Barn Notes 2/24/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Champion jockey Axel Concepcion recorded his first career Oaklawn victory in Monday’s sixth race, a $115,000 maiden special weight sprint, aboard Miracle Worker for trainer Brad Cox.

Miracle Worker ($6.80) was the fifth mount this season at Oaklawn for Concepcion, 18, who collected an Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding apprentice jockey of 2023.

Concepcion, now a journeyman, is based at Turfway Park in Kentucky, but he travels to Oaklawn to work and ride horses on Sundays (a dark day at Turfway). Oaklawn had a special Monday card because of Presidents’ Day.

“I’m coming every Sunday here,” Concepcion said. “I’m younger, so I want to work hard and get the victories.”

Concepcion made his Oaklawn debut Feb. 11, more than a month later than originally scheduled. Concepcion was named on three horses Jan. 7 and two Jan. 14. But Oaklawn canceled its final eight races Jan. 7 because of track maintenance, then lost four cards (Jan. 14 and Jan. 19-21) to winter weather.

Concepcion rode two horses Feb. 11 at Oaklawn – his first career local mount was Andy’s Candy for trainer Chris Hartman – two Feb. 18 and two Monday.

Concepcion is named on one horse Sunday at Oaklawn, Quality West, who is scheduled to make his career debut in the eighth race, another $115,000 maiden special weight event.

Quality West, a $500,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase in 2021, is also trained by Cox, a two-time Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding conditioner. Cox’s son, Bryson, is Concepcion’s agent.

“It’s an important thing, winning my first one here for them,” Concepcion said.

A native of Puerto Rico, Concepcion has 215 career North American victories, including 199 in 2023, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

Ain’t Life Grand

Ain’t Life Grand, the reigning champion Iowa-bred older horse, is scheduled to make his 5-year-old debut in Sunday’s ninth race at Oaklawn.

Ain’t Life Grand is the 7-5 program favorite for the one-mile allowance (it has a $142,000 purse) after being scratched from the $600,000 G3-Razorback Handicap for older horses Saturday.

“We were scared the allowance race may not go the next day, even though (Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope) said he was pretty sure it would,” Von Hemel said, outlining the decision to enter the Razorback. “We were ready to run. We didn’t want to miss this opportunity and not get to run. It (Razorback) was never Plan A.”

Ain’t Life Grand hasn’t started since finishing third in the nine-furlong $300,000 Prairie Meadows G3-Cornhusker Handicap July 8 at Prairie Meadows because of a leg problem (bone bruise), Von Hemel said.

Ain’t Life Grand has won eight of 14 career starts, including the $300,000 Iowa Derby in July 2022 at Prairie Meadows and $150,000 Lake Ouachita Stakes last May at Oaklawn. Both races were 1 1/16 miles.

Von Hemel said potential next-race targets for Ain’t Life Grand are the nine-furlong $600,000 G3-Essex Handicap March 23 at and the 8 ½-furlong $200,000 Lake Ouachita May 3.

“If you really want to pinpoint us down, the Cornhusker would be our main goal for the summer,” Von Hemel said.

The Cornhusker is Prairie Meadows’ signature race.

Probable post time for the ninth race is 4:50 p.m. (Central).

Olivier Stretches Out

Olivier, the 4-year-old full brother to unbeaten 2022 Horse of the Year Flightline, is scheduled to make his two-turn debut in Sunday’s eighth race, a $115,000 maiden special weight at one mile.

Olivier finished sixth in his Jan. 28 career debut, beaten 5 ½ lengths sprinting after encountering traffic turning for home.

“I thought it was a very good effort,” trainer Rodolphe Brisset said. “I call it sneaky. He kind of had to check and lost momentum. He’s a big horse, 4 years old, and needed a race. He galloped out good.”

Olivier has two half-mile workouts at Oaklawn since his debut. He went :47.80 Feb. 10, a time that ranked second of 75 published at the distance.

“I liked what I saw,” Brisset said. “He went (:47.80), but just the way he did it. He’s never breezed like that before.”

Olivier (5-1 on the morning line) is scheduled to break from post 11 under Francisco Arrieta.

Finish Lines

Favored Jackman ($4.60) became the first four-time winner at the 2023-2024 Oaklawn meeting in Friday’s seventh race, a sprint for older $30,000 claimers. Cristian Torres rode Jackman for owner/trainer Karl Broberg. Trainer Greg Compton won a 15-way shake, or blind draw, to claim Jackman out of his victory for $30,000. … Through Friday, Day 28 of the scheduled 64-day Oaklawn meeting, 225 claims had totaled $5,115,500. … Entries will be taken and post positions drawn Sunday for the $150,000 Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes and $150,000 Downthedustyroad Breeders’ Stakes March 2 at Oaklawn. Both six-furlong races are for Arkansas-breds.