Barn Notes 3/14/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Keith Asmussen spent approximately 45 minutes together Thursday morning at Oaklawn. The goal? To spend more time together in the winner’s circle March 30 at Oaklawn.

Moments after the track opened for training, Lemon Muffin and Just Steel – two of Lukas’ leading 3-year-old prospects – recorded stamina-building workouts with Asmussen aboard.

“They’re all busy (mornings),” Lukas said. “Some are more important.”

That’s because Lukas is pointing to Lemon Muffin to Oaklawn’s $750,000 G2-Fantasy Stakes for 3-year-old fillies and Just Steel to the nine-furlong $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby. Both races are March 30.

Lemon Muffin worked first, covering 6 furlongs in 1:14.60. Clockers caught Lemon Muffin in early splits of :37 for three furlongs and :49.40 for a half-mile.

Lemon Muffin was breezing for the second time since breaking her maiden in the $400,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 24 at Oaklawn. The Honeybee was Lemon Muffin’s two-turn debut.

It was a record-extending seventh Honeybee victory for Lukas, 88, and the first career graded stakes victory for Asmussen, 25, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.

Lukas said Keith Asmussen will retain the mount on Lemon Muffin for the Fantasy – Oaklawn’s third and final Kentucky Oaks points race – and will ride Just Steel for the first time in the Arkansas Derby.

Just Steel, in Lukas’ next set, worked a mile in 1:40. Just Steel, whose work started and ended at the regular finish line, recorded splits of :25.20 for his opening quarter, :37.40 for three furlongs, :49.40 for a half-mile, 1:01.60 for five furlongs and 1:14.80 for 6 furlongs. Oaklawn’s surface was rated fast.

“Very, very pleased,” Lukas said, describing both workouts. “Two things: I think they both got a lot out of it; I think Keith is getting more familiar with the two. Those were two pretty works.”

Just Steel finished second in Oaklawn’s first two Kentucky Derby points races, $300,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1 and $800,000 G3-Southwest Stakes Feb. 3.

Wheeled back 21 days later in the $1.25 million G2-Rebel Stakes, Just Steel finished a disappointing seventh after breaking from post 11 and being caught five-wide on both turns. The 1 1/16-mile Rebel was Oaklawn’s third Kentucky Derby points race. He broke from post 10 in the Southwest.

“I wanted to work him a mile, into that first turn,” Lukas said. “He’s had (two) bad trips in that turn.”

Entries will be taken and post positions drawn March 24 for the Arkansas Derby and Fantasy. Each race will offer 200 points to its top five finishers (100-50-25-15-10, respectively) toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

Lemon Muffin earned 50 Kentucky Oaks qualifying points for her Honeybee victory. Just Steel has 15 Kentucky Derby qualifying points.

Auto Pilot

Steve Asmussen has several candidates for the $500,000 G3-Count Fleet Sprint Handicap for older horses April 13 at Oaklawn, a race the Hall of Fame trainer has won a record five times.

The latest to emerge is Gun Pilot, who was on the Kentucky Derby trail early last year for Asmussen and Three Chimneys Farm, which bred and owns the 4-year-old son of Gun Runner.

Now targeting one-turn races, Gun Pilot ($6.80) remained unbeaten in two starts this year with a 3 ½-length allowance victory Sunday at Oaklawn. Gun Pilot covered six furlongs over a fast track in a sharp 1:10.06.

“He’s fabulous,” Asmussen said moments after Gun Pilot’s victory. “He’s just a fabulous horse. He’s an unbelievable homebred of Three Chimneys. Looks incredible and developed into a real horse.”

Gun Pilot opened 2024 with a two-length allowance victory Jan. 27 at the Fair Grounds.

“I’m not eliminating running him back in the Count Fleet,” Asmussen said.

Asmussen also trains 2023 Count Fleet winner Skelly and multiple stakes winners Ryvit and Jaxon Traveler, who are both entered in the $250,000 G3-Whitmore Stakes Saturday at Oaklawn.

The Whitmore is Oaklawn’s final major prep for the Count Fleet. Both races are six furlongs. Gun Pilot was among four winners on Sunday’s card for leading rider Cristian Torres.

Finish Lines

Trainer Andres Cambray saddled his first career winner, Bump in the Night, in Thursday’s first race at Oaklawn. Bump in the Night ($16) was the seventh career starter for Cambray, according to Equibase. Bump in the Night was ridden by Cambray’s wife, jockey Lindsey Hebert. … West Omaha, in company, worked a half-mile in :49 Thursday morning at Oaklawn for trainer Brad Cox. The track was fast. West Omaha is pointing for the $750,000 G2-Fantasy Stakes March 30. … Seize the Grey, a Feb. 24 Oaklawn allowance winner, is pointing for the $750,000 G3-Jeff Ruby Steaks for 3-year-olds March 23 at Turfway Park, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Thursday morning.