New jockeys, trainers and owners flocked to Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., for the 2020 meet to compete against elite regulars, hoping to bank some of the richest purses in the country offered this time of year. Their barns are filled with contenders with unique names and talent. Here are a few of the notable stories behind some of the horses to watch this season, including those with an eye on the 2020 Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve.
Two sons from the first crop of American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, are in the barn of Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
The name of unraced Fifty Grand is no reflection of his price tag. “He cost six times that,” Lukas said. “That’s the entry fee to the Kentucky Derby. We’ve got grandiose ideas.”
Lukas co-owns him with a group that includes ESPN’s College GameDay analyst Kirk Herbstreit.
Fifty Grand’s stablemate American Butterfly is another son of American Pharoah, who broke his maiden last summer at Saratoga, fell short in graded stakes company and looks to improve as a 3-year-old.
Another horse with Derby dreams
Three Technique, who has two wins and two seconds from four starts, is owned by Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and two-time Super Bowl-winning coach Bill Parcells and his August Dawn Farm. Three Technique is the name of an alignment used on defense in football and is one of several horses on the grounds for Parcells that are trained by Jeremiah Englehart.
Southern Phantom’s white face and blue left eye propelled him into a social media sensation. Purchased by four-time leading Oaklawn owner Danny Caldwell in November, the 4-year-old is looking for a comeback after a minor ankle surgery and his first career win. A son of Bodemeister, who won the 2012 Arkansas Derby by 9 ½ lengths and then placed second in the Kentucky Derby, Southern Phantom has raced seven times and finished in the top three twice.
Woopigsooie has one win and two seconds from three starts. “Woo pig sooie” is a well-known cheer for the University of Arkansas Razorback sports teams. The 3-year-old is trained by Johnny Ortiz for the Woo Pig Stables of Arkansan John Fox.
Unraced, but well-named and locally owned
These horses hit the track for the first time, but chances are, you’ve heard of their namesakes.
Earvin is a gray colt named for Magic Johnson, the three-time MVP of the NBA who won five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. The Arkansas-bred is owned by Jerry Caroom of Hot Springs. Caroom purchased his first horse in 2014 the day after being seated next to Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg on a flight.
Dyess is over 200 miles away from the northeast town he was named for: the boyhood home of Johnny Cash. Dyess is a son of Super Saver, who finished second in the 2010 Arkansas Derby in his final prep before winning the Kentucky Derby. He is owned by Alex and JoAnn Lieblong, who live on an 80-acre farm in central Arkansas where they previously raised cattle. Their blue and white silks honor the colors of Conway, their Arkansas high school alma mater. They have campaigned multiple Grade 1 winners. Alex is chairman of the Arkansas Racing Commission.
Sturgill is a hat tip to country music artist Sturgill Simpson owned by Staton Flurry, who owns several parking lots adjacent to Oaklawn that fans use during the live season and manages approximately 100 rental properties around Hot Springs. The son of Take Charge Indy is trained by Karl Broberg.