HOT SPRINGS -- Chris Hartman's relief was evident after the $125,000 6-furlong King Cotton Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Saturday.
Shortly after Hartman trainee Wilbo, by Candy Ride, held on to win the King Cotton by 2 lengths in 1:09.85 over Ivan Fallunovalot in a field of eight before an announced crowd of 11,000, Hartman looked like someone whose time had finally come.
Hartman trained Alsvid to four consecutive runner-up King Cotton finishes from 2013-16. In 2014, he also trained Black Bear to a third-place finish in the race. Alsvid finished second to Ivan Fallunovalot in the King Cotton in 2015 and 2016.
"It's great to finally not be the bridesmaid in this, but Wilbo ran a hell of a race," Hartman said. "It was big."
Wilbo, owned by Chris Wilkins, and Ivan Fallunovalot, a son of Valid Expectations owned by Lewis Mathews of Bismarck, both ran from off the pace for their one-two finish, the preferred route for Wilbo but an impromptu choice dealt Ivan Fallunovalot's jockey Luis Quinonez from the gate. They both followed the early lead of St. Joe Bay, Prime Engine and Recount, who held on to finish third under rider Alex Canchari, a neck behind Ivan Fallunovalot and 1-3/4 lengths ahead of Apprehender in fourth. St. Joe Bay was fifth.
"It looked like Ivan Fallunovalot got stuck in the gate," Hartman said. "I'm sure that wasn't in their game plan, but there was a lot of speed in the race anyway. It worked out perfect for us."
"We didn't have a very good break," Quinonez said. "When the gate opened, he didn't take off. He kind of dipped a little bit."
For the first five finishers, the King Cotton was a rematch of an optional-claiming race run twenty days earlier, results that helped make Hartman sound prophetic. On Thursday, he said the first race had the quality of a stakes race. In fact, the order of its first three finishers was the same as the King Cotton. The only difference among the top five was the transposition of Apprehender's and St. Joe Bay's finishes.
Ivan Fallunovalot's 17 career victories in 29 starts have primarily come from just off the pace, but the King Cotton start left the 8-year-old gelding next-to-last.
"I went with Plan B right away," Quinonez said. "He just didn't get away from there. He kind of bobbled out of the gate, and they got the jump on him."
St. Joe Bay led by one-half length over Prime Engine through a quarter-mile in 21.78 and was in front of Recount by a head through a half in 44.83, by which point Ivan Fallunovalot had moved up to fifth, 1 1/4 length off the lead but drifting out toward the middle of the track in the turn. Despite the trouble, Ivan Fallunovalot moved to third as the field turned for home, behind Recount by a head and 3/4 length behind Wilbo, ridden by David Cabrera.
"There were three of them battling across the track, and we got to sit right in the pocket," Hartman said. "David gave him a masterful ride. I mean, that was just as good as it gets, and when he called on him, he answered."
"We went a little wide," Ivan Fallunovalot trainer Tom Howard said. "We just couldn't get in front of him."
Quinonez said Ivan Fallunovalot's drift in the turn was new in his experience with the horse.
"He was fighting a little bit, and he still finished second," Quinonez said.
From the standpoint of his jockey and trainer, Wilbo followed a setup that was nearly ideal.
"We had a nice warm pace to run at," Hartman said. "He kicked strong down the lane, and that's all you can ask for. The scenario was perfect."
"I just looked for a clear path," Cabrera said. "I had plenty of horse, and my horse has one kick. Chris told me you have to wait as long as you can, and he's worked out for us. He's a really talented horse."
A victory for Ivan Fallunovalot in the King Cotton would have raised his career earnings to just over $1 million, which meant Quinonez had a chance to ride his second horse to millionaire status on the same day. Five races earlier, he rode Shotgun Kowboy, a 6-year-old gelded son of Kodiak Cowboy, to an allowance win over a mile and 1/16th that put his mount's career earnings at $1,043,159.
"Ivan Fallunovalot is a super nice horse," Hartman said. "I knew he was the horse to beat."
Hartman said he hopes to race Wilbo in the $125,000 Hot Springs Stakes at Oaklawn on March 10.
"That's great," Cabrera said. "Chris knows what he's got, and he knows that horse is on the top of his game, for sure."
Sports on 02/04/2018
Print Headline: Wilbo delivers 'a hell of a race'