Exercise Rider Katie Tolbert Has Strong Bond with Derby Hopeful Cyberknife

Friday, April 29, 2022

Photo credit: Coady Photography

Actually, April has been the month of love for Katie Tolbert.

Tolbert is the regular exercise rider of the quirky Cyberknife, who has emerged as a serious Kentucky Derby player following a sharp and eventful victory in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) at 1 1/8 miles April 2 at Oaklawn.

After dumping jockey Florent Geroux in the post parade, Cyberknife quickly chilled, then posted a 2 ¾-length victory to punch his ticket to Churchill Downs for two-time reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox and owner Al Gold (Gold Square LLC).

“He is lovely to gallop,” Tolbert said. “It’s all the in between part that’s sometime is a little tricky. He just has so much energy and he’s really growing up. But, before he was so immature. He’s like a puppy or a little kid that, like, if they don’t have direction all the time, it’s going to go somewhere and often it goes up. In my experience, he hasn’t been nasty or a jerk. He’s just got so much energy and he’s so full of himself. He just wants to do something and the getting back and forth to the track and doing new things is sometimes hard for him. But, I mean, he’s changed so much in the last few months. It’s really incredible.”

Cyberknife’s six-race resume illustrates Tolbert’s evaluation.

Cyberknife was disqualified from a debut victory last fall at Churchill Downs after shifting in and bumping a rival in the upper stretch, was beaten a half-length at 2-5 in his next start after drifting out, then lugging in late and didn’t fire in his stakes debut, the $200,000 Lecomte (G3) Jan. 22 at Fair Grounds. Cyberknife rebounded with a three-length entry-level allowance victory Feb. 19 at Fair Grounds and won the Arkansas Derby following an eye-catching burst to contention midway down the backstretch.

“He’s put on a lot of weight, a lot of muscle and physically he looks a little different,” Tolbert said. “But mentally, he’s really growing up. Sometimes, it just takes a while. They’re still so young.”

The morning after Cyberknife’s breakout victory in the Arkansas Derby, Tolbert gave the horse several kisses on the forehead while holding him on the wash rack outside Cox’s Oaklawn barn.

“I do really love him,” Tolbert said. “I think I kind of like to have, not a project, and it’s not like I’ve changed him. I mean, it’s just time and miles and growing up. But it’s nice that, I think, he kind of likes me, too. I’ve been trying to spoil him so he’ll like me the best.”

Cyberknife, in company, worked 6 furlongs in a swift 1:12.20 April 23 at Churchill Downs. It was the Gun Runner colt’s second breeze since the Arkansas Derby. The Kentucky Derby is May 7.

Tolbert also regularly galloped the Cox-trained Essential Quality, an Eclipse Award winner as the country’s champion 2-year-old male of 2020. Essential Quality opened his 2021 campaign with a victory in Oaklawn’s $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) en route to another Eclipse Award (champion 3-year-old male).

Rated R Superstar Update

Millionaire multiple Grade 3 winner Rated R Superstar emerged in good order from his seventh-place finish in the $1 million Oaklawn Handicap (G2) for older horses April 23 and will be pointed to a major race in Texas, owner Danny Caldwell said in a text message Friday morning.

Under new rider Ricardo Santana Jr., Rated R Superstar raced last of seven throughout most of the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap and was beaten 8 ½ lengths by Last Samurai. Rated R Superstar, a late-running 9-year-old gelding, was seeking his third stakes victory at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting after winning the $150,000 Fifth Season Jan. 15 and the $500,000 Essex Handicap (G3) March 19.

“No pace in the race really hurt his running style,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell said there’s a “good chance” Rated R Superstar will make his next start in the $400,000 Steve Sexton Mile Stakes (G3) May 30 at Lone Star Park. The hope, Caldwell said, is Rated R Superstar will be reunited with jockey David Cabrera, who guided the gelding to victories in the Fifth Season and Essex before being sidelined indefinitely in an April 8 spill. Cabrera was the runaway leader in the Oaklawn rider standings before being injured. The Essex marked the biggest career victory for Caldwell, Oaklawn’s leading owner in 2014, 2015, 2015 and 2016, trainer Federico Villafranco and Cabrera.

“David Cabrera will ride if all goes well with his recovery,” Caldwell said. “Hopefully, he will be back up in a few weeks there at Lone Star. Those are the tentative plans, then on to the Cornhusker in early July.”

The $300,000 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (G3) at 1 1/8 miles is July 9 at Prairie Meadows. Rated R Superstar ran third in Cornhusker in 2020 and 2021.

Rated R Superstar earned $10,000 for his seventh-place finish in the Oaklawn Handicap, increasing his career bankroll to $1,599,014. Rated R Superstar has earned $716,991 in 12 starts for Caldwell after he claimed the gelding for $50,000 out of a January 2021 victory at Oaklawn.

Finish Lines

Saturday is Fan Appreciation Day at Oaklawn In addition to the 10-race card, Oaklawn will be offering free parking, free programs and passing out vouchers throughout the day for free hotdogs, free sodas, free popcorn and free ice cream, while supplies last. There will also be prize giveaways after select races. … Perennial Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. entered the final six days of the 2021-2022 meeting with 56 victories, six less than idle leader David Cabrera. Santana is named on 13 horses this weekend (Saturday and Sunday). Cabrera is sidelined indefinitely following an April 8 spill. Santana has won eight Oaklawn riding titles, all since 2013. … Joyful Cadence, the first Oaklawn winner sired by champion Runhappy, is entered in Saturday’s fourth race, an allowance sprint for older fillies and mares. The 6-furlong race has a $108,000 purse. Joyful Cadence is seeking her third consecutive allowance victory at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting. A valuable broodmare prospect, Joyful Cadence will be running for the first time since her older half-brother, Country Grammer, won the $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) March 26 in the United Arab Emirates. “She’s got a nice little update,” said John Ortiz, who trains the 4-year-old filly for former Walmart executive William Simon. Joyful Cadence broke her maiden at the 2021 Oaklawn meet before finishing second in its $200,000 Purple Martin Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters. Ortiz and Simon are scheduled to be represented in the May 7 Kentucky Derby by Arkansas Derby runner-up Barber Road.