Consistency has Ten Strike Racing atop the Oaklawn owner’s standings approaching the one-third point of the 2022-2023 meeting that began Dec. 9.
Through Sunday, Day 21 of the scheduled 68-day meeting, Ten Strike, which considers Oaklawn its home track, has eight victories from just 13 starters. Ten Strike won four races in December, including the final race of the month with its most noteworthy runner to date, unbeaten Eyeing Clover, and four races in January, again taking the final race of the month.
Ten Strike has already matched its single-season Oaklawn high for victories after winning eight races at the 2021-2022 meeting to tie for sixth in the standings. Ten Strike had 50 starters last season at Oaklawn.
“Not what we expected, to be at the top of the owner’s standings, especially the way they count wins at Oaklawn,” Ten Strike co-founding partner Clay Sanders said Tuesday afternoon. “If you have a partnership, you don’t get to count that. Probably a good percentage of our horses we own in partnership, so they won’t even count.”
Sanders and Marshall Gramm, an avid horseplayer and the other founding partner, launched Ten Strike in 2016. Ten Strike, which is based in Memphis, Tenn., offers fractional ownership in horses, from claimers to graded stakes performers. Ten Strike employs four trainers at Oaklawn – two-time Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox, Lindsay Schultz, Bentley Combs and newcomer Matt Shirer. Ten Strike has already won races with all four at the 2022-2023 meeting.
Sanders said several factors have contributed to Ten Strike’s rousing start. He noted Schultz and Combs are in their second season at Oaklawn and Shirer had a successful track record. Half of Ten Strike’s eight victories have come from horses claimed at the 2022 Churchill Downs Fall meeting.
“I think you learn a lot your first year at Oaklawn about what kind of horses work with the condition book, how to train,” Sanders said. “I think you just have a better idea of not only horses you target to claim in the fall to get to Oaklawn, but then even once you get here you have a better idea where to place them, what type of races, what type of races go – sprints, routes, what claiming level. A lot of those, when you come the first time, you just look at a condition book. But until you really experience it and been here, it’s just hard for a trainer for the first time. I think those trainers (Schultz and Combs) maturing and then we brought in Matt Shirer, who we’ve had a lot of success with at other venues. We think he’s a rising star. Just some good claims. We always target winning races at Oaklawn. The claiming races have always been difficult.”
Shultz, a former assistant under Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, saddled her first career winner Jan. 8, 2022, at Oaklawn with the Ten Strike-owned Capture the Glory. Shultz has three victories this season for Ten Strike. Two have been with Tiger Moon, a $10,000 claim last March at Oaklawn.
Combs’ two victories for Ten Strike have been with Hellorhighwater, a $10,000 claim Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs. Shirer has two victories for Ten Strike, the second in a $105,000 allowance sprint in Sunday’s ninth race with Sue Ellen Mishkin. Shirer had claimed her for $20,000 Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs. Shirer recorded his first career Oaklawn double with the victory.
Cox’s victory for Ten Strike came with Eyeing Clover, who won his Dec. 31 career debut for 2-year-olds by 1 ½ front-running lengths under Joe Talamo. Sanders said the promising Eyeing Clover (2 for 2) was unearthed by noted bloodstock agent Liz Crow, who is Ten Strike’s racing manager. A son of champion Lookin At Lucky, Eyeing Clover was purchased for a modest $55,000 at the 2021 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.
Sanders said “around 40” people have a financial stake in Eyeing Clover, interests ranging from 0.5 percent to 5 percent. Sanders said roughly half of Eyeing Clover’s owners are from Arkansas, many of whom crammed into the Larry Snyder Winner’s Circle following his popular victory.
“That was New Year’s Eve and I wasn’t there,” said Sanders, an Arkansas native. “We had a lot of people that had prior engagements because of New Year’s Eve parties. I was bummed that I didn’t get to go. I went to New Orleans this past weekend to watch him run for the first time. Obviously, we’re very excited about him. First time we’ve ever had a Triple Crown-nominated horse.”
Eyeing Clover returned to win a first-level allowance sprint by 9 ¾ lengths Saturday at Fair Grounds. Sanders said Eyeing Clover will be considered for two major Kentucky Derby prep races – $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25 at Oaklawn and the $300,000 Gotham Stakes (G3) at 1 mile March 4 at Aqueduct.
Ten Strike was on the Triple Crown trail in 2019 with late-blooming Warrior’s Charge, who was supplemented to the Preakness following powerful maiden special weight and entry-level allowance victories at Oaklawn. Cox trained the millionaire Oaklawn stakes winner (2020 G3 Razorback) for Ten Strike and Madaket Stables. Warrior’s Charge was retired last year and Ten Strike now stands the 7-year-old son of Munnings at Irish Hill Century Farm in New York.
After winning races at Oaklawn for Sanders and Gramm – pre-Ten Strike – Cox was honored with an Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding trainer of 2020 for his work with horses like Warrior’s Charge. Cox received another Eclipse Award in 2021.
“Clay and Marshall, once again, supported our operation, really, ever since we started coming to Oaklawn, or right after,” Cox said. “I’d say the best thing with those guys is they know what’s going on. They know the game extremely well, as well as anyone, really. They have a lot of different views, from the gambling view, to being owners to being breeders. They’re involved in pretty much every end of the business. They’re incredibly intelligent and run a great operation and brought a lot of people into the game. I think they’ve done a great job of getting people in this region involved in racing. They were really one of the first to start like a syndication in this region. Obviously, you don’t have to be from here, but it’s something that people felt close and connected to.”
Sanders said Ten Strike has 17 horses at Oaklawn, nine owned solely and eight others in outside partnerships. Shirer trains seven of the horses, Sanders said, with the other 10 split between Schultz (six), Combs (two) and Cox (two). Ten Strike also has another victory at the meeting, in partnership, with Jeremy Sussman.
Arkansans, at least at the top, dominate Oaklawn’s owner standings. Jerry Caroom of Hot Springs ranks second with six victories. John Holleman of Little Rock is third with five. Ten Strike has multiple leading owner titles at Parx, but is seeking its first at Oaklawn.
“I would say we won’t go gangbusters yet,” Sanders said. “If you just think about it, our win percentage is really high and that will probably even out with just luck, racing luck, and when your horses win, we’ll have to jump a condition. You win a condition, you move up into a little tougher spot. We’re still a little skeptical we’ll be there at the end. But if we look up six to eight weeks and there’s a shot – it’s our home track and we’re not going to be shy. We’ll certainly try to give it our best. But that said, we typically try to claim a lot with partners, so we would have to tell our claiming partners that we need to claim some on our own.”
Sanders and Gramm both reside in Memphis. Sanders is a risk manager for First Horizon Bank. Gramm is an economics professor at Rhodes College.
Ten Strike has 42 career victories at Oaklawn, the first coming Jan. 28, 2016, with Divine Thunder.