Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates: C Z Rocket Returns to Action Saturday

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, jhoyt@oaklawn.com or (501) 363-4305

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Photo credit: Coady Photography

C Z Rocket Returns to Action Saturday

C Z Rocket was Oaklawn’s top older male sprinter during the 2021 meeting that ended in May, but the millionaire multiple Grade 2 winner returns to Hot Springs for the 2021-2022 season trying to snap a five-race losing streak. The first chance comes in a high-end allowance sprint Saturday that his connections are using as a prep for the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes Jan. 29.

Co-owned by Southern California-based Tom Kagele, C Z Rocket was 2 for 2 last season at Oaklawn, toppling reigning male sprint champion Whitmore in the $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes and $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3). C Z Rocket is winless since, exiting a seventh in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 6 at Del Mar. But the late runner gets Lasix for the first time since last May’s $400,000 Steve Sexton Mile Stakes (G3) in the 6-furlong eighth race.

“He needs it,” Kagele said Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t think there’s any secret he was falling off in races that he hasn’t had Lasix, but he still ran pretty well. We tried him in the Breeders’ Cup and didn’t run that great there. Coming out of that race, his blood was a little off, so he had a little bit of an excuse there. He bounced out of it really well, so this race was like perfect timing and so we decided to run here instead of waiting for the Jan. 29 race.”

C Z Rocket, prior to leaving Southern California, recorded three workouts at San Luis Rey Downs for Saturday’s race, which will mark his first for trainer Rene Amescua. On behalf of Kagele, trainer Peter Miller claimed C Z Rocket for $40,000 out of a fifth-place finish April 30, 2020, at Oaklawn. C Z Rocket then ripped off five consecutive victories, including the $150,000 Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2) at Del Mar and $200,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G2) at Santa Anita, before finishing second to Whitmore in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) in November 2020 at Keeneland.

Miller announced last month that he was taking a sabbatical from training to spend more time with his family and focus on his health, but would “continue to act as an advisor/racing manager to my owners and my assistants as well as staying involved as an owner myself.”

Amescua has raced extensively in California and won more than 900 races in his career, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

“I’ve known him for years,” Kagele said. “He was a trainer up at Golden Gate for years and just through the covid and other things, he kind of took a turn for the worse and lost some horses and some owners. Then, he recently said he was going to go out there to Oaklawn and I recommended him to Pete. I’m comfortable with it and Pete was, too. Pete owns part of C Z, also.”

After being claimed for $40,000 at Oaklawn, C Z Rocket began his winning streak against $50,000 claimers about a month later at Churchill Downs. The fifth-place finisher in that race, Hollis, was claimed for $50,000 and returned to set a 5 ½-furlong track record (1:02.17) in allowance company Dec. 10 at Oaklawn.

C Z Rocket, after escaping the claim box, won an allowance/optional claimer in June 2020 at Churchill Downs (he was in for a $62,500 tag) and set a 6 ½-furlong track record (1:15.00) three weeks later in a Keeneland allowance race. C Z Rocket has subsequently raced strictly in listed or graded stakes, spanning 10 races and roughly 15 ½ months.

“He’ll be out there the whole meet,” Kagele said. “Hopefully, he does as well as he did last year.”

Regular rider Florent Geroux is named to ride C Z Rocket, the 5-2 program favorite, from post 8 for Saturday’s eighth race, which has a $120,000 purse. Probable post time is 3:46 p.m. (Central). Also entered are millionaire Grade 2 winner Long Range Toddy and Mucho, a stablemate of Hollis who exits a runner-up finish, beaten a head, in the $300,000 Bet On Sunshine Stakes Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs.

C Z Rocket, a 7-year-old gelded son of City Zip, has an 11-4-4 record from 30 career starts and earnings of $1,511,641.

The King Cotton is Oaklawn’s first of three major races for older sprinters. The series continues with the $200,000 Whitmore Stakes (formerly the Hot Springs) March 19 and the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) April 16.

Moysey Records First Win of Meet

Trainer Chelsey Moysey recorded her first victory of the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting Saturday and it carried added significance because Substantial was ridden by her boyfriend, apprentice John Hiraldo.

After previously being based in the mid-Atlantic, Hiraldo, 20, has ventured to Oaklawn for the first time to be closer to Moysey and her promising 2-year-old filly, Red Hot Mess, who is owned by Lewis Mathews of nearby Bismarck.

Hiraldo and Moysey met following a race last summer at Delaware Park and have a robust 24-percent strike rate together (8 for 33), according to equineline.com, with Substantial being their first victory Sept. 2 at Charles Town. Red Hot Mess represents the highlight of their partnership, to date, after winning the $50,000 White Clay Creek Stakes Oct. 13 at Delaware Park. It was the first career stakes victory for Moysey and Hiraldo.

“That was pretty cool,” Hiraldo said. “First for both.”

A native of Puerto Rico, Hiraldo hails from a racing family. Hiraldo said his father was a jockey in Puerto Rico, while a cousin, Angel Cruz, and uncle, Luis Angel Batista, are fixtures in the mid-Atlantic region. Batista has more than 900 career victories, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Cruz was a finalist for an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion apprentice of 2014 and had 111 victories this year through Tuesday.

Hiraldo has spent much of the last eight years in the United States and began galloping horses in Maryland in 2018 before launching his riding career in December 2020 and recording his first winner on New Year’s Eve. His career has skyrocketed in 2021, with 77 victories and $2,076,562 in purse earnings, numbers that could, like Cruz, stamp him an Eclipse Awards finalist.

“I think I will,” Hiraldo said. “Hopefully, I’ll win it. I’ve got to reach the girl in California (Jessica Pyfer) for money, but I feel confident that I have a big shot.”

Hiraldo, who rides with a 5-pound weight allowance, recently enlisted his new agent, Jay Fedor, to jumpstart the jockey’s Oaklawn meeting. Fedor also books mounts at Oaklawn for journeymen Francisco Arrieta and Luis Contreras and previously represented, among others, Hall of Famer Gary Stevens and Hall of Fame candidate Corey Nakatani in Hot Springs. Arrieta, in his Oaklawn debut, won 50 races to finish third in the standings at the 2021 meeting.

“She (Moysey) sent me a list of the agents and then I kind of just looked around and I saw that he had Arrieta and I heard that Arrieta did good last year and asked her about him,” Hiraldo said. “Next day, she told me that he came in here to the barn and they talked a little bit and that’s when I gave him a call. It was kind of decision we made together.”

Hiraldo missed the first two days of the Oaklawn meeting (Dec. 3-4) because of commitments at Penn National and Charles Town. Hiraldo finished second with his first career Oaklawn mount, Ain’t She a Pistol, for Moysey and Mathews Dec. 5. Hiraldo’s business picked up noticeably last week, with mounts for eight other trainers – Steve Manley, 2015 Oaklawn champion Chris Hartman, Steve Hobby of Hot Springs, Cipriano Contreras, Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, Tim Martin, Paul Holthus of Hot Springs and Brian Williamson.

Hiraldo said he will lose his bug, or weight allowance, in April, meaning he’ll become a journeyman in the waning stages of Oaklawn’s scheduled 66-day meeting that ends May 8.

“As a bug, I would like to reach a 100 (wins), from here to April, at least,” Hiraldo said. “It was always my goal finish the year and win the Eclipse Award with at least 100, but that can’t be possible now with a little bit left in the year. But I would like to finish my year as a bug with at least 100 wins, in April.”

Hiraldo said he only knows a handful of riders at Oaklawn, including perennial champion Ricardo Santana Jr. and Puerto Ricans Ramon Vazquez and Cristian Torres. Ditto for trainers. Hiraldo said he’s only familiar with a few, namely Greg Compton, Wayne Potts, and, of course, Moysey, 28, a former Buff Bradley assistant who started her first horse in 2019. She has a career-high 17 victories overall this year – almost half with Hiraldo – after winning 11 races in 2020 and two in 2019.

“We did so well with Cristian last year that we’re going to split it up,” Moysey said of her riding assignments for the 2021-2022 meeting. “There will be times that he (Hiraldo) has calls for another trainer. I mean, I want to win, too, and I want to win with him, but I want him to have his best shot. I’m not selfish. If he has a better horse than mine, I understand.”

Hiraldo said it’s “easy” working for Moysey, noting familiarity with her Oaklawn stock (roughly 14 horses) because he’s worked and ridden most.

“She doesn’t really give me instructions and I feel like it plays out well because I study my race and then if there’s something important she wants to tell me, she’ll tell me,” Hiraldo said. “Honestly, there hasn’t been a big screwup. Really, I’m the type of rider that once I cross the wire, I know what I did wrong.”

As for Hiraldo’s prized mount for Moysey, Red Hot Mess returned to the work tab last Wednesday at Oaklawn and breezed a swift half-mile (:47.60) in advance of a scheduled allowance date later this month. Hiraldo has ridden Red Hot Mess, a chestnut daughter of 2011 Preakness winner Shackleford, in all three lifetime starts, including two victories. He was aboard Red Hot Mess for last week’s work.

“I do have the call for her,” Hiraldo said with a laugh. “I am riding her. Her, I’m not taking off.”

The Tinsel

Saturday’s inaugural $200,000 Tinsel Stakes has drawn a field of seven, including millionaire multiple graded stakes winners Lone Rock, Warrior’s Charge and Tenfold.

Probable post time for the 1 1/8-mile Tinsel, which goes as the ninth of 10 races, is 4:13 p.m. (Central). Racing begins at 12:30 p.m. The Tinsel, for 3-year-olds and up, is among four new races added to Oaklawn’s stakes schedule to accommodate an expanded season in 2021-2022 (66 days) and December opening, the earliest in track history.

Lone Rock opened his ultra-successful 2021 campaign with an allowance victory at 1 1/16 miles last February at Oaklawn, his first start since trainer Robertino Diodoro re-claimed the gelding for $40,000 in November 2020 at Churchill Downs. A two-time allowance winner at the 2021 Oaklawn meeting, Lone Rock flourished after targeting races beyond the American classic distance (1 ¼ miles) and surpassed $1 million in career earnings with a 1 ½-length victory in the $250,000 Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance Stakes (G2) Nov. 6 at Del Mar in his last start. Lone Rock set a 1 5/8-mile track record (2:42.61) under Oaklawn regular Ramon Vazquez.

Lone Rock has bankrolled $722,884 in winning 6 of 8 starts (all in 2021) since Diodoro took back the now-6-year-old Majestic Warrior gelding on behalf of New York owner Jason Provenzano (Flying P Stable).

Prior to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, Lone Rock had captured an April 11 allowance race at Oaklawn, $130,000 Isaac Murphy Marathon Overnight Stakes April 27 at Churchill Downs, $400,000 Brooklyn Stakes (G2) June 5 at Belmont Park and the $120,000 Birdstone Stakes Aug. 5 at Saratoga.

The April 11 race, Isaac Murphy and Brooklyn were all 1 ½ miles. The Birdstone was 1 ¾ miles. Lone Rock also finished second in another 1 ½-mile race, the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes for older horses, March 13 at Oaklawn.

Overall, Lone Rock has a 13-4-2 record from 36 lifetime starts and earnings of $1,024,921. The Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance was his fifth career stakes victory.

Warrior’s Charge won the $500,000 Razorback Handicap (G3) for older horses in 2020 at Oaklawn for trainer Brad Cox. Tenfold, a Grade 2 winner, captured his first two career starts at the 2018 Oaklawn meeting for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen before finishing third in the Preakness.

The projected seven-horse Tinsel field from the rail out: Huge Bigly, Reylu Gutierrez to ride, 117 pounds, 6-1 on the morning line; Lone Rock, Ramon Vazquez, 124, 8-5; Beau Luminarie, Ricardo Santana Jr., 124, 6-1; Title Ready, Brian Hernandez Jr., 124, 9-2; Tenfold, Luis Contreras, 117, 6-1; Thomas Shelby, David Cohen, 121, 8-1; and Warrior’s Charge, Florent Geroux, 124, 5-2.

Saturday’s card also features a $120,000 allowance race for older sprinters. Among the entrants are millionaire Grade 2 winners C Z Rocket and Long Range Toddy and Mucho, runner-up in the $300,000 Bet On Sunshine Stakes Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs in his last start.

C Z Rocket finished second in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) in 2020 at Keeneland and was Oaklawn’s top older male sprinter at the 2021 meeting, winning the $200,000 Hot Springs Stakes and $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3). Long Range Toddy won the first division of the $750,000 Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds in 2019 at Oaklawn.

Probable post time for the 6-furlong race, which goes as the eighth, is 3:46 p.m. (Central).

The Apprentice

The leading apprentice jockey at Hawthorne’s fall meeting, Chel-c Bailey, is also the leading apprentice at Oaklawn, which opened its expanded 66-day live season Dec. 3.

Bailey, who rides with a 7-pound weight allowance, notched her second victory of the meeting when Charliecando ($23.40) routed $20,000 claimers by 8 ¼ lengths Dec. 12 for trainer Tom Swearingen. Bailey’s first victory came Dec. 10 aboard Past Post ($20.60) for John Haran, another trainer with strong Chicago roots.

“Huge,” Bailey said during training hours Wednesday morning. “It’s epic – and not even-money favorites.”

Bailey, a 20-something former high school and collegiate wrestler, launched her professional career in 2019 and recorded her first career winner Feb. 28, 2020, at Oaklawn. She added two more winners that season at Oaklawn and another that fall at Keeneland. Citing COVID-19 issues, protecting her 10-pound weight allowance and possibly resurrecting her MMA career, Bailey spent most of the 2021 Oaklawn meeting working as an exercise rider for trainer Brad Cox.

Bailey resumed riding last May in the mid-Atlantic region and her career began to gain traction during the Hawthorne fall meeting (Oct. 8-Dec. 27). Bailey rode seven winners at the suburban Chicago venue – still tops among apprentice riders – before moving her tack to Oaklawn.

“It’s a full-blown deal,” Bailey said, referring to her commitment to riding.

Bailey is among three apprentice jockeys with victories at Oaklawn through the first six days of the meeting. Kylee Jordan and John Hiraldo each have one. Another apprentice, Albert Lopez, is riding at Oaklawn after recording five victories at the Hawthorne fall meeting.

“It’s going to be interesting whenever the standings come out and you get to see who all is up there with the wins and everything,” Bailey said. “It’s like, depending how everything goes, I want to take a picture at first because it’s going to make it last longer.”

Bailey’s agent is veteran “Big Steve” Krajcir of Hot Springs, who has previously booked mounts for, among others, Hall of Famer Calvin Borel and 2000 Oaklawn riding champion Jon Court. Krajcir also represents 2020 Oaklawn leading apprentice Kelsi Harr at this season’s meeting.

Bailey is named on 11 horses this weekend (Oaklawn’s normal racing schedule in 2021-2022 is Friday, Saturday and Sunday). She has 13 career victories, including nine this year.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Bailey said of her Oaklawn start. “It’s a good opportunity.”

Bailey’s husband, David Kembrey, is an exercise rider for Swearingen at Oaklawn.

Finish Lines

Hypersport, a sharp Dec. 3 maiden special weights graduate sprinting, is pointing for a two-turn allowance race late this month, trainer Ingrid Mason said Wednesday morning. Hypersport is a 2-year-old daughter of champion Blame. … Caddo River, runaway winner of the $150,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds last January, is scheduled to make his first start since June in Sunday’s eighth race, a 1-mile conditioned allowance, for trainer Brad Cox and breeder/owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs. The 1-mile Smarty Jones is Oaklawn’s first of four Kentucky Derby points races. Caddo River will be facing older horses for the first time Sunday. … Cox also is scheduled to send out unbeatens Marr Time and Como Square – both 1 for 1 – in Sunday’s sixth race, an entry-level allowance sprint for 2-year-old fillies. Marr Time is a half-sister to four-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder, super sire Into Mischief and Grade 1 winner Mendelssohn. Como Square, by Into Mischief, is another homebred for Anthony, among the most successful owners in Oaklawn history. … There’s no timetable for the debut of Arrogates Spirit, a 2-year-old half-brother to champion Whitmore, trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs said Wednesday afternoon. Arrogates Spirit recently joined Moquett and recorded a half-mile workout Dec. 5 at Oaklawn. Arrogates Spirit is from the first crop of the late champion Arrogate. Moquett trained the recently retired Whitmore, a seven-time Oaklawn stakes winner.