Now casting at Oaklawn

April, 9, 2010
HOT SPRINGS, Ark. — These are the buzz horses of the weekend: Zenyatta on Friday, and Noble's Promise on Saturday. As expected, the unbeaten Zenyatta scored her 16th straight win in the Apple Blossom. On the backside of Oaklawn Park this morning, if you talked to anybody, you talked about them.

Buzz horses make life easy. They're like Bob Baffert on Derby week. Everybody knows about them. Everyone knows what to expect. Odds are they're already good, so you watch with admiration, and before long you know little quirks and habits, things that make them tick. They're comfortable to be around. Their trainers put up with the attention.

But for every buzz horse on the racetrack, there are hundreds of extras. They still go through the same routines each morning — jogs and gallops, cool-outs and baths, massages and snacks from a hay net — but incognito, like supporting cast for a field of developing stars. And even in a marquee race like the $1 million Arkansas Derby, horses fly under the radar.

Extras of the Arkansas Derby include maiden winners New Madrid for Tim Ice and Berberis for Steve Asmussen, allowance winner Line of David for the California-based John Sadler, and the Kory Owens-trained Prairie Meadows Stakes winner Uh Oh Bango. You won't find much content in reference to them, but they've still been training, just like the big stars. Supporters are Northern Giant from the barn of D. Wayne Lukas, Pulsion from the string of Patrick Biancone. They already have credentials, but could use the win. The stars, three musketeers, are the Lukas-trained Dublin, Todd Pletcher's Super Saver, and Noble's Promise for Kenny McPeek.

Don't mistake the first quartet for filler horses, runners whose trainers have been coerced into entering simply to create enough of a field. These are runners who have shown enough talent, one way or another, to inspire the horsemen who care for them. Arkansas Derby en route to the first Saturday in May? It's been done before.

In the weeks leading up to the 2009 Kentucky Derby, trainers Chip Woolley and Tim Ice watched the buzz horses — and the media — passing their barns. Mine That Bird won that race, and although Summer Bird was a respectable sixth, he came back strong to win the Belmont. Funny, but earlier in the season, the latter ran third in the Arkansas Derby here at Oaklawn. He was an extra. A 30-1 shot on the morning line.

So keep an eye on the little guy at Oaklawn this weekend. If the stars don't show up for the curtain call, an understudy or two most likely will.

For more comprehensive information on horse racing, visit and and be sure to follow Novak on Facebook and Twitter, @ClaireNovak.



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