Whitmore Aiming For First Ever Three-Peat In Count Fleet Sprint Handicap

He’s been there and done that. Now, millionaire Grade 1 winner Whitmore will try to do it again in the $350,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses Saturday at Oaklawn.

The Count Fleet goes as the eighth race on a 12-race card, with probable post time 4:14 p.m. (Central). Racing begins Saturday, Day 49 of the scheduled 57-day meeting, at 12:35 p.m.

Whitmore is trying to become the first horse to win the 6-furlong Count Fleet, inaugurated in 1974, three times. The popular 7-year-old gelding, co-owned and trained by Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, won the race in 2017 and 2018 and finished second last year to Mitole in a match run on the stormy Arkansas Derby Day undercard. Mitole went on to earn an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion male sprinter of 2019 and was also a finalist for Horse of the Year and champion older dirt male.

Mitole is the best horse Whitmore has faced at Oaklawn, where he’s already won the Hot Springs Stakes – the traditional final major prep for the Count Fleet – a record four consecutive years. To earn a seventh career Oaklawn stakes victory, Whitmore, the 5-2 program favorite, will have to beat the best overall field he’s faced in Hot Springs. The projected 11-horse lineup also features Grade 1 winner Hog Creek Hustle, Grade 2 winner Flagstaff, multiple stakes winners Bobby’s Wicked One and Mr. Jagermeister, Nitrous, winner of the $150,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters last year at Oaklawn, and stablemate Share the Upside, who upset Whitmore in the $125,000 King Cotton Stakes Feb. 8.

“It’s one of those deals where these are all nice horses,” Moquett said. “I’ve run against a bunch of them before. I’ve run against Hog Creek Hustle, I’ve run against Bobby’s Wicked One, I’ve run against Lexitonian, ran against Wendell Fong, Mr. Jagermeister, Share the Upside. We’ve run against, what, seven out of 10? But it’s just funny that you run against them all at the same time.”

Whitmore, in his 2020 debut, finished second to Share the Upside in the King Cotton before rebounding with a sharp 2 ½-length victory over Mr. Jagermeister in the $150,000 Hot Springs March 7. Wendell Fong finished two lengths farther back in third.

Joe Talamo has the return riding assignment on Whitmore, who is scheduled to break from post 9 under 121 pounds.

“I like how he’s coming into the race,” Moquett said. “I like the post position. I like everything. We just need a good trip because these are good horses and there’s a lot of good horses with a bunch of different pace scenarios. You’ve got plenty of speed to lay off the pace and plenty of closers.”

Bobby’s Wicked One (3-1) is the second choice in the program for trainer Al Stall, who captured last Saturday’s $150,000 Oaklawn Mile with millionaire Grade 1 winner Tom’s d’Etat. Bobby’s Wicked One has scored dominant front-running victories in his last two races, including a 4 ¼-length score over Hog Creek Hustle in the $100,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes Jan. 18 at Fair Grounds in his last start. Like Tom’s d’Etat, Bobby’s Wicked One arrived late last month in Hot Springs to prepare for his local debut for Fair Grounds-based trainer Al Stall.

“That’s going to be a tiger of a race, I’ll tell you that,” Stall said of the Count Fleet. “Been there quite a while. We just decided to get out of the Fair Grounds. I’m happy that we did.”

Stall said the year-end goal for Bobby’s Wicked One is the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 7 at Keeneland.

“There’s only two sprint (stakes) races at the Fair Grounds and we have visions of sugar plums in our mind with the Breeders’ Cup, and he’s won a graded stake at Keeneland sprinting, so he had to get a break somewhere along the line,” Stall said. “We picked out the Count Fleet and that’s always been on his radar.”

Late-running sprinters Hog Creek Hustle and Nitrous were separated by a neck in the $400,000 Woody Stephens Stakes (G1) for 3-year-olds last June at Belmont Park. Wendell Fong ran fifth and Lexitonian 10th in the 7-furlong race. Nitrous and Share the Upside are trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, who saddled Mitole to his 2019 Count Fleet victory.

Flagstaff (7-2) exits a victory in the $200,000 San Carlos Stakes (G1) March 7 at Santa Anita for trainer John Sadler. Hidden Scroll (4-1) is coming off a front-running 12 ½-length first-level allowance victory March 1 at Gulfstream Park for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who won the 1985 Count Fleet with Taylor’s Special.

“This is basically Breeders’ Cup, spring,” said Valorie Lund, who co-owns and trains the speedy Mr. Jagermeister. “It’s definitely going to be a tough, big field of horses.”

The Count Fleet field from the rail out: Lexitonian, Adam Beschizza to ride, 116 pounds, 30-1 on the morning line; Flagstaff, Joel Rosario, 122, 7-2; Hog Creek Hustle, Drayden Van Dyke, 119, 15-1; Bobby’s Wicked One, Miguel Mena, 120, 3-1; Wendell Fong, David Cohen, 115, 30-1; Mr. Jagermeister, Terry Thompson, 117, 15-1; Hidden Scroll, Martin Garcia, 117, 4-1; Manny Wah, Channing Hill, 115, 30-1; Whitmore, Joe Talamo, 121, 5-2; Share the Upside, Florent Geroux, 117, 10-1; and Nitrous, Ricardo Santana Jr., 118, 20-1.

The Count Fleet was originally scheduled to be run last Saturday, but Oaklawn moved the date because of adjustments it made to its stakes schedule in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

Dave’s Friend (1983 and 1984), Bordonaro (2006 and 2007) and Semaphore Man (2008 and 2009) are the only other two-time Count Fleet winners.

The post Whitmore Aiming For First Ever Three-Peat In Count Fleet Sprint Handicap appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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