Kentucky Derby Update

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

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

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

Kentucky Derby Update

Nine horses that ran at least once at Oaklawn during the season are entered in Saturday’s $3 million Kentucky Derby, led by Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Angel of Empire and Rebel Stakes (G2) winner Confidence Game. Here is an update on each horse from Wednesday’s Churchill Downs barn notes.

ANGEL OF EMPIRE/HIT SHOW/JACE’S ROAD, VERIFYINGGary and Mary West’s Hit Show, West Point Thoroughbreds and Albaugh Family StablesJace’s Road and Coolmore’s Verifying went to out to train at 7:30 a.m. during the special training time Wednesday, while Albaugh Family Stables’ Angel of Empire went out in the next set. All four Brad Cox-trained Derby contenders, who all started at Oaklawn at least once, stood in the starting gate and then galloped 1 ½ miles.

“Everything went really well today,” Cox said. “We stood all four Derby horses in the gate. They stood extremely well. They are going to school tomorrow in the paddock. They are doing great, they really are. They stood in the gate and had really, really good gallops after that. Hopefully everything goes good in the paddock and we’ll do as much as we can in the mornings. Hopefully that will translate to them being settled and handling everything well on Saturday.”

When asked if there was a specific reason Arkansas Derby winner Angel of Empire didn’t go out with his stablemates, Cox said, “I wanted to stand Verifying and Hit Show next to each other because that’s where they’ll be on Saturday, in the 1 and 2 (posts). Also, exercise rider Edvin (Vargas) rides both Hit Show and Angel of Empire. Angel of Empire is pretty easy. You can do anything with him. I think a 7-year-old could probably gallop him. He’s a super cool horse to be around.”

CONFIDENCE GAMEDon’t Tell My Wife Stables and Ocean Reef StablesConfidence Game returned to the track Wednesday after walking on Tuesday and galloped 1 ¼ miles under exercise rider Alex Cano.

Trainer Keith Desormeaux is known to give his horses two walk days a week, but called the audible to walk Tuesday based on what he thought was best for the horse.

“His last two works were strong,” Desormeaux said. “And, you know, the main reason is that some horses don’t rest well in their stall if they don’t train. He’s the opposite. If you get him out early, he does his thing. He walks 30 minutes and he goes back in his stall and rests. He lays down, he munches on hay, even on a walk day. He takes full advantage of it. So, I’m like you know what? Let’s leave the track alone and let him sleep Tuesday. He’s going to train again Wednesday. He’s going to train again Friday and I’ll probably train him Saturday morning early. Since the race isn’t until 6:30 or something, I’ll get him out and blow some steam off because by that time he’ll know what’s going on.

“He did go to the paddock, so it’s not like he was sleeping all day. he did get out there and get pumped up. That’s also another reason I walked. Why get him fired up twice. Onto the paddock isn’t enough.”

DISARM – Winchell ThoroughbredsDisarm had a scheduled walk day at trainer Steve Asmussen’s Barn 38 Tuesday morning following his half-mile move in :49.20 Monday.

Disarm, who finished second in a Feb. 19 allowance race at Oaklawn, will break from post 11 in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

“He’s a very durable horse and I think the best is yet to come from him,” Asmussen said. “I think it’s very obvious that the major players in this year’s race lack a lot of early speed. I see a lot of jockeying in the first eighth of a mile. So, I’m very curious what will happen in the early stages of the race.”

REINCARNATE – Trainer Tim Yakteen changed his routine with his two Derby colts Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs. He had his gray Sham Stakes (G3) winner Reincarnate, who also finished third in both the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn, take the early slot at 5:20 with exercise rider Baltazar Contreras attached. Then at 7:30 during the special Derby/Oaks training period, he had Contreras take out Practical Move.

Reincarnate, who is owned by an extended partnership led by Gavin Murphy’s SF Racing, galloped a mile and three-eighths before returning to Barn 27.

Reincarnate, who’ll have the saddle services of Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez for the Run for the Roses, will break from Post seven in the 20-horse lineup.

ROCKET CAN – Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott had the Into Mischief colt, owned by Frank Fletcher Racing Operations, on the track for a gallop of about a mile-and-three-eighths with regular exercise rider Guelser Cardona.

The colt, who drew the No. 18 post position and was issued odds of 30-1, will have Junior Alvarado aboard in the Derby.

“All’s good,” said Mott of Wednesday’s preparations for Rocket Can, who most recently ran fourth in the Arkansas Derby. “His gallop went well, and he practiced at the starting gate, standing in and backing out.”

SUN THUNDER – Following Tuesday’s four-furlong breeze with Derby jockey Brian Hernandez Jr., trainer Kenny McPeek had Sun Thunder, impressive winner of a Dec. 31 allowance at Oaklawn, walking the shedrow on Wednesday. Sun Thunder, owned by R.T Racing Stable and Cypress Creek Equine, was clocked in :47.80 for Tuesday’s breeze, with blinkers on.

“Everybody’s in good order,” McPeek said.

Sun Thunder and Hernandez will exit the Derby starting gate from post position 13. He’s listed at 50-1 on the Derby morning line.

Jockey Francisco Arrieta

The $5 Million Man

Francisco Arrieta became just the third jockey in Oaklawn history to reach $5 million in purse earnings at a meet when favored Gramercy Park ($6) won Sunday’s ninth race, a $104,000 allowance sprint for Arkansas-bred females.

Arrieta ($5,011,192) joined Cristian Torres and Ricardo Santana Jr. as the only riders to hit $5 million. Santana became the first in 2021 and finished with a single-season Oaklawn record $5,643,023. Torres reached $5 million April 15, eclipsed Santana’s record last Saturday. Torres enters the final three days of the 2022-2023 meeting at $5,781,568, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

Arrieta made his Oaklawn debut at the 2021 meeting, riding 50 winners to finish third in the standings. Arrieta rode 62 winners at the 2021-2022 Oaklawn meeting to share the title with David Cabrera. Arrieta (82 victories) has clinched at least a runner-spot in the 2022-2023 standings. Torres has a meet-high 94 victories.

Arrieta is named on 29 horses this week at Oaklawn, meaning he has a chance to join Hall of Famer Pat Day and Torres as the only riders in Oaklawn history to reach 90 victories in a single season. Arrieta (194) can also reach 200 career Oaklawn victories with a strong finish.

Arrieta (five) is tied for second in stakes victories at the 2022-2023 meeting. Tejano Twist represented Arrieta’s first career Oaklawn graded stakes victory, and second overall, in the $200,000 Whitmore (G3) for older sprinters March 18.

Arrieta said he will again be based in Kentucky after Oaklawn’s 68-day Oaklawn meeting ends Saturday.

Gramercy Park, who is trained by John Ortiz, represented the 287th career Oaklawn victory for Arkansas lumberman John Ed Anthony (Shortleaf Stable). Anthony is Oaklawn’s all-time winningest owner.

The Leaders

Cristian Torres (jockey), Robertino Diodoro (trainer) and Heath and Sheena Campbell (owner) top the Oaklawn standings with three days remaining in the 2022-2023 meeting. The 68-day season ends Saturday.

Torres (94 victories) is trying to join Hall of Famer Pat Day as the only riders in Oaklawn history to reach 100 victories in a single season. Day won an Oaklawn-record 137 races in 1986 and reached 100 victories in 1990 and 1991. Torres, named on 35 horses this week, is seeking his first Oaklawn riding title. Francisco Arrieta is second with 82 victories.

Diodoro (59 victories) is seeking his second Oaklawn training title after topping the standings in 2020. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen is second with 50 victories. Diodoro is poised to join the late Cole Norman and Asmussen as the only trainers in Oaklawn history to reach 60 victories in a single season.

The Campbells (17 victories) are trying to hold off Jerry Caroom of Hot Springs (15) and Ten Strike Racing (14) for their first Oaklawn owner’s title. The Campbells have nine horses entered this week. Caroom and Ten Strike (founding partners Marshall Gramm and Arkansas native Clay Sanders) each have three entrants.

Juarez Already Looking Ahead to Next Year

After securing a high finish in his Oaklawn debut, jockey Nik Juarez is already looking ahead to the 2023-2024 meeting that is scheduled to begin Dec. 8.

“I think we’ve done great for not knowing many people,” Juarez said. “I’m excited to get back home to (New) Jersey. I’m excited to get back here again.”

Juarez enters the final three days of the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting with 32 victories and $1,617,103 in purse earnings, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization, figures that rank sixth and ninth, respectively.

Juarez has won six races worth at least $90,000 and just missed his first Oaklawn stakes victory aboard Two Eagles River, who finished second, beaten a head, in the inaugural $150,000 Renaissance for 2-year-olds at 6 furlongs Dec. 31. Two Eagles River, under Juarez, finished seventh in the $1.25 million Arkansas Derby (G1) April 1 at Oaklawn after leading much of the 1 1/8-mile race.

“He’s a really, really smart horse,” Juarez said. “He’s really capable of something.”

Two Eagles River is trained by Chris Hartman, among Juarez’s biggest supporters at the meeting. Juarez has won races for 15 trainers, including 10 for Hartman.

“I believe I’m going to ride here again next year,” Juarez said. “That would be the plan. Ideally, I would like to buy a place here, be able to rent it during the summer, stay here pretty much rent free. Just try to set up what’s best for the family.”

Juarez said he will be based at Monmouth Park in New Jersey after the Oaklawn meeting ends Saturday. He was represented at Oaklawn by agent and retired Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens.

Finish Lines

Axton, the final scheduled career starter for trainer Don Von Hemel of Hot Springs, is entered in Thursday’s seventh race at Oaklawn, a $104,000 allowance at 1 1/16 miles. Von Hemel, 88, is retiring at the end of the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting. He was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 1981. … First post Saturday, the 68th and final day of the meeting, is 12:20 p.m. (Central). Probable post time for the 12th and final race, the 1 ¾-mile “Trail’s End” marathon, is 6:50 p.m. The Trail’s End is traditionally the final race of the Oaklawn meeting. … Calibrate, Lone Rock and Warrant, 1-2-3, respectively, in the $150,000 Temperence Hill Stakes for older horses at 1 ½ miles April 2 at Oaklawn, were entered in the $175,000 Isaac Murphy Marathon Overnight Stakes Wednesday at Churchill Downs. Lone Rock won the 1 ½-mile Isaac Murphy in 2021 and 2022. … Oaklawn stakes winners Frank’s Rockette ($2.90) and Pretty Birdie finished first and third, respectively, in the $175,000 Roxelana Overnight Stakes for older female sprinters last Saturday at Churchill Downs. … The Girl in Red, an April 28 debut winner at Oaklawn against Arkansas-breds, is probably headed to a first-level allowance at Lone Star Park, trainer Bret Calhoun said Monday afternoon. The Girl in Red, 3, is a full sister to Bye Bye J, an Arkansas-bred multiple Oaklawn stakes winner. Top Arkansas breeder McDowell Farm bred both Bye Bye J and The Girl in Red. “Tough spot,” Calhoun said. “We liked her for a while, but unfortunately we missed most of the meet with her.”