Ethereal Road Works His Way into Rebel Stakes

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, or (501) 363-4305

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Photo credit: Coady Photography

Ethereal Road Works His Way into Rebel Stakes

After watching Ethereal Road work 5 furlongs from the gate Tuesday morning at Oaklawn, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the eye-catching maiden winner earlier in the meeting will make his next start in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds Feb. 26.

A son of Quality Road, Ethereal Road finished seventh, fifth and third in his first three starts before storming home to break his maiden by four widening lengths at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 29 under Luis Contreras.

The performance was noteworthy because Ethereal Road hesitated and bobbled at the start, according to footnotes from the official race chart, and trailed by 16 lengths after a quarter-mile and 12 ½ lengths after a half-mile before he began picking off rivals on the second turn.

Five-wide turning for home, Ethereal Road mowed down five horses in the final three-sixteenths of a mile to win going away at odds of 19-1. The final time over a fast track was 1:46.82.

Lukas said he doesn’t know why, under extraordinary circumstances, it finally clicked for Ethereal Road, a $90,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sales graduate who is owned by Aaron Sones.

“If I knew that, I would be a better trainer,” Lukas said. “Man, you talk about left. He was in another area code.”

Because Ethereal Road is a large horse – he stands 16.3 hands and weighs around 1,300 pounds – his poor break was magnified when compared to a smaller horse, Lukas said.

“It takes them three-eighths of a mile to get that momentum again to get going,” Lukas said. “But when they get going, if they’ve got ability, again, I emphasize that – they’ve got to have ability – when they get going, they pass horses if they’ve got the ability. What he did on the turn, if you just took the video and ran it up the half mile and said, ‘Oh, here, let’s watch this,’ – from the half mile (pole) to the wire, that was spectacular. Every jump he passed a horse.”

Ethereal Road had his penultimate work for the Rebel Tuesday morning, covering 5 furlongs out of the gate in 1:01.80.

Lukas said Contreras will ride Ethereal Road in the 1 1/16-mile Rebel, which is Oaklawn’s third of four Kentucky Derby points races. It figures to draw a large field, with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert scheduled to be represented after winning the Rebel a record eight times, including the last two runnings with Nadal in 2020 and Concert Tour last year.

Lukas won the Rebel in 1989 with Manastash Ridge and again in 2013 with Will Take Charge, who captured an Eclipse Award that year as the country’s champion 3-year-old male.

In addition to Ethereal Road, other locally based Rebel candidates include Dash Attack for trainer Kenny McPeek, Barber Road (John Ortiz), Ben Diesel (Dallas Stewart) and Chasing Time (Steve Asmussen).

Dash Attack won the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes Jan. 1, a 1-mile race that was Oaklawn’s first Kentucky Derby points event. Baffert collected Oaklawn’s second, the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Jan. 29, with unbeaten Newgrange. Barber Road finished second in the Smarty Jones and Southwest. Ben Diesel was seventh in the Smarty Jones and third in the Southwest. Chasing Time was a 7 ¾-length first-level allowance winner at 1 mile Jan. 14. Favored in all five career starts, the Rebel will be his stakes debut.

Lukas said Ignitis, who finished third in the Smarty Jones, is under consideration for the Rebel. Ignitis ran 11th in the Southwest. Call Me Jamal also is under consideration for the Rebel, trainer Mike Puhich said Tuesday morning.

“There’s an allowance race the same day,” Puhich said. “I’m going to keep the door open.”

Call Me Jamal broke his maiden at 1 1/16 miles Dec. 18 – Ethereal Road was third – and ran seventh in the Southwest. Call Me Jamal was beaten eight lengths.

“People don’t realize what kind of trouble he had, either,” Puhich said. “I thought he was going to run dead last on the far turn.”

The Rebel closed Feb. 11 with 111 nominations. It offers 85 points toward starting eligibility for the Kentucky Derby to the top four finishers (50-20-10-5). Post positions will be drawn Monday.

Barber Road also breezed Tuesday morning, going 5 furlongs in 1:00.40. Barber Road worked in company.

Osbourne on Hold

Osbourne is in a holding pattern following his eighth-place finish in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) for 3-year-olds Jan. 29, his co-owner/trainer, Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, said Sunday afternoon.

Osbourne was beaten 8 ¾ lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Southwest after being within striking distance on the second turn. The Southwest was Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Derby points race.

“He bled in the race, so now we’re going to back up and his next race will be a race that we can employ Lasix,” Moquett said. “That was what happened. He ran tough, he ran hard. I was proud of him. But he may eventually go back and be a miler or a one-turn horse.”

Osbourne has never raced on Lasix in four lifetime starts. Horses racing on the anti-bleeder medication are prohibited from collecting points in Kentucky Derby qualifying races like the Southwest. Osbourne was exiting a runner-up finish in another Kentucky Derby points race, the $400,000 Springboard Mile Stakes Dec. 17 at Remington Park.

Oaklawn’s Kentucky Derby points series continues with the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 26 and the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 2.

“That’s all on hold until I get him cleaned up,” Moquett said.

Moquett Hits Training Milestone

Roughly a year after Whitmore was named an Eclipse Award winner, Moquett reached another career milestone when he saddled Kinfolk to win last Sunday’s ninth race at Oaklawn.

Kinfolk represented Moquett’s 900th Thoroughbred victory, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization. Ridden by apprentice Kylee Jordan, Kinfolk ($27.20) came from off the pace to capture the sprint for $35,000 Arkansas-bred maiden-claiming sprinters by 1 ½ lengths over stablemate and heavily favored Kilgore.

Moquett, under his Southern Springs Stables banner, owns Kinfolk and bred the blazed-faced 3-year-old gelded son of Just a Coincidence in partnership with Bennie Westphal.

“It’s a fun little face because he’s going to make a great pony when he’s done running,” Moquett said moments after the race. “That was neat.”

Kinfolk was making his second career start after finishing third in his Oct. 1 debut at Remington Park. Moquett recorded his 899th career Thoroughbred victory earlier on last Sunday’s card when Woohoo Jackie Blue ($26.20) won her career debut in the seventh race under Ramon Vazquez.

Moquett, 50, grew up near Fort Smith, Ark., and started his first Thoroughbred in 1997 at nearby Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw, Okla., according to Equibase. The purse was $3,250. Blue Ribbon, a tiny Thoroughbred/Quarter-Horse pari-mutuel facility, is now shuttered.

Moquett saddled his first Thoroughbred winner in 1998, according to Equibase, and reached the sport’s pinnacle when Whitmore captured the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) in 2020 at Keeneland and was named the country’s champion male sprinter that year. Whitmore represented the first Breeders' Cup winner and Eclipse Awards winner for Moquett.

Kinfolk was Moquett’s 11th victory at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting and 288th overall in Hot Springs. Moquett also co-owned Whitmore, who shares the Oaklawn record for career stakes victories by a horse with seven.

Moquett has 900 Thoroughbred victories from 7,205 starters and purse earnings of $33,475,073 in his career, according to Equibase.

They’re Back

Grade 3 winner Background is scheduled to make his 2022 debut in Sunday’s eighth race, a 5 ½-furlong allowance event for older horses.

Trainer Mike Puhich said Tuesday morning that he’s using race as a stepping stone to the $400,000 Oaklawn Mile (G3) for older horses April 2. Background already is a Grade 3 winner at that distance after claiming the $100,000 Longacres Mile Handicap Aug. 15 at Emerald Downs near Seattle in his last start. The Longacres Mile is the biggest race in the Pacific Northwest.

Background received a break following the Longacres Mile before returning to the work tab in December at the immaculate Pegasus Training & Rehabilitation Center near Seattle. Background recorded a swift 5-furlong workout (:59.80) in advance of his 5-year-old debut Feb. 10 at Oaklawn.

“We need to get a race in him,” Puhich said. “He ran a good sprint the first time we ran him.”

Background, at odds of 38-1, finished a fast-closing third at 6 furlongs in his January 2020 career debut at Oaklawn before breaking his maiden at 1 1/16 miles about three weeks later. Background finished ninth in the $200,000 Oaklawn Stakes for 3-year-olds later in 2020 and captured two lucrative allowance races – both at a mile – during the 2021 Oaklawn meeting before finishing second, beaten a head by Guest Suite, in the $100,000 Hanshin Cup Stakes June 26 at Arlington Park.

Overall in 2021, Background compiled a 3-2-1 record in seven starts and bankrolled $208,536. His only other career victory to date, outside Oaklawn, came in the Longacres Mile.

Regular rider Rocco Bowen has the return call on Background, who is scheduled to break from post 3 in the projected seven-horse field. Bowen won 12 races in his Oaklawn debut at the 2021 meeting but is wintering at Tampa Bay Downs this season after having an opportunity to ride first call for Godolphin Stable.

After relocating to the Midwest in 2020, Bowen recorded his first career Oaklawn victory aboard Background last February and added another aboard the Khozan gelding in April. The purses were $88,000 and $106,000, respectively.

“I’m very much excited to reunite with my boy, Background,” Bowen said in a text message Wednesday.

Puhich, a native of Washington state, also won the Longacres Mile in 2012 with Taylor Said. Background represented the first career graded stakes victory and first Longacres Mile victory for Bowen, who was Emerald Downs’ leading rider in 2016, 2017 and 2018 before a severe arm injury threatened his career. Bowen, overcome with emotion following the Longacres Mile, is clearly anxious to climb aboard his favorite ride again, Puhich said.

“He already bought his plane ticket like six months ago,” Puhich, jokingly, said.

Background is owned by Bob Rondeau and his wife, Molly (Giddyup Stables). Bob Rondeau retired in 2017 as the longtime radio play-by-play voice of the University of Washington football team.

Background is 12-1 on the morning line for Sunday’s eighth race, which has a $101,000 purse. Also entered are No Shirt No Shoes, County Final, Chipofftheoldblock, Mojo Man, Boldor and Hollis.

Boldor won the $150,000 King Cotton Stakes for older sprinters in 2021 at Oaklawn. Hollis set Oaklawn’s 5 ½-furlong track record (1:02.17) in a Dec. 10 allowance romp and is the 5-2 program favorite.

Probable post time for Sunday’s eighth race is 4:39 p.m. (Central).

Finish Lines

Newly minted Eclipse Award-winning jockey Joel Rosario and Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen teamed for two victories Sunday, including the opener with heavily favored Tap for Me ($3.20), who broke her maiden by 4 ¼ front-running lengths in her two-turn debut. Tap for Me is a 4-year-old daughter of super sire Tapit and champion Groupie Doll. … Heavily favored Gar Hole ($3.80) became the meet’s second three-time winner with a four-length victory in Sunday’s fourth race for Arkansas-bred sprinters. John Ortiz, who trains Gar Hole for breeder/owner John Ed Anthony of Hot Springs, said he was using race as a prep for the $150,000 Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes for Arkansas-bred sprinters March 5. … Apprehend, the first Oaklawn winner sired by the late champion Arrogate, has been sent home because of a minor knee issue, trainer Rene Amescua said Tuesday morning. Apprehend, a 3-year-old colt, broke his maiden Dec. 31 after previously being based in Southern California. He is from Arrogate’s first crop. … Secret Oath, the top 3-year-old filly on the grounds, is scheduled to work Friday morning, weather permitting, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Tuesday morning. Secret Oath is pointing for the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Feb. 26. She has won her two starts at the meet, including the $200,000 Martha Washington Stakes Jan. 29, by a combined 15 ½ lengths. Post positions for the Honeybee, Oaklawn’s second Kentucky Oaks points race, will be drawn Monday. The race closed Feb. 11 with 40 nominations. … Apprentice Kylee Jordan scored her second victory of the meeting in last Sunday’s ninth race aboard Kinfolk ($27.20) for owner/trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs. Kinfolk marked the fifth mount for Jordan since she suffered a dislocated shoulder in a Dec. 19 spill. She resumed riding Jan. 28. … Oaklawn surpassed $6 million claims at the meeting last Sunday (Day 26), with 273 totaling $6,110,000. … First post for Monday’s special Presidents Day program is 1 p.m. (Central). Oaklawn baseball caps will be given away (while supplies last) after Monday’s fourth race. Fans can redeem the caps (one per voucher) at the north end of the grandstand, near the Beer Garden on the first floor. Gates open Monday at 11 a.m.