Jackie’s Warrior Ready for Return

Jackie’s Warrior Ready for Return

The champ is back.

Jackie’s Warrior is scheduled to make his 2022 debut in the $500,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3) for older horses at 6 furlongs Saturday at Oaklawn for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen and owners Kirk and Judy Robison of El Paso, Texas.

Jackie’s Warrior, a 4-year-old son of Maclean’s Music, captured an Eclipse Award as the country’s champion male sprinter of 2021 after winning 4 for 7 starts, including the $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes (G1) Aug. 1 at Saratoga and the $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes (G2) Sept. 25 at Parx.

Jackie’s Warrior hasn’t started since finishing sixth as the heavy favorite in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) Nov. 6 at Del Mar. It was his first race against older horses. Jackie’s Warrior had surgery to remove a knee chip following the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and lands in the Count Fleet, a race Asmussen has won a record-tying three times.

“Steve wanted a good spot that he thought he would be effective in,” Kirk Robison said Thursday afternoon. “It’s a good race, it’s a lot of money and not a very big field. He’s been working really well. He had a couple of bullets, maybe three. And he did have the knee chip taken out after the Breeders’ Cup, but the vets say it’s a perfect result, so we don’t have any excuses. We’re ready to go.”

Jackie’s Warrior returned to the work tab Feb. 27 at Fair Grounds and had six subsequent published breezes leading up to the Count Fleet. The last two were at Oaklawn, notably a 5-furlong bullet drill (:59.40) from the gate April 3.

Regular rider Joel Rosario has the return call on Jackie’s Warrior, the 6-5 program favorite who is scheduled to break from post 5 in the projected six-horse field.

“I feel very confident,” Robison said. “Steve wouldn’t have put him back in training if he wasn’t 100 percent, so it’s not going to be an excuse. We’re ready to go.”

Robison said the Count Fleet isn’t a bridge to any specific race, but mentioned the $750,000 Churchill Downs Stakes (G1) for older horses at 7 furlongs May 7 as a possible next-race goal.

Jackie’s Warrior began his 3-year-old campaign with a third-place finish behind champion Essential Quality in the $750,000 Southwest Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles in February 2021 at Oaklawn. Asmussen targeted one-turn races with Jackie’s Warrior following the Southwest and he and the Robisons, husband and wife, were rewarded with an Eclipse Award.

Jackie’s Warrior received 110 first-place votes from members of the three voting blocs – National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers and Broadcasters – in balloting for an Eclipse Award to easily outdistance runner-up Aloha West (50). Aloha West won his February 2021 career debut at Oaklawn and added the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November, beating Jackie’s Warrior 4 ½ lengths.

“If he comes back and runs pretty well on Saturday, he could come right back for that sprint on the undercard on Derby Day at Churchill,” Kirk Robison said. “But long term, I want to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint next November. That’s a long way away, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”

A three-time Grade 1 winner, Jackie’s Warrior is 8 for 12 overall with earnings of $1,553,964. Jackie’s Warrior, who was purchased for $95,000 at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, will stand stud at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky upon retirement from racing.

Asmussen won the Count Fleet in 2013 with Justin Phillip, 2014 with Lemon Drop Dream and 2019 with Mitole for Texas owners William and Corinne Heiligbrodt. Mitole capped 2019 with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) and was named champion male sprinter that year.

Asmussen and the Robisons teamed to win the $50,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares in 2007 at Oaklawn with Plaid.

Hozier Returns Saturday

Hozier, runner-up in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) for 3-year-olds in 2021 for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, is scheduled to make his 2022 debut in Saturday’s ninth race, an allowance/optional claimer for 3-year-olds and up at 1 mile.

The $150,000 purse is an Oaklawn record for an allowance/optional claiming race.

Now trained by Rodolphe Brisset, Hozier will be making his first start since finishing seventh in an Oct. 21 allowance sprint at Keeneland. After finishing second to stablemate Concert Tour in the Rebel, Hozier ran sixth in the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) and second, beaten a head, in the $100,000 Sir Barton Stakes last May at Pimlico. Hozier moved to Brisset following the Sir Barton and received a lengthy freshening after the colt’s form tailed off last summer and fall.

“He looks like he’s coming back very good,” Brisset said. “He’s been breezing good. He likes that track, we know that. I think the allowance is the smart thing to do, off of those couple of so-so races for us. And the horse maybe needed a break. He was on the Derby trail and then we kept going with him.”

Hozier, who is to be ridden by 2021 Eclipse Award winner Joel Rosario, is the co-4-1 second choice on the morning line.

Probable post time for Saturday’s ninth race is 4:31 p.m. (Central).

Finish Lines

Dash Attack, winner of the $250,000 Smarty Jones Stakes for 3-year-olds Jan. 1 at Oaklawn, is entered in the $400,000 Lexington Stakes (G3) at 1 1/16 miles Saturday at Keeneland. Also entered in the Lexington is Ethereal Road, runner-up in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2) Feb. 26. The Smarty Jones and Rebel were Oaklawn’s first and third Kentucky Derby points races this year. … Oaklawn regular Ramon Vazquez recorded his first riding victory since relocating earlier this month to Southern California last Sunday at Santa Anita. Vazquez entered Friday with 44 victories at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting to rank fourth in the standings. He will return to Oaklawn to ride April 22, April 23 and April 24 (Santa Anita is dark those days), his agent, Bill Castle, said. Vazquez entered Friday with two career victories at Santa Anita. … Oaklawn will be dark Sunday in observance of Easter.