Barn Notes 1/04/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

After a pedestrian start at the 2023-2024 Oaklawn meeting, jockey Cristian Torres said things would pick up after Christmas.

He was right.

Torres, Oaklawn’s leading rider last season, recorded a triple Monday, punctuated by favored Catching Freedom’s sharp victory in the 8 ½-furlong $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds. Torres also won Saturday’s $150,000 Poinsettia Stakes aboard High Class and another race Friday.

Torres’ five victories vaulted him into a third-place tie in the early standings. Emmanuel Esquivel has a meet-high nine victories after the first nine days of racing. Torres has seven victories and his $834,899 leads all jockeys in purse earnings. Torres, through the first two weekends of racing, had only two victories before Oaklawn’s 11-day Christmas break (Dec. 18-28).

Catching Freedom’s victory was noteworthy because it came in Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race. Trained by two-time Eclipse Award winner Brad Cox, Catching Freedom ($5.40) collected 10 points for his 2 ½-length victory.

Torres had already won two other Kentucky Derby points races this season – $200,000 Street Sense Stakes (G3) Oct. 29 at Churchill Downs aboard Liberal Arts for trainer Robbie Medina and the $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes Dec. 23 at Fair Grounds aboard Track Phantom for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. Liberal Arts and Track Phantom also earned 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for their victories.

“Now, that makes it three,” Torres said of Catching Freedom. “It’s going to be hard on my agent (Cody Autrey) to pick it, but they’re all great horses, the three horses that I’ve been able to win on in these kind of races. Most simply, I’m very thankful for the opportunity.”

Torres, 26, has never ridden in the Kentucky Derby, but his career is clearly trending in that direction. Torres secured his first career riding title in December 2022 at Remington Park, then his second when he authored one of the greatest seasons in Oaklawn history at the 2022-2023 meeting. Torres finished with 100 victories – joining retired Hall of Famer Pat Day as the only riders in Oaklawn history to reach that total – and set a single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings ($6,193,941). Day won an Oaklawn-record 137 races in 1986, 104 in 1990 and 101 in 1991.

Torres parlayed his success last season at Oaklawn into a solid summer and fall in Kentucky, where he was a regular for the first time.

“It was great,” Torres said. “I had a lot of opportunities during the summer, and I was really blessed to go to Kentucky for the first time. It was unbelievable. We won a lot of stakes and a lot of races at all the tracks there.”

Torres has 598 career North American victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, including 148 at Oaklawn.

Liberal Arts returned to the work tab Thursday morning at The Thoroughbred Training Center in Kentucky, covering three furlongs in :36.20. Medina said Liberal Arts is pointing for the $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes Jan. 27 at Oaklawn. The 1 1/16-miles Southwest is Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby points race, offering a total of 42 points (20, 10, 6, 4, 2) to the top five finishers.

Milestone Watch

Jockey Ramon Vazquez enters Friday with 399 career victories at Oaklawn, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Only 12 riders in Oaklawn history have reached 400 career victories.

Vazquez recorded his 399th career Oaklawn victory in Monday’s seventh race aboard Maximus Magic ($14.20) for trainer Norman McKnight. Vazquez, 39, had missed the previous three racing days (Dec. 29-31) serving a suspension for a riding infraction last summer at Del Mar in Southern California.

Vazquez spent 11 consecutive seasons as an Oaklawn regular (2012-2022) – amassing 393 victories and eight top four finishes in the standings – before relocating to Southern California in April 2022.

Vazquez returned to Oaklawn as a regular for the 2023-2024 meeting that began Dec. 8. He has six victories this season.

Finish Lines

Entries will be taken and post positions drawn Sunday for the inaugural $150,000 Mockingbird Stakes for 3-year-old fillies Jan. 13 at Oaklawn. … Hess collected a $6,900 bonus for becoming the first horse at the 2023-2024 Oaklawn meeting to win without Lasix in Monday’s 10th race, a $115,000 Arkansas-bred maiden special weight sprint for 3-year-olds and upward. Introduced at the 2015 meeting, Oaklawn’s Lasix-free Bonus Program awards a 10-percent bonus to the winner’s share of the purse for horses that win without running on the anti-bleeder medication. Randy Morse trains Hess for breeder/owner Randy Patterson. They also campaigned the 4-year-old gelding’s sire, millionaire Grade 1 winner Moonshine Mullin. … Through Monday, Day 9 of Oaklawn’s scheduled 66-day meeting, 80 claims had totaled $1,844,500.