An evenly matched field of 10 is entered in the $125,000 Fifth Season Stakes Friday at Oaklawn, a 1 1/16-mile event for older horses that highlights a nine-race opening-day program. Probable post time for the Fifth Season, which goes as race 8, is 3:49 p.m. (Central). Racing is scheduled to begin at 12:35 p.m.
Multiple stakes winner Smack Smack is the 3-1 program favorite for trainer Don Von Hemel of Hot Springs and country music star Toby Keith, who bred and owns the 6-year-old Closing Argument gelding.
The Fifth Season would be a milestone victory in the 60-plus year training career of Von Hemel, who topped the Oaklawn standings in 1981. Von Hemel, 82, is credited with 2,516 victories since 1956, according to Equibase, racing's official data gathering organization, but has never trained a millionaire.
Smack Smack ($930,430) would reach seven figures with a victory Friday.
“He's training good,” Von Hemel said. “That's my objective – get him over $1 million at this meet, plus win some other races, too.”
Regular rider Shane Laviolette has the call on Smack Smack, who is scheduled to break from post 6 and carry equal top weight of 122 pounds. Laviolette guided Smack Smack to his biggest career victory to date in the $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (G3) July 2 at Prairie Meadows.
Smack Smack is coming off a runner-up finish behind Code West in the $150,000 Zia Park Championship Handicap Nov. 23 at Zia Park. Code West, a front-running 1 ½-length winner of the Zia Park Championship Handicap, is the early 5-1 third choice for the Fifth Season.
Trained by Boyd Caster, Code West finished fifth, beaten 2 ¼ lengths by Smack Smack, in the Cornhusker Handicap. Code West ran second in the 2015 Fifth Season.
“Very competitive field,” Caster said of Friday's running. “There's five or six horses in there that, whoever has a clean trip, is going to win the race.”
Code West is scheduled to break from post 3 under Luis Quinonez and carry 122 pounds.
Also entered are Discreetness, Cutacorner, Pinson, For Greater Glory, Inside Straight, Chief of Staff, Domain's Rap and millionaire Mr. Z.
Mr. Z was one of Oaklawn's leading 3-year-olds in 2015 – third-place finishes in the $150,000 Smarty Jones, $300,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) – but is winless in his last eight starts for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
“He's training pretty darn good here,” Lukas said. “He likes this surface. I look for him to run really well.”
In addition to the 10-horse Fifth Season field, Oaklawn had five races draw the maximum field of 14. Oaklawn, which will be partnering with United Tote for the first time in 2017, has new tote boards that allow for 14 betting interests. However, with the exception of stakes races, the 13 and 14 will be also eligibles and will only draw into the body of the race if there is a scratch.
Other new features include new digital display boards, 74 new box seats and a new Pick-5 Wager which covers the first five races.
The 2017 Live Race meet runs through Saturday, April 15.
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