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Oaklawn's season sets with impressive Moon

HOT SPRINGS -- It was like Oaklawn Park was giving away something other than fun.

Patrons came early and stayed late, and the amazing thing is next year Derby days will double when Oaklawn extends its racing dates through the first Saturday of May, the day of the Kentucky Derby.

The Arkansas Derby, of course, will continue to be a major prep race for the Kentucky Derby and will be run three weeks before the close of the meet. As of now, it is undecided when the Racing Festival of the South will run, but Saturday the three days of stake races ended with a bang.

Magnum Moon, winner of the Rebel Stakes, lulled the field into a slow pace and then charged home with an easy win -- even though the winner was lugging out like a horse in only his fourth race -- but he's undefeated in four starts.

The Racing Festival show began with the Northern Spur -- named after the late, great Charles Cella's Eclipse Award winning thoroughbred -- and was won going away by one of the most well-known owners in Oaklawn history, John Ed Anthony, who now races as Shortleaf Stable.

He was the owner of Loblolly Stables and had great success with horses such as Cox's Ridge, Pine Bluff, Prairie Bayou and Temperence Hill. Anthony was competitive on the national level but was out of racing for a while, but he has been making a comeback. On Saturday, he scored big when his High North made a move on the turn and blew the field away down the stretch as the third betting favorite.

Odds-on-favorite Title Ready finished fourth.

The local flavor continued in the Count Fleet when Whitmore won in dramatic style. Whitmore, co-owned by Robert LaPenna and trainer Ron Moquett, a native of Fort Smith, won this race last year when he took the lead at the head of the stretch and kicked home almost 4 lengths in front of the field.

This time, Whitmore was dead last midway thorough the stretch run, but when jockey Richard Santana Jr. asked him to rally he blew by the field in the final 100 yards. He has now raced at Oaklawn nine times and never been out of the money with six wins, two places and a show.

He's won more than $1.5 million, and more than a million of it was at Oaklawn -- including his $240,000 winner's share of the $400,000 purse Saturday.

There wasn't anything local about the Oaklawn Handicap as Santa Anita shippers Accelerate, the favorite, and City of Light put everyone away at the head of the stretch, then powered down the stretch with Accelerate giving it all he had on the rail but not good enough to catch City of Light.

City of Light had laid off the pace, which started fast and then slowed, until midway through the turn home, and jockey Drayden Van Dyke said enough is enough and took his mount around the mob and motored to the winner's circle of the $750,000 Grade II race.

Van Dyke, 23, is an up-and-coming star in the world of racing.

Magnum Moon, the newest adopted Arkansas horse, had never raced on the lead, but he kicked in front of Quip out of the gate and set an almost leisurely pace through the first 6 furlongs. When he was challenged, he just kicked into a gear the other horses didn't have.

He was already wide of the rail and grew wider with every gallop until he hit the finish line the way a 4-5 favorite is supposed to. He's now the owner of 150 Kentucky Derby points, the most of any horse in the country.

As the horses came on for the Trail's End, that's what it was for the 2018 racing season, the end of a great season and greater party.

Sports on 04/15/2018

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