Arabian Knight Impressive In Southwest Stakes Victory
Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates
Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, January 29, 2023
Photo Credit: Coady Photography
Arabian Knight Impressive in Southwest Stakes Victory
Scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Oaklawn, Protege’s name was curiously missing when entries came out Jan. 23.
Asked why late Saturday morning, Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, the colt’s trainer, whimsically responded: “He caught a case of Arabian Knight flu.”
Roughly 5 ½ hours later, Moquett’s medical opinion was validated when heavily favored Arabian Knight, under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, cruised to a front-running 5 ½-length victory in the Southwest, Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races, and remain unbeaten in two lifetime starts.
“He came out great,” Baffert said via text Sunday morning.
Arabian Knight ($2.80) represented the record sixth Southwest victory for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and his record-extending 19th overall in a Kentucky Derby points race at Oaklawn. The Southern California-based Baffert was richly rewarded – again – with an 11th-hour decision to ship another swift 3-year-old to Oaklawn.
Arabian Knight was under consideration for the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (G2) at 7 furlongs Sunday at Santa Anita before Baffert opted for another road trip following the colt’s 5-furlong workout there Jan. 21. News broke the following day that Arabian Knight would make his 3-year-old, stakes and two-turn debut in the Southwest.
“That’s why I decided at the last minute,” Baffert said in the Larry Snyder Winner’s Circle following the Southwest. “What I do is I nominate my horses everywhere and whoever’s doing great that week gets on a plane.”
Arabian Knight, as a heavy favorite, was a front-running 7 ¼-length winner of his Nov. 5 career debut at Keeneland. Racing over a fast main track on the Breeders’ Cup undercard, Arabian Knight covered 7 furlongs in 1:21.98 to generate an eye-catching 97 Beyer Speed Figure. Baffert brought him up to the Southwest off workouts, eight at Santa Anita since Nov. 28. Arabian Knight received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 96 for the Southwest.
“His first performance was off the charts, but I gave him a lot of time in between,” Baffert said. “I’ve been just bringing him along at a very easy pace. It was good. You give them time between races.”
Next-race plans for Arabian Knight are pending, Baffert said. Arabian Knight is owned Zedan Racing Stables, Inc. (Amr F. Zedan), which purchased the son of champion Uncle Mo for a sale-topping $2.3 million at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Spring Sale of 2-year-olds in training.
“There’s no rush,” Baffert said. “I just want to keep him healthy and happy. You saw what he did today. It was like an American Pharoah-type race.”
American Pharoah, an Eclipse Award winner at 2 for Baffert, made his 3-year-old debut in Oaklawn’s $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles in 2015. After bobbling at the start, American Pharoah shot to the front, controlled the pace and rolled home by 6 ¼ lengths over a sloppy, sealed surface. American Pharoah ($2.80) covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:45.78. He returned to Oaklawn to dominate the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) before sweeping the Triple Crown and securing Horse of the Year honors.
Arabian Knight also raced over a sloppy, sealed surface Saturday after light rain began falling about 15 minutes before racing began at noon (Central). Pressed from the start by long shot Frosted Departure, Arabian Knight was able to clear the field from post 6 entering the first turn and held a 1 ½-length lead after a solid :46.82 half-mile. Arabian Knight shook a stubborn Frosted Departure approaching the eighth pole and drew off in the final sixteenth of a mile. The winning time was 1:43.50.
“I just read the horse,” Baffert said. “He was telling me. I was going to run him seven-eighths tomorrow and I thought: ‘You know what? This horse was ready to go a mile. He’s ready to go two turns right now.’ And a matter of fact, Johnny told me when he won at Keeneland I had him fit enough to go a mile. He’s a superior 3-year-old.”
The Southwest offered 40 points (20-8-6-4-2, respectively) to the top five finishers toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby. Arabian Knight was ineligible for Southwest qualifying points because of Baffert’s two-year suspension by Churchill Downs. It stems from his Medina Spirit being disqualified from a 2021 Kentucky Derby victory because of a medication violation. The case is under appeal.
Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series continues with the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 25 and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 1. Unbeaten Victory Formation (3 for 3) captured the first race in the series, the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 mile Jan. 1, for trainer Brad Cox.
In addition to the Southwest, Baffert has won the Rebel a record eight times and has four victories in the Arkansas Derby. He’s also won the Smarty Jones once. Cox (four) and Baffert (three) have combined to win seven of Oaklawn’s last 10 Kentucky Derby points races. Cox could have multiple Rebel starters.
“We’ll definitely have something here for the Rebel,” Baffert said.
Arabian Knight is the most lightly raced horse Baffert has brought to Oaklawn for a Kentucky Derby prep. He has had 41 starters.
Baffert’s appearance Saturday was his first for a race at Oaklawn since Arkansas Derby Day in 2011.
Jockey Kelsi Harr
Harr Sets Another Record
After becoming the first female jockey in Oaklawn history to surpass $1 million in purse earnings at a meet last season, Kelsi Harr broke another record Saturday.
Based on statistics from Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, Harr had amassed $2,811,257 in career purse earnings at Oaklawn. Cindy Murphy held the previous Oaklawn record for career purse earnings by a female jockey ($2,792,644).
Harr eclipsed Murphy’s total with her second mount Saturday when Arkansas-bred standout Bandit Point earned $650 in the ninth race, a $104,000 allowance for older horses at 1 1/16 miles. Bandit Point was already the most influential horse in Harr’s career since he marked her first career mount and winner June 17, 2018, at Canterbury Park. Harr’s fiancée, Robert N. Cline, owns and trains Bandit Point, the jockey’s all-time favorite horse.
“For it to be him, I thought it was fitting for sure,” Harr said during training hours Sunday morning. “I didn’t know until afterwards, but I was told by somebody that when I ran fourth in the first race, I was $50 short of the milestone. Even though (Bandit Point) ran seventh, he was the one that put me over, so I thought that was perfect. Wish we would have won and done it, but love it that it was with him. Everything started with him. It was awesome.”
Harr, 30, began riding at Oaklawn in 2019 and has increased her mounts and purse earnings each season. She was Oaklawn’s leading apprentice jockey in 2020 with 11 victories and rode 18 winners at the 2021-2022 meeting, with her mounts earning $1,187,724 in purses.
Murphy, riding mostly as Cindy Noll, recorded 183 victories at Oaklawn in 1997-2006. She remains Oaklawn’s runaway leader among female riders for career victories. She also set a single-season Oaklawn record for victories by a female rider (47) in 1999. Harr entered Sunday with 41 victories in her Oaklawn career, including two this season.
A native of tiny Slovak, Ark., about 45 miles east of Little Rock, Harr also gallops and works horses for Cline and is a longtime exercise rider at Oaklawn for trainer Al Cates of Hot Springs.
Bandit Point, an 8-year-old son of Indy Squall, has $512,640 in career earnings.
Shopping for a Spot
Next-out plans are pending for powerful Jan. 14 Oaklawn maiden special weights graduate Shopper’s Revenge, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said Saturday afternoon.
The royally bred Shopper’s Revenge – Tapit out of millionaire 2015 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Stopchargingmaria – received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 85 for his front-running 5 ¼-length victory under Ricardo Santana Jr. The 1 1/16-mile race marked the two-turn and 3-year-old debut of Shopper’s Revenge, who was exiting a runner-up finish on the “Stars of Tomorrow 2 program” Nov. 26 at Churchill Downs. It was his first career start.
“It’ll be interesting,” Asmussen said. “I’m as high on him as you can be on something that’s run twice. Do you want to feed him to Arabian Knight or something of the likes next time? But I love how he ran over the racetrack here in his first two-turn race and I love how he’s training right now.”
The Asmussen-trained Red Route One finished second to unbeaten Arabian Knight in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) Saturday at Oaklawn. The 1 1/16-mile Southwest was Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby points races.
Millionaire multiple Grade 1 winner Clairiere, co-runner-up in voting for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion older dirt female of 2022, is pointing for the $350,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 11 at Oaklawn, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen said Saturday afternoon. The Azeri is the final major local prep for the $1 million Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 15. Both races are 1 1/16 miles. Clairiere finished second in the 2022 Apple Blossom. Millionaire Grade 1 winner Secret Oath is also scheduled to make her 2023 debut in the Azeri, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. … Millionaire multiple Grade 2 winner Lone Rock continued preparations for his 2023 debut by working a half-mile in :51.60 Sunday morning at Oaklawn for trainer Robertino Diodoro. The track was muddy. Diodoro said the 8-year-old gelding will continue to target marathon races like the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes for older horses at 1 ½ miles April 2 at Oaklawn. Lone Rock won last year’s Temperence Hill. … Diodoro, Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2022-2023, said Sunday morning that Lovely Ride remains on track to make her next start in the $250,000 Bayakoa Stakes (G3) for older fillies and mares Feb. 4. Post positions for the 1 1/16-mile Bayakoa will be drawn Monday. Lovely Ride is 2 for 2 at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting, winning the $150,000 Mistletoe Stakes at 1 mile Dec. 10 and the $150,000 Pippin Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 7. The Bayakoa is a major local prep for the Apple Blossom. Also pointing for the Bayakoa is Pippin runner-up Ice Orchid, trainer John Ortiz said Sunday morning. … Grade 3 winner Senor Buscador has three published workouts this month at Sunland Park and there’s a chance he could run at the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting that ends May 6, trainer Todd Fincher said Wednesday afternoon. Senor Buscador gave 2021-2022 Oaklawn co-leading rider Francisco Arrieta his first career graded stakes victory in the United States in the $300,000 Ack Ack Stakes (G3) Oct. 1 at Churchill Downs and completed his 2022 campaign with an eighth-place finish in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) Nov. 5 at Keeneland. “He could (run) at the end of the meet,” Fincher said. “It’s a possibility.” Fincher is based at Sunland Park and has a small string this season at Oaklawn.