by Sara Dacus
What trainers should I look for when betting at Oaklawn?
Five Hall of Fame trainers and newcomers from Southern California, New York and the Pacific Northwest are among the conditioners sending horses to Oaklawn during the 2020 meet, which opens Friday. These trainers are vying for purses that average over $600,000 a day, the highest offered anywhere in the country this time of year.
Here are trainers to watch during the 57-day season.
The reigning trainers
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen topped Oaklawn’s standings 10 seasons, and the 2019 title was his fourth in a row. These numbers helped him finish second both in wins and earnings in North America in 2018 and 2019.
The two-time Eclipse winner has over 8,700 victories. Asmussen recently became the third trainer to win 1,000 stakes races, joining D. Wayne Lukas and Todd Pletcher. He took 83 of them at Oaklawn with at least one every year since his first in 1996.
Last year, Asmussen prepped top sprinter Mitole at Oaklawn. Other superstars he’s run in Hot Springs include Gun Runner, Curlin, Untapable, Midnight Bisou and Rachel Alexandra.
Robertino Diodoro finished second at Oaklawn the past three years. He increased his win total every year since he began wintering in Hot Springs in 2015. His biggest client is M and M Racing, which shattered Oaklawn’s single-season owner records in 2019 with 61 victories and $1,775,651 in purse earnings. Diodoro won 29 of these for Mike Sisk and his wife, Mickala.
Diodoro also races extensively in Arizona and New York. The Canada native recently purchased a home in Hot Springs.
The California contingent
Oaklawn’s large purses and stakes series are factors causing Southern California trainers to send strings to Hot Springs. The contingent includes Peter Eurton, Richard Baltas, John Sadler, Phil D’Amato, Doug O’Neill, Peter Miller and Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, who has won over 7,000 races. Each of these trainers is planning on having between 7-20 horses on the grounds.
This will be O’Neill’s third season at Oaklawn. Baltas said he had owners requesting Oaklawn, and Eurton said he is interested in exploring the options in Hot Springs.
Also coming from across the country
New York-based trainer Jeremiah Englehart has a division at Oaklawn for the first time. Prior to this season, Englehart started two horses at Oaklawn. One of them was Bridget’s Big Luvy, who held the early lead in the 2015 Arkansas Derby, won by American Pharoah.
Englehart trains for Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells and his August Dawn Farm. Englehart should have six horses for Parcells in Hot Springs, including Three Technique, who is pointed on the Kentucky Derby trail. Three Technique is the name of an alignment used on defense in football.
Englehart, 43, is annually among the country’s winningest trainers. He said several clients were interested in racing at Oaklawn.
Mike Puhich of Washington state, an Emerald Downs and Longacres veteran, has stalls at Oaklawn for his first season. He received guidance early in his career from Hall of Fame trainer and Oaklawn legend Jack Van Berg.
Rounding out the directory
Nick Zito, D. Wayne Lukas, and Shug McGaughey complete the list of five Hall of Fame trainers with stalls at Oaklawn. Last year was Zito’s first full season at Oaklawn, and he said the track’s devoted fans, leadership’s commitment to tradition and fellow trainer Ron Moquett’s testimonials led him to Oaklawn. Lukas, a fixture in Hot Springs, has more Breeders’ Cup wins than any other trainer. McGaughey’s first graded stakes win came in the 1978 Apple Blossom H. (G2) at Oaklawn. He is sending a string for the first time in three decades, and his stable will be supervised by his son and assistant trainer Reeve.
Oaklawn regular Brad Cox finished 4th by wins and earnings in North America for 2019, and he said he has the deepest group he has ever brought to Oaklawn. Cox, who grew up a few blocks away from Churchill Downs, has earned training titles at Ellis Park, Fair Grounds, Churchill Downs and Keeneland.