COUNT FLEET SPRINT HANDICAP | PURSE: $294,000 | 4-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 3 | 6 FURLONGS
Lemon Drop Dream, tracking a blistering pace into the stretch, charged home to register a well-timed victory in the $294,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap in his graded stakes debut April 10 at Oaklawn Park.
The 4-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid posted a 7-1 upset in a field of five older sprinters, tagging Alsvid just before the wire by a neck. The final time for six-furlong "Racing Festival of the South" fixture was 1:09.15 on a fast track.
Lemon Drop Dream was ridden to victory by Ricardo Santana Jr. for owner Mike McCarty and trainer Steve Asmussen, who won the Count Fleet for the second year in a row. The bay colt was bred in Kentucky by Brookdale Thoroughbreds out of unraced Storm Cat mare Dreamlike, and is a half brother to multiple graded stakes winners Woke Up Dreamin and Denomination.
The race took on a vastly different complexion when Secret Circle, last fall's Xpressbet Breeders' Cup Sprint winner and 4-5 morning line favorite, was withdrawn due to shipping complications from Southern California.
The Bob Baffert trainee was given a tranquilizer after becoming fractious prior to boarding the Tex Sutton flight to Hot Springs the morning of April 9. After making the trip, Secret Circle's scratch was necessary because the medication would not have cleared the horse's system by race time.
That left the speedster Heitai, on a four-stakes win streak in Louisiana for trainer Karl Broberg, as the 3-5 favorite. Ridden by Diego Saenz, Heitai went to the early lead but was soon joined by an eager Alsvid, the 5-2 second choice with Ken Tohill aboard.
Those two vied through sizzling quarter mile fractions of :21.30 seconds and :43.78 seconds as Picko's Pride, Lemon Drop Kid, and Apprehender tracked from off the pace. In the stretch, Heitai weakened and Alsvid had a clear advantage leaving the furlong marker in :56.04.
Lemon Drop Dream, advancing down the center of the track after rousing from Santana, had about four lengths to make up from the sixteenth pole but got there just in time under brisk handling to edge the unlucky Alsvid. The runner-up has now had five starts at Oaklawn and has finished second each time.
Apprehender closed from last to finish third with David Mello aboard, 1 ½ lengths behind the winner. Picko's Pride and Heitai trailed.
"It was the best possible scenario," said Asmussen, who won last year's Count Fleet with Justin Phillip. "Heitai came in with the great form and somebody [Alsvid] chose to tackle him. That perfectly worked out for us.
"It's great to win this race two years in a row and the Racing Festival of the South is huge for us We targeted this opportunity for him. He's put together some really big sprint races this winter, but this is obviously his biggest win."
Lemon Drop Dream took three consecutive races at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots going back to Dec. 20 before a third-place finish behind Heitai in the listed Duncan F. Kenner March 8 at the New Orleans track in his stakes debut. He is now a four-time winner from 10 starts with earnings of $288,130.
Lemon Drop Dream was a $335,000 RNA at the Keeneland April 2-year-old sale in 2012 when consigned by Fedamore Stable. He is the third graded stakes winner from his dam, who has had six winners from eight to race. He followed the Holy Bull colt Woke Up Dreamin, her first foal who won the Smile Sprint Handicap and True North Breeders' Cup Handicap in 2005, and the Smart Strike filly Denomination, a three-time grade III winner in the United States who also won a Group 3 race at Longchamp.
Lemon Drop Dream paid $16.20, $4.80, and $9.80 across the board, keying a $61.40 exacta. Multiple stakes winner Alsvid returned $3.60 and $5.40 for his third consecutive stakes placing this meet for trainer Chris Hartman. Apprehender, who was pulled up early in last year's Count Fleet and sidelined for 10 months afterward, paid $9 to show.
"That's a tough one," Hartman said of Alvid's second. "They were really cutting a run. They were flying. We knew we didn't want to let [Heitai] get away. I was hoping we'd be close. I didn't think we'd be right on top of him."