Plenty of preps as horsemen hit Ocala

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The inter-track wagering facility on the grounds of the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co., always a fairly lively spot that 99% of the year is frequented by the typical simulcast crowd, will be rocking this weekend.

This is the Week of Champions in the Ocala/Marion County area, a week that kind of bridges the last few days of this week and the first few of next week. Thoroughbred horsemen are in town for the OBS March sale of selected 2-year-olds in training Tuesday and Wednesday, two breeze shows yesterday and today, and Monday’s 24th annual OBS Day of Champions racing program and then the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association awards dinner later that evening.

There’s a lot going on. And there’s plenty of racing for horsemen to follow around the country. Most have vested interests in any number of races around the country. That’s where the ITW comes into play. While not nearly as good as being there for the real thing, there’s an undeniable element of camaraderie to the whole simulcast experience.

Terry Finley is one such player with a vested interest away from Ocala-even though his West Point Thoroughbreds partnership will be represented in the $100,000 OBS Championship Stakes for 3-year-old fillies by Toasting. West Point’s highly regarded 3-year-old filly Flashy Gray goes in Saturday’s $150,000 Honeybee Stakes.

Finley considered trekking to see the Flashy Bull filly make her stakes debut but logic got the better of him. Getting to Hot Springs is no easy task. Getting there from Ocala maybe even tougher.

“I would go, but it’s tough to get there from here,” Finley said during one of Thursday’s breeze-show breaks. “It’s kind of tough to get there from anywhere and we should be pretty busy here. I would love to be there, in fact I wasn’t there for her first start under the black and gold. I watched her last race on my iPad.”

Flashy Gray’s first start for West Point was just as impressive as the one before-a 4 3/4-length win at odds-on facing winners for the first time. The victory was also her first start since West Point and Tom Keithley purchased the filly for $775,000 on the eighth day of last year’s Keeneland November breeding stock sale. She sold out within days, not surprising considering the buzz around the filly.

Dolphus Morrison, who sold Rachel Alexandra privately after she blitzed the 2009 Kentucky Oaks field, said Flashy Gray far exceeded that superstar filly’s workout times during her early training. Talk about high praise.

West Point turned Flashy Gray over to Bill Mott, who got the filly ready for her Feb. 10 victory at Gulfstream with the rest of his stable at Payson Park. Now she’s the early favorite for the Kentucky Oaks, something Finley said is not that surprising. Mainly because the partners in the filly probably supported her in the Oaks Future Wager, along with others involved in West Point partnerships.

“That’s just a function of a lot more people,” Finley said. “Our partners are interested. Her partnership is not real big, but there’s a lot of people watching.

“It’s been fun so far with her. Now, like all these fillies, sometimes they can go seven-eighths, they can go a one-turn mile and really look like the sky is the limit. But how many times have we seen those types of horses go two turns and look absolutely ordinary the last eighth of a mile? Maybe that will happen Saturday. I’d be surprised if it does, but you never know.”

Steve Asmussen will also be watching at OBS. He trains some for West Point, but in the Honeybee he’ll be the opposition when he sends out Martha Washington winner Sister Ginger for Ro Parra’s Millennium Farms and Littlebrother Farm.

Watching from afar is nothing new for Asmussen and Saturday is pretty much like most days for the trainer currently ranked first by wins and third by earnings for 2013. He’s got ten runners Saturday-four at Oaklawn, four at Fair Grounds, one at Delta Downs, and one at Santa Anita Park. Three are in stakes races-Sister Ginger, Brethren in the Razorback Handicap later on the Oaklawn card and Skinny in the Pelican Stakes at Delta.

While Oaklawn attracted the early favorite for the Kentucky Oaks in Flashy Gray, Tampa Bay Downs got the early choice for the Kentucky Derby in Verrazano. Todd Pletcher’s undefeated colt takes on eight others in the Tampa Bay Derby, one of two key Derby preps Saturday. The other is at Santa Anita with the San Felipe Stakes, which looks on paper like a showdown between Goldencents and Flashback.

The Gulfstream Park Handicap drew a short field mainly because Ian Wilkes pegged the one-mile race for the return to Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned. He’ll get a good test in there from the gritty Fort Loudon.

A world away in Dubai Meydan Racecourse hosts its Super Saturday program that features the return of Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Little Mike in the $400,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 and Dullahan in the $200,000 Burj Nahar.

The Super Saturday card starts at 8:05 a.m.

Get the coffee ready, it’s going to be a long day at OBS.