HOT SPRINGS -- Heartwood, the 2-1 favorite by Tapit, edged ahead down the stretch and held off a late rush to win by a half-length over second-place Control Stake to win the $100,000 6-furlong King Cotton Stakes in 1:09.99 on Saturday at Oaklawn Park.
Gordy Florida, the leader until the final 1/16th on a track rated fast before a crowd estimated at 12,500, finished third, a neck behind Control Stake and a half-length in front of fourth-place Bourbon Cowboy. Wilbo, the 2-1 second choice and last year's King Cotton winner, finished fifth, 5 lengths behind the winner.
Expected starters Dan the Go to Man and Sightforsoreeyes scratched.
"He ran very hard," Heartwood's jockey David Cohen said. "[Gordy Florida] really dug in and made me really have to work for it. It didn't come easy. I really thought I would get that type of setup, and my horse showed a lot of heart, kind of lived up to his name."
Heartwood made 13 starts in 2018, including a second-place finish in the Grade III 6-furlong Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct in New York on Nov. 22 -- under 131 pounds -- and a third-place in his previous race, the Grade III 7-furlong Mr. Prospector Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., on Dec. 22. He started seven graded stakes races last season.
Heartwood breezed 6 furlongs in 1:10 at The Thoroughbred Center near Lexington, Ky., on Jan. 27. He carried 118 pounds in the King Cotton. He is trained by James Chapman and co-owned by Chapman and Stuart Tsujimoto, who stood with Heartwood in the Larry Snyder Winner's Circle on his first trip to Oaklawn.
"It's been a real nice trip," Tsujimoto said. "Everybody told me how friendly everybody is here. I appreciate it. I like coming here. We'll have to come back."
A trip for the Oaklawn's Grade III 6-furlong Count Fleet Sprint Handicap on April 13 is a possibility, Tsujimoto said.
Gordy Florida, under Alex Birzer, took the lead shortly after the start and led the field of eight through the first quarter-mile in 22.26, the half in 45.69, and 5/8ths in 57.71, all with Heartwood in second, never further back than 1 1/2 lengths.
By Cactus Ridge and a maternal grandson of Indian Charlie, Gordy Florida, trained by Kenny Smith and owned by Dream Walkin Farms, drew attention for his second-place finish in Oaklawn's Smarty Jones Stakes in 2016, but he was injured in the Southwest Stakes, in which he finished a far-back 10th of 14 and was out for more than 11 months. He was limited to a total of six sprints through 2017 and 2018. The King Cotton was his first stakes start since the Southwest.
"[Gordy Florida] ran really well," said Robertino Diodoro, trainer of Bourbon Cowboy.
Bourbon Cowboy, by Cowboy Cal, finished within a length and a neck of the winner at 13-1 under the direction of jockey Orlando Mojica.
"Our horse ran huge," Diodoro said. "The winner's a class horse, a very nice horse, and we're definitely not disappointed. Orlando said he had tons of horse at the top of the lane, but he said the winner and the rest kept running. They never quit. The horse ran too good to finish fourth."
Control Stake, trained by Gregory Foley and ridden by Ricardo Santana, Jr., off at 9-2, was last through the half but just 5 1/2 lengths off the lead. He was fifth at the head of the stretch and sprinted past Gordy Florida 20 yards from the wire with Heartwood just out of reach.
"To tell you the truth, I am very happy to finish second," Santana said. "I thought we had a chance to catch the winner, but he was too good. He's a very good horse."
In his previous start, Control Stake, by Discreetly Mine, struggled for running room in the 6-furlong Duncan F. Kenner Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans on Jan. 19, but he found it late under Santana, a six-time Oaklawn riding champion, and closed rapidly through the wire to fall short by a neck to the winner Wynn Time, who finished third in last season's Count Fleet.
Wilbo's trainer Chris Hartman, Oaklawn's training champion in 2015, said he was confident before the start, and he was pleased as the field turned into the stretch when Wilbo was fourth, 3 1/2 lengths off the lead
"We thought we had him ready to roll, but then we got to the last eighth of a mile," Hartman said. "When the rubber meets the road, it just didn't work out for him."
Wilbo, by Candy Ride and owned by Chris Wilkins, returned from a seven-month layoff but had performed consistently well at Oaklawn. In 2018, Wilbo won two of four starts on the racetrack, with a second-place finish in the Count Fleet.
"We'll expect a much better performance the next time he runs," Hartman said. "He'll be a tiger."
Sports on 02/10/2019
Print Headline: Favorite the fastest in Cotton field of 8