Barn Notes 1/12/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Just Steel will have another chance to secure Kentucky Derby qualifying points in Oaklawn’s $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes Jan. 27, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Wednesday morning.

The 1 1/16-miles Southwest is Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby point races, a series that continues with the $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes Feb. 24 and $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby March 30. The Southwest will offer 42 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers (20-10-6-4-2, respectively) toward starting eligibility.

Just Steel collected five qualifying points for a runner-up finish in Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby prep, the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 1. Just Steel, in his second career start around two turns, was beaten 2 ½ lengths by late-running Catching Freedom after holding a narrow lead in the final furlong.

“I really feel like I was a little bit to blame,” Lukas said. “I was a little concerned about maybe getting him tightened down too much early, with the four-race series in mind. He came up a little bit short the last sixteenth. I blame myself a little bit. He ran a really strong race, but he did come up a little bit short.”

Just Steel returned to the work tab Thursday morning at Oaklawn, covering 5 furlongs in 1:02. The track was fast.

Just Steel, the 9-5 Smarty Jones program favorite, made seven starts as a 2-year-old, breaking his maiden by a nose Aug. 5 at Saratoga and posting a sharp 2 ½-length victory in the $225,000 Ed Brown Stakes Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs. Sandwiched around those sprint victories (6 and 6 ½ furlongs, respectively) were three consecutive losses, including a sixth in the $600,000 G1-Breeders’ Futurity Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 7 at Keeneland.

Just Steel, who held the lead approaching the top of the stretch, was beaten 16 lengths in the Breeders’ Futurity, his first start around two turns. The son of Triple Crown winner Justify performed much better in his second.

“Hopefully, we can build on that and he’ll definitely, I think, show a stronger race the next time,” Lukas said. “But I don’t want his best race in January. I’d like to see it in maybe April or May.”

Lukas trains Just Steel, a $500,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sales graduate, for John Bellinger and Brian Coelho (BC Stables). Lukas is seeking his second Southwest victory after Big Sur upset future Triple Crown race winners Lil E. Tee (Kentucky Derby) and Pine Bluff (Preakness) in 1992.

Also pointing for the Southwest are Otto the Conqueror for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and Liberal Arts for trainer Robbie Medina.

A son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, Otto the Conqueror won the $300,000 Springboard Mile Dec. 15 at Remington Park in his last start. Liberal Arts won the $200,000 G3-Street Sense Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 29 at Churchill Downs in his last start.

Nominations to the Southwest and three other stakes races to be run Jan. 27 at Oaklawn – $250,000 Martha Washington for 3-year-old fillies, $150,000 King Cotton for older sprinters and $150,000 American Beauty for older female sprinters – close Saturday.

The 2024 Southwest carries a record purse after being worth $750,000 in 2020-2023.

Finish Lines

Saratoga Secret is pointing for the $250,000 Martha Washington Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 27 at Oaklawn, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Wednesday morning. Saratoga Secret, from the final crop of deceased champion Arrogate, has never raced around two turns. She finished fourth in an entry-level allowance sprint Dec. 17 at Oaklawn. The Martha Washington will offer 42 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points to the top five finishers (20-10-6-4-2, respectively). Lukas won the 2022 Martha Washington and Kentucky Oaks with Secret Oath, another daughter of Arrogate. … Recently retired Oaklawn stakes winner Caddo River will begin his stallion career in 2024 at McDowell Farm near Sparkman, Ark., John Gasper said Wednesday. Gasper is racing manager for Arkansas lumberman John Ed Anthony, who bred and owns Caddo River, a 6-year-old son of Hard Spun. As a 3-year-old in 2021, Caddo River won Oaklawn’s $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes and finished second in the $1 million G1-Arkansas Derby. Gasper said Caddo River’s stud fee is $2,000. … Jockey Erik Asmussen, the youngest son of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, recorded his first career victory Jan. 5 at Sam Houston. Erik Asmussen rode Cleat ($11.50) for his father. The jockey has had five mounts this season at Oaklawn.