Barn Notes 2/25/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Timberlake exited his Rebel Stakes victory in good order and is to depart Monday for his Fair Grounds base to prepare for a yet-to-be determined next start, Jorgito Abrego, who oversees trainer Brad Cox’s Oaklawn division, said Sunday morning.

“He looks good,” Abrego said. “Looks very happy.”

Timberlake received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 93 – equaling his career high – for his two-length victory in the $1.25 million G2-Rebel at 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Oaklawn.

Oaklawn’s third Kentucky Derby points race, the Rebel marked the 3-year-old debut of Timberlake, a son of Into Mischief who races for WinStar Farm and Siena Farm. Ridden for the first time by Cristian Torres, Timberlake’s winning time over a fast track was 1:44.00. He was the 4-5 favorite.

Timberlake also received Beyer Speed Figures of 93 for his final two starts last year – a fourth-place finish in the $2 million G1-Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Nov. 3 at Santa Anita and a victory in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes (G1) Oct. 7 at Aqueduct. The Champagne was a one-turn mile.

“I’m very happy,” said Abrego, who saddled Timberlake ($3.60) with Cox in Saudi Arabia for Saturday’s Saudi Cup. “First time running as a 3-year-old. It’s a good start for getting him to the Kentucky Derby.”

Timberlake collected 50 qualifying points for the victory and has 66 overall to rank No. 1 on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard released Saturday by Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters.

The Rebel, Timberlake’s first victory around two turns, continued Cox’s recent stranglehold on Kentucky Derby preps at Oaklawn.

Dating to 2021, Cox has won seven of its last 15 points races. Cox won Oaklawn’s first 2024 Kentucky Derby points race, the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1, with Catching Freedom.

“I love it,” Abrego said with a laugh. “Keep it going. Never stop.”

Cox said he would talk with representatives of WinStar Farm and Siena Farm before deciding on Timberlake’s next start, presumably his final Kentucky Derby prep.

Oaklawn’s four-race Kentucky Derby qualifying series concludes with the nine-furlong $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby March 30. Cox won the Arkansas Derby in 2022 with Cyberknife and last year with Angel of Empire. No trainer has won Oaklawn’s Arkansas Derby three consecutive years.

Timberlake was Cox’s first Rebel winner. Cox joined Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas, Bob Baffert and Steve Asmussen as the only trainers to win all four races in what is now Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series.

Timberlake ($1,094,350) surpassed $1 million in career earnings with his third victory from six starts. He was purchased for $350,000 at the 2022 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

The Rebel was Cox’s 40th career Oaklawn stakes victory and 298th overall in Hot Springs. Only 15 trainers have reached 300 career Oaklawn victories.

Lukas Strikes Twice

“The Coach” hasn’t forgotten how to win the big game, even at 88.

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas won two races Saturday at Oaklawn, highlighted by an upset in the $400,000 G3-Honeybee Stakes with Lemon Muffin, a five-race maiden who was making her stakes and two-turn debut.

“It means I’m the oldest man that ever won the Honeybee,” Lukas, a former basketball coach, said with a laugh before training hours Sunday morning. “You’ve got to always remember that this game is a game of experience. There’s no how-to books. You can go to the library and pull all the books ever written on racing and none of them will tell you how to train. Some of them tried. I’ve read some of it and thought, ‘Oh my God.’ Talk about misleading somebody.

“I think if I was an owner, I would probably get somebody that had experience. I think the experience factor is huge.”

Right down to touting a maiden in a major Kentucky Oaks prep.

Lemon Muffin ($58.20) was the record-extending seventh Honeybee victory for Lukas, following Lost Kitty in 1988, Imaginary Lady in 1989, Train Robbery in 1990, Be Cool in 1991, Time’s Mistress in 2007 and Secret Oath in 2022.

Lemon Muffin had finished second in her previous four starts, including a maiden special weight sprint Jan. 26 at Oaklawn. She received a preliminary Beyer Speed Figure of 84, a career high, for her 3 ½-length Honeybee victory under Keith Asmussen. The winning time for 1 1/16 miles over a fast track was 1:45.60.

“Going to two turns was the key,” said Lukas, who trains Lemon Muffin, a daughter of Collected, for Aaron Sones. “We had talked about going earlier, but I gave her that one more and she was flying at the end. I gave her to all the officials at Keeneland and Churchill yesterday. They got fat. They went right to the windows.”

Lukas said Lemon Muffin will be pointed to the $750,000 G3-Fantasy Stakes March 30 at Oaklawn. The Fantasy is Oaklawn’s third and final Kentucky Oaks points race.

Lemon Muffin earned 50 qualifying points for her Honeybee victory and has 50 overall to rank first on the Kentucky Oaks leaderboard released Saturday by Churchill Downs.

The Honeybee was the first career graded stakes victory for Asmussen, 25, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Lukas also won Saturday’s first race, a $150,000 entry-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles, with Triple Crown nominee Seize the Grey.

From the final crop of deceased champion Arrogate, Seize the Grey ($13.60) was a one-length winner of his 3-year-old debut under Nik Juarez.

Lukas said he will now probably separate Seize the Grey and Just Steel, the trainer’s other top Kentucky Derby prospect.

Seize the Grey is owned by MyRacehorse, which offers fractional shares in horses.

“We’ve got 600 people who are going tell us what to do there,” Lukas said, referring to Seize the Grey’s next start. “I wanted to get that one under his belt.”

Lukas said Just Steel is headed to the G1-Arkansas Derby.. He finished a disappointing seventh in Saturday’s $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes – Oaklawn’s final major Arkansas Derby prep – after breaking from post 11 in the 1 1/16-mile race. He was five-wide on the first turn.

“You cannot win here out of the 11 hole,” Lukas said. “I don’t think Secretariat can win out of the 11 hole. It just kills you.”

Just Steel (15 points) ranks 16th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard after finishing second in the Smarty Jones and $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes (G3) Feb. 3.

Lukas said Seize the Grey could use the one-mile $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes March 23 as a bridge to a Kentucky Derby points race at Keeneland – $1 million G1-Blue Grass Stakes April 6 or $400,000 G3-Lexington Stakes (G3) April 13.

“I’m going to try and get another race in him,” Lukas said.