Barn Notes 2/1/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

It's unlikely any entrant in Saturday’s $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes has had the race targeted longer than Liberal Arts, who is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in the 8 ½-furlong race at Oaklawn.

Liberal Arts completed a five-race 2023 campaign with a 2 ¾-length victory in the $200,000 G3-Street Sense Stakes at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 29 at Churchill Downs. The Street Sense was the first start around two turns for Liberal Arts, a homebred for Stephen and Evan Ferraro. Roughly a week after the Street Sense, trainer Robert Medina decided to point Liberal Arts to the Southwest, Oaklawn’s second of four Kentucky Derby qualifying races.

“Even before the Street Sense, I talked with Mr. Ferraro and his son, Evan, and I just felt he was getting a hair light,” Medina said Monday morning at his Oaklawn barn. “I said: ‘After we run here (Street Sense), win, lose or draw, I think it would be in our best interest to just give him a month off.’ So, I just walked him for two weeks and he walked (under) tack for two weeks and it did him a world of good. Physically, he got a little heavier, a little thicker through his neck. A week or so after the Street Sense, I had the Southwest earmarked.”

Medina, a former assistant under Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, is wintering at Oaklawn for the first time this season. He also maintains a string at The Thoroughbred Center, a central Kentucky training facility where Liberal Arts has been based.

Liberal Arts resumed serious training in early December and returned to the work tab Jan. 4. He breezed three more times at The Thoroughbred Center (Jan. 11, Jan. 23 and Jan. 29) in advance of the Southwest. Medina said Liberal Arts could only jog in the barn four or five days last month because of winter weather, but that didn’t impact his preparation for the Southwest. Winter weather also delayed the Southwest five days in 2010 and 12 days in 2021.

“He’s a very aggressive training horse,” Medina said. “That’s the only reason I wanted to give him a month off. He gets a lot out of his galloping because he’s a tough horse to gallop. He’s a big kind of long, leggy horse. And he ran five times last year, so he’s got enough foundation. There was no sense in running him one more time.”

From the final crop of deceased champion Arrogate, Liberal Arts broke his maiden at seven furlongs Aug. 13 at Ellis Park and finished a troubled third in the one-mile $300,000 G3-Iroquois Stakes Sept. 16 at Churchill Downs. He came from well off the pace to win the Street Sense, which was run over a sloppy track.

Liberal Arts collected three Kentucky Derby qualifying points in the Iroquois and 10 more in the Street Sense. The Southwest could offer as many as 42 points to its top five eligible finishers (20-10-6-4-2, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown. Liberal Arts (13 points) ranks fifth on the 2023-2024 Kentucky Derby leaderboard. The race is limited to 20 starters.

“You don’t want to have them super cranked,” Medina said. “It (Southwest) has been pushed back, but you’ve still got to remind yourself it’s January. You want to have some horse. I just want him to go over there and make a good account of himself and then we can map out something after that.”

Liberal Arts has been ridden in his last three starts by 2022-2023 Oaklawn riding champion Cristian Torres, who retains the mount Saturday. Liberal Arts (8-1 on the morning line) is scheduled to break from post 6 in the projected 12-horse lineup.

“Looking at the race, we drew a post that’s in the middle of the field,” Medina said. “He had a very good work (Jan. 23), a half-mile in :47. Did it the right way and came out of it good. He looks good and we’re going in there with no excuses.”

The Street Sense marked the first career graded stakes victory for Medina, who started his first horse in 2020.

Probable post time for the Southwest, the 11th race, is 4:42 p.m. (Central). The 12-race program begins at 11:30 a.m. The Southwest has a record purse in 2024 after previously being worth $750,000.

Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series continues with the $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes Feb. 24 and $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby March 30.