Barn Notes 2/18/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Grade 1 winner Timberlake is among 13 scheduled starters for Oaklawn’s $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes or 3-year-olds Saturday. The Rebel is among four stakes races on a 12-race card that begins at 12:00 p.m. CST. Gates open at 10:30 a.m. Weather permitting, the infield will be open for the first time this season.

Probable post time for the Rebel, the 11th race, is 5:23 p.m.

The 8 ½-furlong Rebel is Oaklawn’s third of four Kentucky Derby qualifying races and will offer 105 points to its top five finishers (50-25-15-10-5, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the first leg of the Triple Crown.

The field for the Rebel, from the rail out: Carbone, Isaac Castillo to ride, 119 pounds; Northern Flame, Julien Leparoux, 122; Common Defense, Brian Hernadez Jr., 117; Tejon Pass, Chris Landeros, 117; Magic Grant, Harry Hernandez, 117; Dimatic, Tyler Gaffalione, 117; Timberlake, Cristian Torres, 119; Next Level, Jose Riquelme, 117; Lagynos, Keith Asmussen, 119; Mena, Francisco Arrieta, 117; Just Steel, Ramon Vazquez, 117; Woodcourt, Emmanuel Esquivel, 122; and Time for Truth, Rafael Bejarano, 117.

If the field remains intact, it will equal the third largest in Rebel history. The 1980 Rebel, won by eventual 3-year-old champion male Temperence Hill, had a record 15 starters.

Timberlake hasn’t started since finishing fourth in the $2 million G1-Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles Nov. 3 at Santa Anita for trainer Brad Cox, who is seeking his first Rebel victory. Timberlake won the one-mile $500,000 G1-Champagne Stakes Oct. 7 at Aqueduct. The son of super sire Into Mischief has been based this winter at Fair Grounds. Cox and Torres teamed to win Oaklawn’s first 2024 Kentucky Derby points race, the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1, with Catching Freedom.

Just Steel finished second in the Smarty Jones and $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes Feb. 3 for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The Southwest, delayed one week because of winter weather, was Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby points race.

Four Rebel entrants worked after the surface renovation break Sunday morning at Oaklawn.

Mena went a half-mile in :49.20 for trainer Steve Hobby of Hot Springs. Time for Truth covered the same distance in :50 for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs. Tejon Pass and Woodcourt each breezed 5 furlongs. Tejon Pass, from the gate, went in 1:00.20 for trainer Peter Miller. Woodcourt went in 1:00.40 for trainer Cipriano Contreras.

The Rebel has a record purse in 2024 after previously being worth $1 million.

The $600,000 G3-Razorback Handicap for older horses, $400,000 G3-Honeybee Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 and $150,000 Carousel Stakes for older females sprinters will share the card with the Rebel. Like the Rebel, the Razorback and Honeybee are 1 1/16-miles races, while the distance for the Carousel is six furlongs.

The Honeybee is Oaklawn’s second of three qualifying races for the Kentucky Oaks. It will offer 105 points to its top five finishers (50-25-15-10-5, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the country’s biggest race for 3-year-old fillies.

Honeybee entrants include Band of Gold for McPeek and West Omaha for Cox. Band of Gold won the weather-delayed $250,000 Martha Washington Stakes The Martha Washington was Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Oaks qualifying race. Feb. 3. The Martha Washington, delayed one week because of winter weather, was Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Oaks points race.

West Omaha won the $150,000 Silverbulletday Stakes at one mile and 70 yards Jan. 20 at Fair Grounds in her last start.

Rocket Man

His glory days might be over, but his racing days aren’t.

C Z Rocket, the popular millionaire late-running sprinter, resurfaces in Monday’s eighth race at Oaklawn, a starter-allowance sprint for older horses that have started for a claiming price of $62,500 or less and haven’t won two races since Oct. 19. The 6-furlong race carries a $75,000 purse.

In C Z Rocket’s case, “older” is the perfect word in the race conditions.

C Z Rocket returns to Oaklawn after running third in a Jan. 19 allowance sprint at Santa Anita, which marked the gelding’s 10-year-old debut for Peter Miller, his Southern California-based co-owner/trainer.

“We entered him in a race out here and didn’t go,” Miller said, explaining his decision to send C Z Rocket to Oaklawn. “He’s lost a step, but he still tries.”

A claim to fame, C Z Rocket has bankrolled a whopping $1,902,644 in 28 starts since Miller, on behalf of Tom Kagele, took the gelding for $40,000 out of a fifth-place finish in an April 30, 2020, sprint at Oaklawn.

During that stretch, C Z Rocket ran three times in the $2 million G1-Breeders’ Cup Sprint , finishing second in 2020 and 2022, emerged as Oaklawn’s top male sprinter in 2021 and traveled to the Middle East last year for a Group 1 event.

Although C Z Rocket’s last two victories have come in allowance company at Del Mar (July 23, 2022, and Nov. 25), he’s been competitive in a handful of stakes races at his advanced age, notably a third-place finish in the $250,000 G2-Pat O’Brien Aug. 26 at Del Mar. C Z Rocket, a son of the late City Zip, has won 13 of 45 starts overall and earned $2,143,941.

“It’s really simple,” Miller said. “The horse is very sound and very healthy and he really enjoys what he does. When you’ve got kind of that going for you, it’s hard not to … he likes it. That’s the main thing. I’ve got 3-year-olds that aren’t nearly as forward training as he is. There’s nothing really to it. I think he’s happier doing what he’s doing than he’d be sitting out in a field.”

C Z Rocket has made eight starts at Oaklawn, running at least once in Hot Springs each year since 2019. His two victories came in 2021 when he toppled champion Whitmore in the $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes and $500,000 G3-Count Fleet Sprint Handicap.

Other C Z Rocket highlights under Miller’s care include a 6 ½-furlong track record (1:15) in a July 2020 allowance race at Keeneland and capturing two Grade 2 events later that year in Southern California. C Z Rocket is the 5-2 second choice in the program for Monday’s race. The 2-1 program favorite is Edge to Edge, who beat C Z Rocket by 2 ½ lengths in a Feb. 17, 2023, allowance sprint at Oaklawn.

“I mean, it’s not an easy spot,” Miller said.

Probable post time for Monday’s eighth race is 4:17 p.m. (Central).

C Z Rocket is among five horses Miller has entered the next few days at Oaklawn. Miller is also scheduled to start Tapatio Leo in a $142,000 allowance sprint for older horses Friday and Tejon Pass in Saturday’s $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes.

Tapatio Leo has won 5 of 7 starts overall, including a Feb. 10 allowance sprint at Oaklawn in his first race outside California. Miller said Friday’s race could be a springboard to the six-furlong $250,000 G3-Whitmore Stakes for older horses March 16. The Whitmore (it was the Hot Springs when C Z Rocket won it) is the final major local prep for the $500,000 G3Count Fleet Sprint Handicap April 13.

“We’ll consider the sprint series,” Miller said. “He seems to like that track, so, I think, we want to keep him there.”