Barn Notes 5/1/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

He’s a broken record.

Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen’s assault on the Oaklawn record book continued last Saturday with Valentine Candy’s victory in the six-furlong $200,000 Bachelor Stakes for 3-year-olds.

Valentine Candy’s $114,000 first-place check propelled Asmussen past his previous single-season record for purse earnings ($6,057,877), set in 2021. He finished Saturday, Day 60 of the 64-day meeting, with $6,171,905, according to Equibase.

In addition to purse earnings, Asmussen:

  • Became the first trainer in Oaklawn history with 10 stakes victories in a single season. Brad Cox won nine at the 2022-2023 meeting.
  • Became the first trainer in Oaklawn history to win the same stakes race nine times. Asmussen also won the Bachelor in 1996 (Valid Expectations), 2008 (Lantana Mob), 2015 (Holy Boss), 2016 (Counterforce), 2018 (Mitole), 2019 (Nitrous), 2021 (Jaxon Traveler) and 2023 (Ryvit). Asmussen has won the Carousel eight times. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has eight victories in the Rebel, a major Triple Crown prep.
  • Asmussen also owns Oaklawn career records for victories (943), stakes victories (114), consecutive meetings with a stakes victory (29), purse earnings ($57,947,526) and titles (2023-2024 is his 13th).
  • Valentine Candy became the first horse since Overpeer in 1991 to win four stakes races in an Oaklawn season after previously capturing the $150,000 Advent at 5 ½ furlongs Dec. 8, $150,000 Renaissance at 6 furlongs Dec. 31 and $150,000 Ozark at 6 furlongs Feb. 10.
  • The Bachelor was the 66th victory of the 2023-2024 meeting for Asmussen, establishing his single-season personal best in Hot Springs. He won 65 races in 2021-2022.
  • Asmussen added another victory Sunday and enters the final three days of the Oaklawn meeting needing five to set a single-season record. The late Cole Norman won an Oaklawn-record 71 races during the weather-shortened 49-day meeting in 2003.

We’re an American Band

Exactly one year after being claimed for $12,500, American Band will be running for a seven-figure purse.

“Just luck, that’s all,” Oaklawn-based owner/trainer John Haran said Sunday morning.

American Band is among 10 horses entered in the seven-furlong $1 million G1-Derby City Distaff Stakes for older fillies and mares Saturday at Churchill Downs. American Band won three consecutive races this season at Oaklawn, including the $250,000 Matron Stakes for older female sprinters March 30 in her last start.

The Matron marked the biggest career victory to date for Haran, 62, who won a seven-way shake, or blind draw, to claim American Band, the now-5-year-old daughter of Flatter, for $12,500 May 4, 2023, at Oaklawn.

“I didn’t even look at that,” Haran said, referring to the date. “If she gets it done, it will be an amazing story.”

Cristian Torres, Oaklawn’s champion jockey the last two seasons, is named to ride American Band (30-1 on the morning line) from post 6.

American Band (27-1) edged Grade 1 winner Daddysruby by three-quarters of a length in the Matron. The Matron has already proven to be a key race, with three next-out winners in Royal Spa (allowance last Friday at Keeneland), Hoosier Philly (last Saturday’s $200,000 Dig A Diamond Stakes at Oaklawn) and Zeitlos (last Saturday’s $200,000 Roxelana Overnight Stakes at Churchill Downs).

“I haven’t seen the field yet,” Haran said. “I’m sure there’s going to be lots of monsters in there. But she’s beaten a Grade 1 winner already and she’s coming into the race in good form. I think she’ll be ready to fire.”

Haran is seeking his first career graded stakes victory in the Derby City Distaff, which also drew, among others, Alva Starr, who launched her 2024 campaign with a sharp score in the $150,000 American Beauty Stakes for older female sprinters Feb. 3 at Oaklawn.

Prior to the Matron, Haran’s most lucrative career victory was with American Band in a $140,000 allowance sprint March 9 at Oaklawn. American Band captured the Matron – Haran’s 499th career victory – in her next start. Haran saddled his first horse in 2011.

“I started later,” Haran said with a laugh. “I started really late.”

A native of Ireland, Haran purchased Kentucky’s Eagle Valley Farm in 2004 and would send horses he owned that were stabled there to other trainers, including Eddie Kenneally, Frank Kirby and Ray Sibille, to compete around the country.

Among the best horses campaigned by Eagle Valley Farm was multiple stakes winner Kathleens Reel. Haran sold Eagle Valley Farm in 2013, two years after he started training his horses to shave expenses.

Haran set a career high for purse earnings ($1,151,960) in 2023. He has 11 victories, a single-season personal Oaklawn best, at the 2023-2024 meeting that ends Sunday. Haran also races extensively at Horseshoe Indianapolis.

American Band and Alva Starr are among 11 stakes winners at the 2023-2024 Oaklawn meeting entered in stakes races Friday and Saturday at Churchill Downs.

The others are:

  • First Mission (Essex Handicap) in Friday’s $750,000 G2-Alysheba
  • Asternia (Purple Martin) in Friday’s $600,000 G2-Eight Belles
  • Band of Gold (Martha Washington) in Friday’s $600,000 G2=Edgewood
  • Thorpedo Anna (Fantasy) and Lemon Muffin (Honeybee) in Friday’s $1.5 million G1-Kentucky Oaks
  • Nash (Hot Springs) in Saturday’s $600,000 G2-Pat Day Mile
  • Tejano Twist in Saturday’s $1 million G1-Churchill Downs
  • Mystik Dan (Southwest) and Catching Freedom (Smarty Jones) in Saturday’s $5 million G1-Kentucky Derby.

The 11 entrants represent 28 percent of Oaklawn’s 40 stakes winners to date during the 2023-2024 meeting that began Dec. 8.

Finish Lines

Next-race plans are pending for Grade 2 winner Hoosier Philly following her 3 ¾-length victory in last Saturday’s $200,000 Dig A Diamond Stakes, trainer Tom Amoss said moments after the race. “We’re looking forward to better races, but nothing right now,” Amoss said. Favored Hoosier Philly ($4.40) snapped a four-race losing streak in the Dig A Diamond, a 1-mile event for older fillies and mares. She returned in good shape Tuesday to her Churchill Downs base, Amoss said in a text message Tuesday afternoon. … The Dig A Diamond capped a riding triple for Rafael Bejarano, whose decision to remain at Oaklawn instead of returning to Kentucky for Keeneland’s opening, April 5, continues to pay dividends. Bejarano has won 22 percent of his starts (13 of 60) since April 5, including three stakes, with his mounts generating $997,406 in purse earnings. In addition to the Dig A Diamond, Bejarano won the $150,000 Rainbow Miss April 6 aboard Hush It Honey for trainer Randy Morse and the $175,000 Eclipse April 7 aboard Edge to Edge for trainer Chris Hartman. Bejarano has a chance to reach an Oaklawn milestone before returning to Kentucky for the Churchill Downs spring/summer meeting that began last Saturday. The triple pushed his career total to 95. Bejarano (now 96 victories, including 44 this season to rank in a third-place tie in the standings) will ride the final three days of the Oaklawn meeting before returning to Kentucky to ride full-time. Bejarano, in his debut as an Oaklawn regular, rode 42 winners last season before leaving early for Kentucky. … Favored Will Take It ($5.60) broke his maiden in last Saturday’s fourth race at 1 1/16 miles for trainer Eddie Milligan Jr. Will Take It, a son of Tapit, was exiting a ninth-place finish in the $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby March 30.