Trainer Jason Barkley is scheduled to saddle his first career stakes starter (Arch Avenue) in Saturday's $125,000 Martha Washington for 3-year-old fillies, Oaklawn's first of three major preps for the Kentucky Oaks.
Barkley, 29, has already checked off one box this year at Oaklawn, winning last Sunday's fifth race with Strolling ($8.20). It was Barkley's first career victory in Hot Springs.
“It was nice to get that one,” Barkley said. “Won't get shut out this year.”
Barkley, the son of trainer Jeff Barkley, wintered at Oaklawn for the first time last year and was blanked (0 for 16). He entered the 2018 Oaklawn meeting with one career victory – October 2017 at Keeneland – but finished the year with 11 victories overall.
“Went from a bad six months to like 11 for my last 35,” Barkley said. “Just getting my feet under me and being able to get a few more clients and different stock. When you only have a few, maybe you don't spot them exactly right. You're a little less aggressive because you're afraid to lose them. But went you've got 10 to 12, you can spot them a little more aggressively. Instead of being 15-1, you're 5-1 with a chance.”
Barkley said he began the 2018 Oaklawn meeting with five horses. He now has around 15 and would like to continue to build his stable.
Barkley trains for several Arkansas clients, including Hot Springs restaurant owner Charles Jennings and Tri-Star Racing, LLC, headed by Rich Robertson of Camden.
Tonbo, a recent private purchase by Tri-Star, was a three-time winner for Barkley last year before he lost the gelding through a $5,000 claim in September at Churchill Downs. Tonbo is entered in Saturday's third race.
“The sky's the limit as far as I am on numbers,” Barkley said. “I don't have a ceiling. I'd like to keep growing. If I left here with 20, 25, that's great, too. No number is too big for me.”
A graduate of the University of Louisville's equine business program, Barkley was tutored by several high-profile trainers before striking out on his own, including Hall of Famer Nick Zito, Joe Sharp and Wesley Ward.
“I've done the Classic training with Zito, the everything training with Joe and the 2-year-olds with Wesley,” Barkley said. “So, we've got a good base. I feel like anything they throw at me, I can handle.”
Arch Avenue, a winner of 2 of her last 3 starts, is 10-1 on the morning line for the Martha Washington.
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