Barn Notes 2/23/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Lightly raced Time for Truth will have a chance to emulate his sire in the $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes for 3-year-olds Saturday at Oaklawn.

Time for Truth is from the first crop of millionaire Omaha Beach, who beat champion Game Winner by a nose in the second division of the 2019 Rebel for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. While the Rebel was the sixth career start for Omaha Beach, it will be just the third for Time for Truth and first around two turns. Omaha Beach went on to win the Arkansas Derby and was listed as the program favorite for the Kentucky Derby before being scratched within 24 hours of the race.

Co-owned by Arkansan Harry Rosenblum of Little Rock and trained by Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, Time for Truth (15-1 on the morning line) drew post 13 in the projected 13-horse field.

“We can’t do anything now, except answer a lot of questions,” Moquett said. “He’s a pretty horse. He’s a well-bred horse. Now, let’s get a good trip and see where we fit. We’d like to win this race because we’ve nibbled at it several times. We’d like to go ahead and win this one and the Arkansas Derby. That’s our plan.”

The Rebel is Oaklawn’s final major prep for the $1.5 million Arkansas Derby (G1) March 30, a race Omaha Beach also won.

Time for Truth became the first Oaklawn winner for Omaha Beach with a front-running 1 ¾-length debut score in a six-furlong maiden allowance race Dec. 31, generating a robust 89 Beyer Speed Figure. Time for Truth tackled stakes company in his next start and finished second to the accomplished Valentine Candy in Oaklawn’s $150,000 Ozark Feb. 10. The betting favorite, Time for Truth, was beaten 2 ½ lengths after leading to midstretch.

Moquett used the Ozark as an unlikely bridge to the Rebel after Oaklawn lost 11 days of training (Jan. 13-23) to winter weather. Plan A, Moquett said, was a one-mile allowance Jan. 28, a split race that spawned five Rebel entrants (Northern Flame, Tejon Pass, Next Level, Mena and Woodcourt).

“The weather screwed us up, but from this point everything is over,” Moquett said. “We’re just looking straight ahead. We’re in the 13 hole and I think we deserve to be in the race. So, if he likes the distance and he is a horse that’s meant to go on, this is going to give him an opportunity to show it.”

Rosenblum purchased Time for Truth for $47,000 at the OBS Spring Sale of Two-Year-Olds in Training. He sold an interest in Time for Truth to Everett Dobson (Cheyenne Stables) following the colt’s debut victory. Moquett finished second in the 2016 Rebel with future champion male sprinter Whitmore, co-owned at the time by Rosenblum, and fourth in 2017 with Petrov.

Omaha Beach ($2,131,483) ranked fourth in progeny earnings among North American first-crop sires in 2023. Omaha Beach stands at Kentucky’s Spendthrift Farm for a $40,000 fee.

Hobby Horse

Mena looks to do something his full brother couldn’t in Saturday’s G2-Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn.

Owned by George Sharp and trained by Steve Hobby of Hot Springs, Mena enters the 8 ½-furlong mile Rebel off a runner-up finish in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race Jan. 28. Mena, racing for a $100,000 claiming tag in his first start for Hobby, was beaten a neck by fellow Rebel entrant Northern Flame at odds of 31-1.

Mena is 15-1 on the morning line for the Rebel, his stakes debut. Grade 1 winner Timberlake, the 6-5 program favorite, will be making his 3-year-old debut for trainer Brad Cox. Mena received a career-high 79 Beyer Speed Figure for his runner-up performance last month.

“There were some pretty nice horses in there, so I don’t blame Mr. Sharp for wanting to try this, especially looking at the race,” Hobby said. “He fits with a whole lot of others in there. There’s a couple of standouts. Brad’s horse hasn’t had an out this year, so maybe he’s vulnerable. Why wouldn’t you take a shot for $1.25 million.”

The recently retired Caddo River, like Mena, a son of Hard Spun and Pangburn, finished fifth as the 6-5 favorite in the 2021 Rebel for Arkansas breeder/owner John Ed Anthony (Shortleaf Stable) and Cox. Mena began his racing career for the same connections, finishing sixth in his July 21 debut at Ellis Park. Trainer Caio Caramori, on behalf of Sharp, claimed Mena for $30,000 out of a 12 ¼-length maiden victory at 1 1/16 miles Oct. 26 at Keeneland. Mena was a 1 1/16-mile starter-allowance winner Nov. 23 at Churchill Downs before flopping the following month in his final start as a 2-year-old.

Mena moved to Hobby’s barn following an eighth-place finish in an entry-level allowance at 1 mile Dec. 22 at Turfway Park. In his first workout for Hobby, Mena went 5 furlongs in a poky 1:04.20 Jan. 7 at Oaklawn.

“I didn’t know what to expect, that first race,” Hobby said. “He’s coming off a bad race on the synthetic, he didn’t work very good and then he ran his butt off. So, we’ll see.”

Mena is among a handful of horses Hobby now trains for Sharp, a new client.

“I think, actually, he called somebody, and somebody gave him several names, trainers here, and mine was one of them,” Hobby said. “I think he was kind of thinking about this (Rebel). He was thinking big.”

Anthony, Oaklawn’s all-time winningest owner, named Mena after the Arkansas city roughly 80 miles west of Hot Springs.

Torres Ready to Strike

A race roughly more than 7,000 miles away helped locally based jockey Cristian Torres land two prized mounts Saturday at Oaklawn for two-time Eclipse Award winning trainer Brad Cox.

Torres is scheduled to ride 7-5 program favorite West Omaha in the $400,000 G3-Honeybee Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and 6-5 program favorite Timberlake in the G2-Rebel.

The mounts on both horses became available because nationally prominent riders Joel Rosario, Luis Saez and Florent Geroux are in Saudi Arabia for the world’s richest race, Saturday’s $20 million G1-Saudi Cup.

Geroux is the regular rider of Timberlake. Geroux, Rosario and Saez have ridden West Omaha. Geroux’s Saudi Cup mount is Saudi Crown, who is trained by Cox.

“Thank God for the Saudi Cup being the 24th,” said Torres’ agent, Cody Autrey. “Can’t been happy enough. It’s what you work for, right?”

Cox and Torres teamed to win the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1 at Oaklawn with Catching Freedom. Saez, however, rode Catching Freedom to a third-place finish in the $400,000 G2-Risen Star Stakes last Saturday at Fair Grounds.

“Had Catching Freedom and they made a business decision, which we respect because that’s the game,” Autrey said. “That’s why you wait your turn because a day like this, you’re first on their mind.”

Torres, 26, began making waves nationally last year when he rode 100 winners to secure his first career Oaklawn riding title. Retired Hall of Famer Pat Day is the only rider in Oaklawn history to reach 100 victories in a season. Torres also set a single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings ($6,163,941) last season. He parlayed that Oaklawn success into a solid debut on the Kentucky circuit.

Torres has three career victories for Cox – all stakes. They also teamed to win the $300,000 Harrods Creek Sept. 23 at Churchill Downs and $300,000 G2-Forty Niner Oct. 28 at Aqueduct with Everso Mischievous.

“We’re confident in him because he’s been riding at a high level,” Cox said. “Hopefully, it will be a big day for both of us. Excited about the opportunities and feel like we’re in great hands with him.”

Torres is the runaway leader in the 2023-2024 Oaklawn rider standings with 37 victories through the first 27 racing days. Torres is named on four other horses Saturday at Oaklawn for Cox.

“He’s given me a lot of opportunities since I started,” Torres said. “He gave me a couple of opportunities in Kentucky, and I won a stakes for him in Kentucky and New York. We’re getting there. I’m just very grateful that he’s got that confidence in me.”

Cox is in Saudi Arabia to saddle Saudi Crown.

Finish Lines

Multiple Oaklawn stakes winner Skelly is the 4-1 second choice in the program for the $1.5 million G3-Riyadh Dirt Sprint Saturday in Saudi Arabia. Eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. is named to ride Skelly for Steve Asmussen, Oaklawn’s all-time leading trainer. Skelly has won seven consecutive starts (all at six furlongs). Six of the victories have come at Oaklawn, including the $500,000 G3-Count Fleet Sprint Handicap and inaugural $150,000 Lake Hamilton Stakes last season and $150,000 King Cotton Stakes Feb. 3 in his last start. … Oaklawn set meet highs for claims (18) and total amount of claims ($489,000) Monday. Through the first 27 days of racing, 218 claims totaled $4,895,500, according to figures released Monday afternoon by Oaklawn. … After recording his 1,999th career North American victory with Dirty Flirt ($15.40) in Sunday’s second race at Oaklawn, trainer Kenny McPeek reached 2,000 in Wednesday’s fifth race at Turfway Park with Winnable ($30.28), according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. McPeek is Oaklawn’s co-second-leading trainer this season with 16 victories and has 91 overall in Hot Springs, the first coming Feb. 19, 1992. McPeek’s first career victory was Oct. 27, 1985, at River Downs.