Small gets ready for stakes week


Dick Small could be sitting in his office at Oaklawn Park, busily mapping out a campaign for one of those Daily Racing Form "Fantasy Stable" contests.

But instead of devising schedules for a fictional stable of stakes runners, the racing agenda Small has been working on lately involves real horses, real jockeys and real money.

During the next week, Small could run eight horses in seven stakes worth $1,480,000 in total purses. That is just in a week's time, starting today with the entry of Valley Crossing in the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap.

Small divided his stable this winter between Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., and the Maryland tracks. The stable has won eight stakes in 1994. What has happened during the first quarter of what Small hopes is a prelude to a record-breaking year. Beginning today, the stable starts to swing into full gear.

Valley Crossing re-enters the national scene by going up against the country's best older horses in the Oaklawn race. Last year, the horse wintered in Camden, S.C., and started his campaign in Maryland and New York and was named Maryland-bred Horse of the Year. His biggest victory came in July in the Grade I Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park. This season, the horse, now 6, has been in Hot Springs and has had one prep race, beaten a nose by Dalhart, before running in today's stakes against such horses as Devil His Due, The Wicked North, Pistols and Roses and Wallenda.

"He's as good as he's ever been," Small said yesterday. "He is nice and fit and headed in the right direction for the campaign. There is a lot of speed in the race and it could set up for him."

Like many Small runners, Valley Crossing makes one big late run. He will be ridden today by Andrea Seefeldt. His next race is planned for the May 14 Pimlico Special, which was also his third start of the season last year. He finished second in the 1993 Special to Devil His Due.

In addition to Valley Crossing, Small's plans for the "Racing Festival of the South" at Oaklawn this week and the Maryland Breeders' Spring Challenge at Pimlico next Saturday includes:

* $500,000 Arkansas Derby April 23 at Oaklawn for Concern. "This is a nice, honest [3-year-old] colt," Small said. "There doesn't seem to be a whole lot coming in for the race, so we might take a shot." Concern finished second in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn in his last start. Aaron Gryder rides.

* $40,000 Fifth Season Breeders' Cup Stakes April 23 at Oaklawn for Punch Line. The 4-year-old son of Two Punch won the Centennial Stakes at Remington Park in his last start. Gryder picks up this mount, too.

* $40,000 Promised City Stakes April 23 at Oaklawn for Barge In. The 3-year-old son of Broad Brush finished fifth against older horses in his seasonal debut at Oaklawn on Thursday. "There's a possibility we're run him in this race if it comes up light," Small said. Gryder will ride.

* $200,000 Federico Tesio Stakes April 23 at Pimlico for Looming. The 3-year-old colt continues to train extremely well after winning four straight races, including his stunning come-from-behind victory two weeks ago in the Private Terms Stakes. A Tesio win probably means this horse is bound for the May 7 Kentucky Derby. Seefeldt rides.

* $100,000 Geisha Stakes April 23 at Pimlico for Broad Gains and Fleet Broad. Both fillies won stakes at Laurel this winter and should be heavily favored in this spot for Maryland-breds. Clarence "Jo Jo" Ladner and Steve Hamilton, respectively, have the mounts on the two horses.

* $100,000 Jennings Handicap April 23 at Pimlico for Frottage. The horse started his 1994 season in a sprint at Oaklawn and has been shipped to Pimlico to prepare for next Saturday's Jennings. Larry Reynolds is Frottage's regular Maryland jockey.

Except for Punch Line, who is owned by Althea Johnson, all of Small's stakes horses are the property of Robert Meyerhoff.

Small said that he will ship his Oaklawn division back to Maryland April 24. On the way, he plans to stop in Camden and pick up such runners as Dancing Douglas, Tennis Lady and Higher Strata. You guessed it. More equine stakes ammunition for the coming months.

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