Barn Notes 2/15/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

No. 15 became No. 1 for trainer Robert Medina.

Medina saddled his first career Oaklawn winner when favored Story Hour scored a front-running 1 ¼-length victory in Sunday’s eighth race, a $140,000 entry-level allowance for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

Story Hour ($8) was the 15th starter at the meet for Medina, a former assistant under Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey who ran his first horse in 2020.

“They’ve been beating me up,” Medina jokingly said following the victory. “They done grounded me into salt.”

Prior to his breakthrough victory, Medina finished second in Sunday’s seventh race with even-money favorite Lips Say Bliss and had five third-place finishes at the meet, notably Liberal Arts in the $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes for 3-year-olds Feb. 3.

“They’ve been running well,” Medina said. “Sometimes, your horse runs well and you’re just not getting the wins. You’ve just got to be patient and keep reminding yourself it’s February. They don’t name champions in February. You just remain patient and some of some of those seconds and thirds, they’ll turn into wins.”

Medina has a division at Oaklawn for the first time in 2023-2024. He keeps around 10 horses in Hot Springs and also has a string at The Thoroughbred Center, a central Kentucky training facility where Story Hour and Liberal Arts have been based this winter.

“I’m going to start switching some more horses out,” Medina said. “I’m going to bring her back, definitely.”

Liberal Arts returned to The Thoroughbred Center following the Southwest, which marked his first start since winning the $200,000 g3-Street Sense Stakes Oct. 29 at Churchill Downs. Liberal Arts closed well in the Southwest to finish a neck behind runner-up Just Steel. Mystik Dan won the Southwest by eight lengths.

Medina said Liberal Arts returned to the track Feb. 8 and continues to target the nine-furlong $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby.

With the Southwest postponed one week because of winter weather, Medina said Liberal Arts will train up to the Arkansas Derby rather than contest its final major local prep, the 8 ½-furlong $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes Feb. 24.

“All looks really good on him,” Medina said. “I mean, I wish that we would have gotten to run on Jan. 27 because I would have run in the Rebel. God willing, he’s going to run here in the Arkansas Derby.”

Liberal Arts, Medina’s first career graded stakes winner, has 19 points to rank eighth on the latest Kentucky Derby leaderboard released by Churchill Downs. The race is limited to 20 starters.

McPeek Closer to 2,000

Trainer Kenny McPeek recorded his 1,998th career North American victory when Rivetage ($8.20) broke his maiden in Sunday’s fourth race at Oaklawn under Julien Leparoux, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

McPeek has six horses entered this weekend at Oaklawn, where he has a much greater presence than previous years with approximately 40 horses on the grounds. He also maintains a string at Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

McPeek has already set single-season Oaklawn personal bests for purse earnings ($1,788,612), victories (15) and stakes victories (four) through the first 23 days of the 2023-2024 meeting.

McPeek recorded his first career North American victory Oct. 27, 1985, at River Downs and the first of 90 to date at Oaklawn Feb. 19, 1992.

Finish Lines

Trainer John Ortiz saddled two winners Sunday, pushing his career Oaklawn total to 97. Ortiz won the first race with Merasol Sugar ($15.20) and the seventh race with Black Apple ($14.80). Merasol Sugar, a first-time starter, is a homebred for Allen Poindexter, who also campaigned her half-sister, multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Chanel’s Legacy. Arkansas-bred Black Apple, who collected a $3,000 bonus for winning in open company, was the record-extending 292nd career Oaklawn victory for owner John Ed Anthony. … Speedtail ($24.20) won Sunday’s ninth race to give trainer Ingrid Mason her 132nd career Oaklawn victory. Mason is the second-winningest female trainer in Oaklawn history. The leader, Lynn Chleborad, recorded her 136th victory in Saturday’s 11th race with Delta Moon ($15.80). … Trainer Brad Cox notched his 296th career Oaklawn victory in Saturday’s second race with favored Desert Wolf ($2.60). Only 15 trainers in Oaklawn history have reached 300 career victories. Cox has six horses entered this week at Oaklawn.