by Joel Rosario, Nadal grabbed the lead early and proceeded to duel with fellow California shipper American Theorem through early fractions of :22 4/5 and 46 for the first half mile. As his rival faded, Nadal held a comfortable advantage entering the stretch and had just enough left to hold off longshot Excession for the victory in 1:44 4/5 for 1 1/16 miles over a sloppy track. Basin finished third.

Nadal secured 50 points towards Kentucky Derby eligibility and is now ranked third on the top 20 leaderboard. Excession is ranked 13th with 20 points and Basin is 25th with 10 points.

The Rebel is the last local prep before the $1 million Arkansas Derby. Co-owner George Bolton indicated his colt would likely return for that race. Baffert wanted to get the horse back to California before making a firm decision. Nadal remains undefeated in three career starts.

Azeri Stakes

Also on Saturday, March 14, Joel Politi’s Serengeti Empress used her front-running style to return to her winning ways for the first time since the 2019 Kentucky Oaks for a 6 ¼ length victory in the Azeri Stakes (G2).

Unbothered by Awe Emma losing her rider, Richard Eramia, at break, Serengeti Empress, ridden by Joseph Talamo, was the first away and held that advantage through early fractions of :23 1/5 and :46 2/5 for the first half mile. She continued to hold a strong advantage all the way to wire, completing the 1 1/16-mile race in 1:44 2/5. Mylady Curlin was second, three-quarters of a length in front of third-place finisher Saracosa. Equibase reported that Awe Emma “reared at the start, unseated rider.”

On March 15, 2020 Oaklawn announced: “With the unfortunate announcement Sunday afternoon that two people have tested positive for Covid-19 (Coronavirus) in Garland County [Arkansas], Oaklawn has made the decision to voluntarily close the casino for two weeks effective Monday, March 16 through March 30. The racing operations will continue without spectators during this same time period.” According to The Sentinel-Record of Hot Springs, AR, “The Arkansas Department of Health on Sunday confirmed two cases of COVID-19 involving a Garland County couple who had traveled out of state.”

On Friday, March 20, 2020, Oaklawn announced that it is moving its signature race – the Arkansas Derby (G1) – from Saturday, April 11 to Saturday, May 2, closing day of the 2020 live meet. Due to the closing of the casino and racetrack to the public, Oaklawn, upon discussions with the HBPA, decided to reduce purses across the board and “stay until May.” As a result, the Arkansas Derby purse will be reduced to $750,000.

The Kentucky Derby, traditionally run on the first Saturday in May (May 2, 2020) has been postponed until September 5.

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