Oak Tree Special Triumphs in Texas Classic Derby

(Friday, November 28, 2003) - Oak Tree Special, the nation’s third-ranked American Quarter Horse, collected his eighth consecutive win Saturday night at Lone Star Park with a thrilling nose triumph over Southern Cartel in the Grade 1, $362,925 Texas Classic Derby. It was the 3-year-old colt’s fourth Derby victory this year.

In front of 5,550 fans at the Grand Prairie, Texas racetrack, Oak Tree Special, breaking from post No. 2, dueled with Southern Cartel from post No. 3 throughout the 400-yard affair. It appeared that the runner-up had a slight edge in mid-stretch, but Texas-bred Oak Tree Special was game from the inside and narrowly prevailed. Snow Me finished third.

“My horse broke great today,” said winning rider J.R. Ramirez, who snapped a 0-for-35 drought with three wins on the night and established a track record for most wins during a single Fall Meeting of Champions season (37). “He stood perfect in the gate and when he left there, [Southern Cartel] was a head in front of me. I thought I was running him down pretty quick. At the end, he gave me a run for the money.”

Oak Tree Special, owned by Raul Rubalcava of Wylie, Texas, and trained by Bobby Martinez, crossed the finish line in :21.56. The son of Special Task paid $3.60 to win as the 4-5 choice in the field of nine 2-year-olds.

He earned a hefty $161,502 for the win and improved his record to 14 wins and $558,234 in 20 starts. Earlier this year, Oak Tree Special prevailed in the Retama Park, Remington Park and Dash For Cash Derbies. He joined champion Dashing Perfection (1997) as the only horses to post a rare Dash For Cash-Texas Classic sweep at Lone Star Park – the North Texas racetrack’s premier 3-year-old races.

Behind the top three were Special Red Warrior, Dazzling Reflection, Prime Talent, Storybook Lover, Streakin La Tac and Granite Lake. Red Dog Leader was scratched.

Ramirez, who bested the mark of 36 season wins shared by Roy Baldillez (1999) and Gilbert Ortiz (2001), can pad his record Saturday. He has a scheduled mount in all but one of the 12 races.

“I couldn’t have finished better than this today,” Ramirez said. “I want to thank everybody who helped me out.”

Earlier on the program, Oil & Hay Partners’ Special Task Force, trained by Jack Brooks, posted an upset in the Grade 1, $100,000 Refrigerator Handicap and earned automatic berths in the Champion of Champions and The Championship at Sunland Park.

The 4-year-old Special Task gelding covered 440 yards in :21.59 under Juan Vazquez, who tacked 122 pounds. The same jockey-trainer combination won the 2001 Refrigerator with Image Of Cleat.

Special Task Force, bred in Texas by the late Joe B. Turner Jr., defeated Iowa Gold by a neck and paid $65.40 to win as the 31-1 longest-priced horse in the field of 10 older horses. The victory and $55,000 winner’s share of the purse improved his record to 21-8-4-0—$165,745.

Special Task Force, winner of last year’s Grade 3 Bayer Legend Oklahoma Challenge at Blue Ribbon Downs, broke fastest of all from the inside rail and never looked back en route to his second career stakes win.

“He left [the starting gate] like a champ and just kept coming down the racetrack,” Brooks said.

Iron Clad Cleat was another neck back in third and was followed by Silent Overdrive, Fit To Fly, Valors Gold, 3-5 favorite First To Flash, Flying Avalanche, Spark A Fortune and Dashin Prince Henry.

“It really was a surprise,” Brooks said. “First To Flash is a super horse and to beat those kind with a horse like this, that’s a really nice horse.”

Brooks is unsure as to where he’ll run Special Task Force next, either the $500,000 Champion of Champions at Los Alamitos on Dec. 13 or $400,000 The Championship at Sunland Park on Dec. 27 – both prestigious Grade 1 events.

“I already have some horses going to [Sunland Park] so I know I’ll be there for sure,” Brooks said. “I’ll make up my mind between now and then."

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