Barn Notes 2/28/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Oaklawn-based jockey Cristian Torres has never ridden in the Kentucky Derby. He’s never had a better opportunity in his young career than this year.

Of the country’s 22 Kentucky Derby points races to date this season, Torres has won four – two more than any other jockey – including the 8 ½-furlong $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes Saturday aboard heavily favored Timberlake for trainer Brad Cox.

The Rebel marked the first career seven-figure purse victory for Torres, 26, a Puerto Rico native who rode his first winner April 21, 2019, at Gulfstream Park and was Oaklawn’s leading rider last season.

“It’s crazy when you think about it,” Torres said Tuesday morning. “Four Derby preps. Four different horses. It’s great. Hopefully, we can get a mount with one of them the first Saturday in May.”

Torres was aboard Timberlake ($3.60) for the first time because his regular pilot, Florent Geroux, was in the Middle East to ride the Cox-trained Saudi Crown in Saturday’s $20 million G1-Saudi Cup, the world’s richest race. Cox and Torres had previously teamed to win Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points race this year, the $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1, with Catching Freedom.

Torres also won two Kentucky Derby points races late last year – $200,000 G3-Street Sense Stakes Oct. 29 at Churchill Downs aboard Liberal Arts for trainer Robbie Medina and $100,000 Gun Runner Stakes Dec. 23 at the Fair Grounds aboard Track Phantom for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Timberlake was making his 3-year-old debut in the Rebel after winning the $500,000 G1-Champagne Stakes – a one-turn mile Oct. 7 at Aqueduct – and concluding 2023 with a fourth-place finish in the $2 million G1-Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 1 1/16 miles Nov. 3 at Santa Anita.

Timberlake, who races for WinStar Farm and Siena Farm, won the Rebel by two lengths. It was the first victory around two turns for Timberlake, a son of Into Mischief.

“He’s an all-class horse,” Torres said. “I got on him in the (infield) and the way he walked and handled everything with the pony, after just being here for three or four days after coming from the Fair Grounds, and all the crowd, he was just a professional. I definitely got the trip that I wanted. I was worried about the break because he usually breaks a step slow. But that day, he broke awesome. He was right there in the race by himself. I didn’t have to fight him much. He relaxed beautifully for me. I still watch the race and can’t believe how well he relaxed for me.”

Cox said the $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby March 30 at Oaklawn is among the races under consideration for Timberlake and Catching Freedom. Cox has won the 1 1/8-mile race the last two years. Liberal Arts is pointing for the Arkansas Derby. Track Phantom is targeting the $1 million G2-Louisiana Derby at 1 3/16 miles March 23 at Fair Grounds.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Torres said. “We’re going to keep working hard to see if we can get the opportunity. I want to be in that race (Kentucky Derby). I’ve already won on four different types of horses. Let’s see if we can get an opportunity.”

Torres’ previous most lucrative victory had come in the $600,000 G3-Razorback Handicap for older horses last February at Oaklawn aboard Last Samurai for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Torres has a meet-high 41 victories this season at Oaklawn.

Back to Work

Mystik Dan worked a half-mile in :49.00 over a fast track Friday morning at the Fair Grounds, his first breeze since a runaway victory in the 8 ½-furlong $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes Feb. 3.

Trainer Kenny McPeek is pointing Mystik Dan toward the nine-furlong $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby March 30 at Oaklawn. Brian Hernandez Jr., who is based at Fair Grounds, rode Mystik Dan in the Southwest and was aboard for the work.

“He worked great,” said Hernandez, who rode Saturday and Sunday at Oaklawn. “He came out of the race (well) and seems like a happy horse. So, we’re excited.”

McPeek said Mystik Dan returned to Fair Grounds shortly after his eight-length Southwest victory, adding the Goldencents colt will have most of his serious training there leading up to the Arkansas Derby. McPeek has divisions at both tracks.

Also pointing for the Arkansas Derby are Just Steel and Liberal Arts, second and third, respectively, in the Southwest.

Finish Lines

Jockey Kylee Jordan (dislocated left shoulder) is “tentatively” scheduled to have surgery Thursday, her agent, Bobby Dean, said Tuesday morning. Dean said he isn’t sure if Jordan will return before the Oaklawn meeting ends May 5. Jordan hasn’t ridden since Feb. 2, when she was injured during Oaklawn’s fourth race after going to a left-handed stick aboard victorious Sweet Mother Mary for her father, trainer Todd Jordan. … Jockey Kelsi Harr (foot fracture) is getting on horses again and said Tuesday morning that she hopes to resume riding “soon.” Harr hasn’t ridden since she was injured in a starting gate incident before the 10th race Feb. 4 at Oaklawn. … The $400,000 G2-Azeri Stakes for older fillies and mares closed Saturday with 23 nominations, including recent Grade 3 winners Bellamore, Comparative and Hot and Sultry. The 1 1/16-miles Azeri is March 9.