‘Just Tickled To Be Able To Race’: Lieblongs Enjoying Early-Season Success At Oaklawn

Prominent Conway, Ark., owner Alex Lieblong said he spent a lot of time late last year at his vacation home in the Florida Keys.

Understandable.

Lieblong, among other things in 2020, broke his foot, contracted coronavirus and as chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission was in the middle of a bitter legal fight to award a casino permit in Pope County.

“I just said, ‘I’m going to hide down there,’ ” Lieblong said.

Lieblong is back and so are the horses he and wife JoAnn own and now campaign at their home track, Oaklawn, with Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

The Lieblongs recorded their first career Oaklawn triple Jan. 24, when Asmussen saddled favorites Earner ($3.80), Willful Woman ($4.20) and unbeaten Abrogate ($3.60) to win races 2, 3 and 8, respectively.

“I felt good and they were training well,” said Alex Lieblong, 70, who watched the races from home. “It was a good day to do it.”

The Lieblongs were Oaklawn’s third-leading owners last year with 11 victories and the triple pushed their career total in Hot Springs to 117. They entered the game in the early 1990s and won their first race at Oaklawn in 1999, although JoAnn Lieblong, in partnership, recorded several victories earlier in the decade with noted Little Rock, Ark., owner Patricia Blass.

Now established owners and breeders, the Lieblongs normally keep roughly 20 horses in training – the bulk are now at Oaklawn with Asmussen – and have approximately 14 broodmares at Ocala Stud in Florida, where they stand their Grade 1 winner, The Big Beast.

The trio of Jan. 24 winners were all purchased at auction – Earner for $425,000 at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Willful Woman for $400,000 at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton New York Saratoga Select Yearling Sale and Abrogate for $270,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

Abrogate, who cleared her first allowance condition in the sprint for 3-year-old fillies, is from the first crop of Grade 1 winner Outwork. She is 2 for 2 in her career (both sprints).

“I watched the gallop-out two or three times and it didn’t seem like she was just collapsing after the line, I’ll put it that way,” Lieblong said, referring to a potential future route attempt. “She’s got a good mind and she’s not a run off. She was so gorgeous at the sale. To pay that for an Outwork – that was at the outer limits for an Outwork filly, although I think Outwork is going to prove himself to be a pretty nice sire.”

Willful Woman, another 3-year-old filly, is from the first crop of champion Nyquist. She is a half-sister to the Asmussen-trained Ever So Clever, winner of the $400,000 Fantasy Stakes (G3) for 3-year-old fillies in 2017 at Oaklawn.

Willful Woman was making her third career start after running third twice last fall in Kentucky. She broke her maiden at a mile.

“We knew (Abrogate) was a good filly,” Lieblong said. “The other one needed to show a little something and she did. She’s had a growth spurt. I can tell that. She’s gotten big, that Willful Woman. I was worried that the mile might be a tick too short for her, but she looked pretty impressive herself.”

The Lieblongs have two other horses at Oaklawn with trainer Steve Hobby of Hot Springs and another with trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs. The Lieblongs also have had a long business relationship with trainer David Fawkes, who is based in south Florida. Skip Intro, a 3-year-old half-brother to 2020 male sprint champion Whitmore, is with Moquett. The trainer also conditions Whitmore, a seven-time Oaklawn stakes winner.

The Jan. 24 triple vaulted the Lieblongs into the top spot in the Oaklawn owner’s standings after the first three days of the scheduled 57-day meeting. They have at least one victory at every Oaklawn meet since 2001, including a career-best 12 in 2019. The Lieblongs were Oaklawn’s third-leading owners in 2019.

“I always remember David Fawkes telling me one time that everything can be going so good and then all of sudden somebody just kind of rolls a hand grenade down the center of your barn,” Lieblong said on the eve of 2021 Oaklawn meeting. “I thought, ‘That’s about like it is.’ About the time you think you have things lined up, here comes the hand grenade. We’re just tickled to be able to race. You’ve got to hand it to Oaklawn to get it done. They’ve jumped through a lot of hoops to get it done.”

Oaklawn raced, uninterrupted, through the COVID-19 crisis last year, though without spectators for the final 29 dates of the 57-day meeting. Oaklawn’s 2021 meeting began Jan. 22 with limited spectators, owing to Arkansas Department of Health guidelines.

In addition to The Big Beast, the Lieblongs have campaigned Grade 1 winners Wicked Whisper, Embellish the Lace and Telling, Grade 2 winners I Spent It and High Dollar Woman and multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Spring Included. They still race Bye Bye J, another multiple local stakes winner who is scheduled to make her 2021 debut Feb. 4 at Oaklawn. Bye Bye J is among the top Arkansas-bred female money winners in history. The Lieblongs also raced millionaire Duke of Mischief, winner of the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap (G2) in 2010, in partnership with Fawkes and the horse’s breeder, Marilyn McMaster.

Alex Lieblong heads Lieblong & Associates, Inc., a financial advisory firm in Little Rock, Ark.

The post ‘Just Tickled To Be Able To Race’: Lieblongs Enjoying Early-Season Success At Oaklawn appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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